"To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all, but particularly on Masons, who are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. To soothe the unhappy, to sympathize with their misfortunes, to compassionate their miseries and restore peace to their troubled minds is the great aim we have in view. On this basis we form our friendships and establish our connections." A careful reading of these sentences used in many Masonic Monitors is the only guide any Master Mason, no matter how inexperienced, really needs to point the way to Masonic Charity.
Yet, charity as practiced by the Fraternity is not well understood by many Masons and almost invariably misunderstood by the profane world. Masonry is not, "Perse," a benevolent organization. It is not formed for the purpose of mutual relief from pecuniary distress, and its finances are neither gathered nor managed with that end in view. For those who wish fraternal insurance, a sick benefit organization, or a fraternal provisions for old age, there are many orders, run with wisdom and excellent in execution.
Masonry is something much greater; it ministers to a man's heart and mind rather than to his body. True Fraternal affection and pity for the unfortunate lead Masons to take care of their dependents, to establish homes for their aged and infirm, to give to the needy and to relieve the distressed. All lodges spend money for charity; in many lodges it is the largest item of expense.
But the greatest charity which Freemasonry provides for its members is charity of thought; the greatest relief it can render is relief of the spirit.
The individual brother, newly raised, is often perturbed as to where his individual Masonic Benefactions should begin and end. Oddly enough, his geographic situation has much to do with the answer he must make. In the larger centers he will find a Masonic Board of Review, the business of which it is to relieve the distress of worthy Master Masons, their widows and orphans when the case is beyond the jurisdiction of an individual lodge. Thus, a stranger in a large city, in need of Masonic assistance, should not try to obtain it from an individual Mason or lodge, but from the organization maintained by Masons for that purpose. The individual Mason, solicited for help by one claiming to be a Mason, can do no better or more wisely than to refer such an appeal to the Board for action.
If this seems colder than the degrees seem to teach, reflect that all Masonic actions may have two angles; and that open-handed relief given by the individual Masons in good faith to a Masonic impostor, ridicules the Fraternity and nullifies its efforts. And, alas, there "Are" Masonic impostors; men without heart or conscience who are either renegade Masons in fact, or who fraudulently have obtained a Masonic card and pretend to a knowledge of Masonry they do not have, all for the purpose of living by their wits off the good will of real masons.
It is better that the individual Mason contribute to the upkeep of a rascal, than, that he refuse a worthy appeal. In localities where there is no Board of Relief to investigate, satisfy yourself of your applicant's character and honor as best you may, and then give according to your means.
Luckily for us all, our charity is highly organized and well administered. Few organizations can get more actual relief than our Fraternity for the money expended. Masonic Homes are institutions where relief is given the aged and infirm, the orphan and the widow; these, our guests, are not recipients of charity, but of the affectionate care which all brethren give to those they love. These homes are wonderful institutions, but they are not compelled to ask individual contributions from lodge members; they take their chief support from regular appropriations made from dues or fees, or both.
It is charity of thought and act rather than charity of money and material things that demands a Masons attention. Here the field is as wide as the world and activities have no limit. The most common opportunity given to us all is that of visiting the sick. Only a brother who has been ill, especially if in a hospital or in a strange city who, because of their common brotherhood, has received visits from men he has not previously met, truly understands the beneficial effects of such examples of Masonic charity. Doctors tell that such visits have often done more than all their medicines; there is nothing more heartening to a man, feeble and ill, than the thought that someone cares.
Another charity which we can all extend is that of faith. When our brother fails in business; when our brother is accused of some offense; when our brother is criticized; when our brother is in any trouble whatever; the helping hand extended, the words "My Brother, I believe in you, I am with you," mean much . . . Oh, so much. And they cost . . . just nothing at all!
And the most beautiful charity of all . . . charity of opinion! This we can all give in large measure, pressed down and running over, thirteen to the dozen! Let us not be judges of our brother! Let us not try to make ourselves the keepers of his conscience. Let us, indeed, "in the most friendly manner remind him of his faults," but let us first be very sure that our own houses are not of glass. Let us speak no ill of a brother; let us keep our critical thoughts to ourselves. Let us remember that as we judge him, so must we be judged; that the Fraternity and its reputation do not depend upon what we think of him, but what the world thinks of us!
So shall we offer the truest Masonic charity, and some day find that it comes back to us many fold.
In each of the great majority of Grand Lodge Jurisdictions there is a Masonic Home, to which the Fraternity invites as its beloved guests those Masons, Mason's widows, dependents and children who are not otherwise protected from need or sorrow.
Guests of a Masonic home are no more objects of charity than is the mother who blesses by her presence the home you support; or the father or grandfather whose place at your fireside, left vacant, could never be filled. For these, our well beloved brethren and their loved ones, we delight to care, to make their lives easy and happy, to relieve their distress, not as "Charity," but as a grateful and devoted service we render to those we love, and those dear to those we love, "Because" we love them!
You, as a Master Mason, contribute to the support of your Masonic home. A certain proportion of the dues you pay to your lodge is set aside for the maintenance and support of that Masonic Home. And you may . . . many Master Masons do . . . feel that your duty ends when you pay that which your By-Laws demand of you.
But there is nothing easier in this world than "Check-Benevolence." It requires neither care, nor attention, nor time, nor effort to write a check. Any one can do it who has a bank account!
But he who gives "Time and Service" gives mightily. Your Masonic Home probably is not in need of your services; it has its own paid staff, and needs no outside assistance, so far as routine duties are concerned. But no one can pay another to do for that Home what you can do - visit it!
Don't say, "I live too far away." In miles you may live too far away to go often in person; it will pay you to go once, at least, to see for yourself the outward and visible expression of the "Brotherly Aid" which is here practiced in its most beautiful form. Nor do you live to far away to write a letter now and then, to some Master Mason who lives in that Home.
"But, I don't know him!"
Make it your business to know him! You and he have knelt at the same Altar. You have taken the same obligation. You belong to the same Order. You are brothers. Do you "Need" an introduction?
Send him a line! Send him a magazine. Send him a newspaper. Send him a clipping, a joke, a verse; it doesn't matter much what you send; the point is that you must take a real personal interest in your brother, who is too old to work, too ill to labor, too handicapped in some way to make his way unaided. Masonry puts its strong right arm under his feeble body and helps him over the rough places. He has borne the heat and burden of the day; you are young and strong. You would spring forward with much joy to help an old man across a crowded and dangerous street. Well, here are old men crossing the crowded Street of Life and the helping hand of a younger brother is a comfort and protection.
Man may not live by bread alone. Give these, our guests, the best of food, the finest of care, the most comfortable of homes, and they cannot go happily down the hill to their Journey's End if we withhold that touch of affectionate brotherhood which can only personally be given.
Do not think that Masonry neglects her guests. Lodges frequently arrange and conduct entertainment, or religious service, or plan an outing. But necessarily these are all impersonal. What you can do is give the "Personal Touch."
And then . . . the children! For there are many children in Masonic Homes; little ones whose Master Mason Father has answered the Last Call, whose Mother cannot undertake their support, or who may have "No Mother." You don't need to be told what to do for children - "Or Do You?"
The widow of a Master Mason of a certain lodge fought a game fight as long as she could; then asked for help. The lodge saw that she and her little daughter became guests of the Home. The lodge looked after them well, too; the daughter had a business education as soon as she was old enough. A little group of men used to meet after lodge for a midnight lunch; they were the bone and sinew of the lodge. And every man put a coin in a cup when he paid his check, and on birthdays and at Christmas time the result of that coin-cup went to the little girl for her very own - to purchase those things which even the best of Homes does not buy. And there was many an extra contribution to her happiness; wives of lodge members took her to the theater and the concert and the lecture; lodge members took her and her mother for automobile rides; there was always a subscription to a magazine being paid by some one . . . for these were the dear ones of a Master Mason of that lodge.
And that lodge is no different, and no better, and has no finer men, than your lodge, than any lodge!
Your Masonic Home is "Your" Home, if you need it. It is also your home in the sense that you are a host. Those who live there are your guests. Make them happy! It costs so little, it means so much, it takes so little time, and makes so much for Brotherhood.
There was once a Son who taught the world of the Fatherhood of God. And He Said, "Inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these . . . !"
Short Talk Bulletin Jan 1925 Vol. 3
The hypothesis which seeks to trace a connection between Gnosticism and Freemasonry, and perhaps even an origin of the latter from the former, has been repeatedly advanced, and is therefore worthy of consideration.
The latest instance is in a work of Mr. C. W. King, published in 1864 under the title The Gnostics and their.Remains, Ancient and Medieval.
Mr. King is not a Freemason, and, like all the writers non-Masonic, such as Barnell, Robison, De Quincey, and a host of others, who have attempted to discuss the history and character of Freemasonry, he has shown a vast amount of ignorance. In fact, these self-constituted critics, when treating of subjects with which they are not and can not be familiar, remind one of the busybodies of Plautus, of whom he has said that, while pretending to know everything, they in fact know nothing-" Qui omnia se simulant scise nec quicquam sciunt. "
Very justly has Mr. Hughan called this work of King's, so far as its Masonic theories are concerned, one of an " unmasonic and unhistoric character." But King, it must be admitted, was not the first writer who sought to trace Freemasonry to a Gnostic origin. In a pamphlet published in 1725, a copy of which has been preserved in the Bodleian Library, among the manuscripts of Dn Rawlinson, and which bears the title of Two Letters to a Friend. The First concerning the Society of Free-masons. The second giving an Account of the Most Ancient Order of Gormogons, etc., we find, in the first letter, on the Freemasons, the following passage:
" But now, Sir, to draw towards a conclusion; and to give my opinion seriously, concerning these prodigious Virtuosi ;-My belief is, that if they fall under any denomination at all, or belong to any sect of men, which has hitherto appeared in the world, they may be ranked among the Gnostics, who took their original from Simon Magus; these were a set of men, which ridiculed not only Christianity, but even rational morality; teaching that they should be saved by their capacious knowledge and understanding of no mortal man could tell what. They babbled of an amazing intelligence they had, from nobody knows whence. They amused and puzzled the hair-brained, unwary crowd with superstitious interpretations of extravagant talismanic characters and abstruse significations of uncommon Cabalistic words; which exactly agrees with the proceedings of our modern Freemasons."
Although the intrinsic value of this pamphlet was not such as to have preserved it from the literary tomb which would have consigned it to oblivion, had not the zeal of an antiquary preserved a single copy as a relic, yet the notion of some relation of Freemasonry to Gnosticism was not in later years altogether abandoned.
Hutchinson says that "under our present profession of Masonry, we allege our morality was originally deduced from the school of Pythagoras, and that the Basilidian system of religion furnished us with some tenets, principles, and hieroglyphics." Basilides, the founder of the sect which bears his name, was the most eminent of the Egyptian Gnostics.
About the time of the fabrication of the High Degrees on the continent of Europe, a variety of opinions of the origin of Masonry -many of them absurd-sprang up among Masonic scholars. Among these theorists, there were not a few who traced the Order to the early Christians, because they found it, as they supposed, among the Gnostics, and especially its most important sect, the Basilidians. Some German and French writers have also maintained the hypothesis of a connection, more or less intimate, between the Gnostics and the Masons.
I do not know that any German writer has positively asserted the existence of this connection. But the doctrine has, at times, been alluded to without any absolute disclaimer of a belief in its truth.
Thus Carl Michaeler, the author of a Treatise on the Pheonician Mysteries, has written some observations on the subject in an article published by him in 1784, in the Vienna Journale fur Freimaurer, on the analogy between the Christianity of the early times and Freemasonry. In this essay he adverts to the theory of the Gnostic origin of Freemasonry. He is, however, very guarded in his deductions, and says conditionally that, if there is any connection between the two, it must be traced to the Gnosticism of Clement of Alexandria, and on which simply as a school of philosophy and history it may have been founded, while the differences between the two now existing must be attributed to changes of human conception in the intervening centuries.
But, in fact, the Gnosticism of Clement was something entirely different from that of Basilides, to whom Hutchinson and King attribute the origin of our symbols, and whom Clement vigorously opposed in his works. It was what he himself calls it, "a true Gnostic or Christian philosophy on the bads of faith." It was that higher knowledge, or more perfect state of Christian faith, to which St. Paul is supposed to allude when he says, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, that he made known to those who were perfect a higher wisdom.
Reghellini speaks more positively, and says that the symbols and doctrines of the Ophites, who were a Gnostic sect, passed over into Europe, having been adapted by the Crusaders, the Rosicrucians, and the Templars, and finally reached the Masons.'
Finally, I may refer to the Leland MS., the author of which distinctly brought this doctrine to the public view, by asserting that the Masons were acquainted with the " facultys of Abrac," by which expression he alludes to the most prominent and distinctive of the Gnostic symbols. That the fabricator of this spurious document should thus have intimated the existence of a connection between Gnosticism and Freemasonry would lead us to infer that the idea of such a connection was not wholly unfamiliar to the Masonic mind at that period-an inference which will be strengthened by the passage already quoted from the pamphlet in the Rawlinson collection, which was published about a quarter of a century before.
But before we can enter into a proper discussion of this important question, it will be expedient for the sake of the general reader that something should be said of the Gnostics and of the philosophical and religious system which they professed.
I propose, therefore, very briefly to reply to the questions, What is Gnosticism, and Who were the Gnostics ?
Scarcely had the light of Christianity dawned upon the world before a multitude of heresies sprang up to disturb the new religion. Among these Gnosticism holds the most important position. the title of the sect is derived from the Greek word gnosis, "wisdom or knowledge," and -was adopted in a spirit of ostentation, to intimate that the disciples of the sect were in possession of a higher degree of spiritual wisdom than was attainable by those who had not been initiated into their mysteries.
At so early a period did the heresy of Gnosticism arise in the Christian Church, that we find the Apostle Paul warning the converts to the new faith of the innovations on the pure doctrine of Christ, and telling his disciple Timothy to avoid "profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely so called." The translators of the authorized version have so rendered the passage. But, in view of the greater light that has since their day been thrown upon the religious history and spirit of the apostolic age, and the real nature of the Gnostic element which disturbed it, we may better preserve the true sense of the original Greek by rendering it "oppositions of the false gnosis."
There were then two kinds of Gnosis, or Gnosticism-the true and the false, a distinction which St. Paul himself makes in a passage in his Epistle to the Corinthians, in which he speaks of the wisdom which he communicated to the perfect, in contradistinction to the wisdom of the world.
Of this true Gnosticism, Clement declared himself to be a follower. With it and Freemasonry there can be no connection, except that rnodified one admitted by Michaeler, which relates only to the investigation of philosophical and historical truth. The false Gnosis to which the Apostle refers is the Gnosticism which is the subject of our present inquiry.
When John the Baptist was preaching in the Wilderness, and for some time before, there were many old philosophical and religious systems which, emanating from the East, all partook of the mystical character peculiar to the Oriental mind. These various systems were, then, in consequence of the increased communication of different nations which followed the conquests of Alexander of Macedon, beginning to approximate each other. The disciples of Plato were acquiring some of the doctrines of the Eastern Magi, and these in turn were becoming more or less imbued with the philosophy of Greece. The traditions of India, Persia, Egypt, Chaldea, Judea, Greece, and Rome were commingling in one mass, and forming out of the conglomeration a mystical philosophy and religion which partook of the elements of all the ingredients out of which it was composed and yet contained within its bosom a mysticism which was peculiar to itself.
This new system was Gnosticism, which derived its leading doctrines from Plato, from the Zend-Avesta, the Cabala, the Vedas, and the hieroglyphs of Egypt. It taught as articles of fakth the existence of a Supreme Being, invisible, inaccessible, and incomprehensible, who was the creator of a spiritual world consisting of divine intelligences called aeons, emanating from him, and of matter which was eternal, the source of evil and the antagonist of the Supreme Being.
One of these aeons, the lowest of all called the Demiurge, created the world out of matter, which, though eternal, was inert and formless.
The Supreme Father, or First Principle of all things, had dwelt from all eternity in a pleroma or fullness of inaccessible light, and hence he was called Bythos, or the Abyss, to denote the unfathomable nature of his perfections. "This Being," says Dr. Burton, in his able exposition of the Gnostic system, in the Bam o Lectures ures, by an operation purely mental, or by acting upon himself, produced two other beings of different sexes, from whom by a series of descents, more or less numerous according to different schemes, several pairs of beings were formed, who were called aeons, from the periods of their existance before time was, or emanations from the mode of their production. These successive aeons or emanations appear to have been inferior each to the preceding; and their existence was indispensable to the Gnostic scheme, that they might account for the creation of the world, without making God the author of evil. These aeons lived through countless ages with their first Father. But the system of emanations seems to have resembled that of concentric circles, and they gradually deteriorated as they approached nearer and nearer to the extremity of the pleroma. Beyond this pleroma was matter, inert and powerless, though co-eternal with the Supreme God, and like him without beginning. At length one of the aeons (the Demiurge) passed the limits of the pleroma, and, meeting with matter, created the world after the form and model of an ideal world, which existed in the plemora or the mind of the Supreme God."
It is not necessary to enter into a minute recapitulation of the other points of doctrine which were evolved out of these three. It is sufficient to say that the old Gnosticism was not an original system, but was really a cosmogony, a religion and a philosophy which was made up of portions of the older Grecian and Oriental systems, including the Platonism of the Greeks, the Parsism of the Persians, and the Cabala of the Jews.
The advent of Christianity found this old Gnosticism prevailing in Asia and in Egypt. Some of its disciples became converts to the new religion, but brought with them into its fold many of the mystical views of their Gnostic philosophy and sought to apply them to the pure and simple doctrines of the Gospel.
Thus it happened that the name of Gnosticism was applied to a great variety of schools, differing from each other in their interpretations of the Christian faith, and yet having one common principle of unity-that they placed themselves in opposition to the conceptions of Christianity as it was generally received by its disciples. And this was because they deemed it insufficient to afford any germs of absolute truth, and therefore they claimed for themselves the possession of an amount of knowledge higher than that of ordinary believers.
"They seldom pretended," says the Rev. Dr. Wing, "to demonstrate the principles on which their systems were founded by historical evidence or logical reasonings, since they rather boasted that these were discovered by the intuitional powers of more highly endowed minds, and that the materials thus obtained, whether through faith or divine revelation, were then worked up into a scientific form, according to each one's natural power and culture. Their aim was to construct, not merely a theory of redemption, but of the universe-a cosmogony. No subject was beyond their investigations. Whatever God could reveal to the finite intellect they looked upon as within their range. What to others seemed only speculative ideas, were by. them hypostatized or personified into real beings or historical facts. It was in this way that they constructed systems of speculation on subjects entirely beyond the range of human knowledge, which startle us by their boldness and their apparent consciousness of reality."
Such was the Gnosticism whose various sects intruded with their mystical notions and their allegorical interpretations into the Church, before Christianity had been well established. Although denounced by St. Paul as " vain babblers," they increased in strength and gave rise to many heresies which lasted until the 4th century.
The most important of these sects, and the one from which the moderns have derived most of their views of what Christian Gnosticism is, was established in the 2d century by Basilides, the chief of the Egyptian Gnostics.
The doctrine of Basilides and the Basilidians was a further development of the original Gnostic system. It was more particularly distinguished by its adoption from Pythagoras of the doctrine of numbers and its use and interpretation of the word Abraxas-that word the meaning of which, according to the Leland MS., so greatly puzzled the learned Mr. Locke.
In the system of Basilides the Supreme God was incomprehensible, non-existent, and ineffable. Unfolded from his perfection were seven attributes or personified powers, namely, Mind, Reason, Thought, Wisdom, Power, Holiness, and Peace. Seven was a sacred number, and these seven powers referred to the seven days of the week. Basilides also supposed that there were seven similar beings in every stage or region of the spiritual world, and that these regions were three hundred and sixty-five in number, thus corresponding to the days in the solar year. These three hundred and sixty-five regions were so many heavenly mansions between the earth and the empyrean, and be supposed the existence of an equal number of angels. The number three hundred and sixty-five was in the Basilidian system one of sacred import. Hence he fabricated the word A B R A X A S, because the Greek letters of which it is composed have the numerical value, when added together, of exactly three hundred and sixty-five. The learned German theologian, Bellerman thinks that he has found the derivation in the Captu, or old Egyptian language, where the words abrah, signifying "word," and sadsch, signifying "blessed," "holy," or "adorable," and therefore abrahsadsch Hellenized into Abraxas, would denote "the holy, blessed, or adorable Word," thus approximating to the spirit of the Jewish Cabalists in their similar use of a Holy Name.
Whether the word was thus derived or was invented by Basilides on account of the numerical value of its letters, is uncertain. lie, however, applied it in his system as the name of the Supreme God. This word Abraxas, like the Tetragrammaton of the Jews, became one of great importance to the sect of Basilidians. Their reverence for it gave origin to what are called "abraxas gems."
These are gems, plates, or tablets of metal, which have been discovered principally in Egypt, but have also been found in France and Spain. They are inscribed with the word Abraxas and an image supposed to designate the Basilidian god. Some of them have on them Jewish words, such as Jehovah or Adonai, and others contain Persian, Egyptian, or Grecian symbols.
Montfaucon, who has treated the subject of " abraxas gems " elaborately, divides them into seven classes. 1. Those inscribed with the head of a cock as a symbol of the sun. 2. Those having the head of a lion, to denote the heat of the sun, and the word Mithras. 3. Those having the image of the Egyptian god Sera is. 4. Those having the images of sphinxes, apes, and other animals. 5. Those having human figures with the words Iao, Sabaoth, Adonai, etc. 6. Those having inscriptions without figures. 7. Those having monstrous forms.
From these gems we have derived our knowledge of the Gnostic or Basilidian symbols, which are said to have furnished ideas to the builders of the Middle Ages in their decorative art, and which Mr. King and some other writers have supposed to have been transmitted to the Freemasons.
The principal of these Gnostic symbols is that of the Supreme God, Abraxas. This is represented as a human figure with the head of a cock, the legs being two serpents. He brandishes a sword in one hand (sometimes a whip) and a shield in the other.
The serpent is also a very common symbol, having sometimes the head of a cock and sometimes that of a lion or of a hawk.
Other symbols, known to be of a purely Gnostic or rather Basilidian origin, from the accompanying inscription, Abraxas, or Iao, or both, are Horus, or the Sun, seated on a lotus flower, which is supported by a double lamp, composed of two phallic images conjoined at their bases; the dog ; the raven ; the tancross surmounted by a human head; the Egyptian god, Anubis, and Father Nilus, in a bending posture and holding in his hand the double, phallic lamp of Horus. This last symbol is curious because the word Heilos, like Mithras, which is also a Gnostic symbol, and Abraxas, expresses, in the value of the Greek letters of which it is composed, the number three hundred and sixty-five.
All these symbols, it will be seen, make some reference to the sun, ether as the representative of the Supreme God or as the source of light, and it might lead to the supposition that in the later Gnosticism, as in the Mithraic Mysteries, there was an allusion to sunworship, which was one of the earliest and most extensively dill used of the primitive religions. Evidently in both the Gnostic and the Mithraic symbolism the sun plays a very important part.
While the architects or builders of the Middle Ages may have borrowed and probably did borrow, some suggestions from the Gnostics in carrying out the symbolism of their art, it is not probable, from their ecclesiastical organization and their religious character, that they would be more than mere suggestions. Certainly they would not have been accepted by these orthodox Christians with anything of their real Gnostic interpretation.
We may apply to the use of Gnostic symbols by the mediaeval architects the remarks made by Mr. Paley on the subject of the adoption of certain Pagan symbols by the same builders. Their Gnostic origin was a mere accident. They were employed not as the symbolism of any Gnostic doctrine, but in the spirit of Christianity, and " the Church, in perfecting their development, stamped them with a purer and sublimer character." On a comparison of these Gnostic symbols with those of Ancient Craft or Speculative Masonry, I fail to find any reason to subscribe to the opinion of Hutchinson, that " the Basilidian system of religion furnished Freemasonry with some tenets, principles, and hieroglyphics." As Freemasons we will have to repudiate the tenets and principles" of the sect which was condemned by Clement and by Irenaeus; and as to its " hieroglyphics," by which is meant its symbols, we will look in vain for their counterpart or any approximation to them in the system of Speculative Masonry.
That the Masons at a very early period exhibited a tendency to the doctrine of sacred numbers, which has since been largely developed in the Masonry of the modern High Degrees, is true, but this symbolism was derived directly from the teachings of Pythagoras, with which the founders of the primitive rituals were familiar.
That the sun and the moon are briefly referred to in our rituals and may be deemed in some sort Masonic symbols, is also true, but the use made of this symbolism, and the interpretation of it, very clearly prove that it has not been derived from a Gnostic source.
The doctrine of the metempsychosis, which was. taught by the Basilidians, is another marked point which would widely separate Freemasonry from Gnosticism, the dogma of the resurrection being almost the foundation-stone on which the whole religious philosophy of the former is erected.
Mr. King, in his work on the Gnostics, to which allusion has already been made, seeks to trace the connection between Freemasonry and Gnosticism through a line of argument which only goes to prove his absolute and perhaps his pardonable ignorance of Masonic history. It requires a careful research, which must be stimulated by a connection with the Order, to enable a scholar to avoid the errors into which he has fallen.
"The foregoing considerations," he says, " seem to afford a rational explanation of the manner in which the genuine Gnostic symbols (whether still retaining any mystic meaning or kept as mere lifeless forms, let the Order declare) have come down to these times, still paraded as things holy and of deep significance. Treasured up amongst the dark sectaries of the Lebanon and the Sofis of Persia, communicated to the Templars, and transmitted to their heirs, the Brethren of the Rosy Cross, they have kept up an unbroken existence."
In the line of history which Mr. King has here pursued, he has presented a mere jumble of non-consecutive events which it would be impossible to disentangle. He has evidently confounded the old Rosicrucians with the more modern Rose Croix, while the only connection between the two is to be found in the apparent similarity of name. If he meant the former, he has failed to show a relation between them and the Freemasons; if the latter, he was wholly ignorant that there is not a Gnostic symbol in their system, which is .wholly constructed out of an ecclesiastical symbolism. Such inconsequential assertions need no refutation.
Finally he says that " Thus those symbols, in their origin, embodying the highest mysteries of Indian theosophy, afterward eagerly embraced by the subtle genius of the Alexandrian Greeks, and combined by them with the hidden wisdom of Egypt, in whose captivating and profound doctrines the few bright spirits of the Middle Ages sought a refuge from the childish fables then constituting orthodoxy, engendered by monkery upon the primal Buddhistic stock; these sacred symbols exist even now, but serve merely for the insignia of what at best is but a charitable, probably nothing more in its present form than a convivial institution."
These last lines indicate the precise amount of knowledge that he possesses of the character and the design of Freemasonry. It is to be regretted that he had not sought to explain the singular anomaly that "what at best is but a charitable, and probably nothing more than a convivial institution " has been made the depository of the symbols of an abstruse theosophy. Benevolent societies and convivial clubs do not, as a rule, meddle with matters of such high import.
But to this uncritical essay there need be no reply. When anyone shall distinctly point out and enumerate the Gnostic symbols that made a part of the pure and simple symbolism of the primitive Speculative Masons, it will be time enough to seek the way in which they came there.
For the present we need not undergo the needless labor of searching for that which we are sure can not be found.
Author: Albert Mackey
“Freemasonry regards no man for his worldly wealth or honors.” In her lodges all men meet on the level. That she should provide elaborate and ceremonious honors in many forms for those who love and labor for the Craft is one of he delightful inconsistences of the Order!
These orders are of several kinds - ceremonious, as in the receptions; salutary from the brethren to the Worshipful Master and to the Grand Master; titular when the brother honored receives the permanent right to the use of a Masonic title, usually accompanied by certain rights and privileges, and symbolic, when the recipient is presented with a decoration, emblem or other device to be worn upon proper occasions.
Highest of the salutary honors are the Grand honors; usually given upon four occasions; the visit to the lodge of a Grand Master, or a Deputy Grand Master acting for him; installations of Grand Masters and Worshipful Masters, the dedication of a Masonic Hall or Temple and the constitution of a new lodge. Their manner is esoteric and therefore cannot be described here.
Any who have read a history of the manners and customs of ancient Rome will at once see a resemblance between the prescribed form of both our private and public Grand Honors, and the carefully restricted and formal methods of laudation and applause practiced in those days.
In this modern era, applause by clapping the hands is common to the theater, the concert hall and the lecture room; such applause as is given at a baseball or football game would be considered ill-bred in a theater. In ancient Rome applause was even more particularly formal. Three kinds of laudation with the hands were prescribed to express various degrees of enthusiasm. “Bombi” was given by striking the cupped hands gently and frequently, a crowd thus produced a humming sound. “Imbrices” was similar to our usual applause, hands struck smartly palm to palm; while “Testae” was produced by hitting the palm of the left hand with the fingers of the right hand grouped to a point, producing a hollow sound (when done by many) something like that made by hitting a hollow vessel.
Freemasonry’s private Grand Honors given at corner-stone layings and funerals - crossing the arms on the breast, raising them over the head and dropping them to the sides - have evidently the same classical origin. The three motions are repeated three times; there is thus a succession of nine blows, as hands strike shoulders, strike each other overhead and strike thighs. This feature makes intelligible the phrase occasionally used “giving honors of three times three.” (There are different honors for this in Nevada.)
It is unnecessary (and illegal) to dwell upon the familiar salutes to the Master in the lodge room, since every Mason who can enter a lodge must know their origin and allusions. Suffice it to say here that when offered to a Worshipful Master, they but emphasize the respect and veneration which the Craft pays to the Oriental Chair, looking to its occupant for wisdom, guidance and counsel. Happy the brother in the East who deserves all the respect shown his office.
Conferring honorary membership in a lodge or Grand Lodge is a method of honoring a brother the greater, as its bestowal is rare. It is more common on the continent than in England or the United States. Some lodges provide in the their By-Laws for a definite number of honorary memberships, which cannot be exceeded without the trouble and inconvenience of an amendment. Other lodges refuse to consider thus honoring a brother. In a few instances honorary members pay dues. The lodge honoring them thus puts them on a parity with its own members in everything but the right to ballot on petitions and in elections, and the right to hold office. In some lodges honorary membership carries with it the privilege of the floor (under the pleasure of the Master); in others, it is a mere gesture and carries no inherent rights.
The gift of life membership by a lodge to one of its own members is an honor, indeed. By so doing the lodge says to the recipient:
“You are so beloved among us; your services to us and to the Craft have been so great that we desire to relieve you from the payment of dues for the rest of your life.” Life Memberships, as honors, are often presented in the form of a “Good Standing Card” made of gold, suitably engraved.
Inasmuch as financial experience has demonstrated that disposing of life memberships by purchase is often an unwise policy for lodges which give life memberships but rarely. When really earned by some outstanding service to a lodge, or to Masonry, life membership is among the most distinguished honor which can be conferred upon a brother.
It is the custom in most lodges to honor the retiring Worshipful Master with a jewel of the office he is then assuming, the honorable and honored station of Past Master. The jewel of the Past Master in the United States is universally the compasses (“compass” in six jurisdictions!) open sixty degrees upon an arc of the fourth part of a circle, and the legs of the compasses inclosing the sun. In England the Past Master’s jewel was formerly the square on a quadrant, but is now a square from which is suspended the 47th problem of Euclid.
Not all lodges give their Past Masters jewels as they become Past Masters. Failure to do so usually comes either from a lack of understanding that “Past Master” is something more than a mere empty title, or by finances too modest to stand the strain.
“Past Master” is not only a name given to the brother who has served his lodge in the East, when he makes way for his successor in office, but is also an honorary degree which all newly elected Masters must receive before they can legally be installed. The Past Master’s degree is given in the Chapter of Capitular Masonry, or in an Emergent Lodge of Past Masters called for that purpose. This requirement is very old - certainly as old, or older than the Mother Grand Lodge - and is universal in England and the United States.
Whether the degree is conferred in a Chapter or an Emergent Lodge of Past Masters, the recipient (who thus becomes a “virtual Past Master” before he is actually installed as Worshipful Master) is taught many esoteric lessons regarding his conduct while in the Oriental Chair. Past Masters are usually members of Grand Lodge, but, according to the most eminent Masonic authorities, not by inherent right but by the local regulations of their own Grand Lodge. In some Grand Lodges Past Masters have individual votes; in others they have only a fraction of a vote; all the Past Masters from any one lodge being given one whole vote between them.
The fact that a Past Master must receive that degree before he became an Installed Master, and that he is a member of Grand Lodge is evidence that the title is not empty. As it confers privileges, it also requires the performance of duties. The honor is in the state; the jewel is but the expression of the lodge’s appreciation of that honor. To most brethren their Past Masters’ jewel is their “Master’s Wages” to be cherished as, perhaps, the greatest honor which can ever be given them.
An additional honor usually accorded Past Masters is a special word of welcome extended by the Worshipful Master, who may, and often does, invite them to seats in the East. This is a courtesy entirely under the Worshipful master’s control. It is not required that he invite his predecessors to sit with him; neither is he forbidden to invite anyone in the lodge to sit in the East.
Another honor the Worshipful Master has wholly in his discretion is offering the gavel to a distinguished visitor. Usually this is reserved for the Grand Master or the Deputy Grand Master acting in his place, who are received with the lodge standing. In tendering such a distinguished visitor the Gavel the Worshipful Master says in effect: “In full knowledge of your wisdom I trust you to preside over my lodge.” The recipient of such an honor usually receives the gavel, seats the lodge, and returns it immediately to the Master. What to do with the brother who has served his lodge in some one capacity for so many years that he can neither successfully carry the burden longer nor decline the honor of re-election or appointment, has troubled many a Master. Borrowing the title Emeritus from the classic custom of universities may solve the problem.
Emeritus comes from the latin word “emerere,” meaning “to be greatly deserving.” The Secretary, Treasurer or Tiler who has served for a generation and now wishes to retire, may be appointed or elected “Treasurer Emeritus”, “Secretary Emeritus”, “Tiler Emeritus,” etc.
Such an honor says in effect: “You have served so long and so well that we cannot dispense with your services or your experience, but we wish you to enjoy them without burdening you with the cares of office. Therefore we give you the title and the honor and relieve you of the labor.” If salaried officers are retired with the title Emeritus, continuing their salary for life makes the honor practical. Receptions in lodges differ in different Jurisdictions, but all such honors express respect and veneration. Thus a Grand Master may be received by the Marshall, the Deacons and the Stewards. Escorted to the East, the Worshipful Master receives him, accords him the Grand Honors (Private or Public as is the case) and tenders the gavel. Less distinguished Grand Lodge officers may be received with the Marshall and Deacons only, Marshall and Stewards only, Marshall only, or with the lodge standing, without any escort. It is wise to adhere strictly to the form of reception prescribed by local regulations and never to offer such honors to any brethren not specified by regulations as entitled to them. To use them promiscuously is to lessen their dignity and their effectiveness.
If election as Worshipful Master is the greatest honor which a lodge may confer upon a brother, election to the “foot of the line” or appointment to any office in the line under the discretion of the Master, is less an honor by but a few degrees, since it is usual, though not invariable, that the brother who begins at the bottom ends at the top. Whatever his future career may be, at least either lodge or Master has said to the brother who thus takes service in the official family of his lodge: “We trust you; wee believe in you; we expect that you will demonstrate that we are right when we say we think in time you will be worthy to be Master of this lodge.”
Selection for membership on either of the four most important committees a Master may appoint; upon charity or upon trials, is a great honor. For these committees the Master naturally selects only brethren of wisdom, experience, knowledge and an unselfish willingness to serve.
Masonry honors her dead. Masonic funeral services conducted over the remains of a deceased brother show his surviving relatives and friends that we are mindful of his worth. As such, the ceremonies we conduct at the grave are an honor and should be so considered. Occasionally arises the problem of the active, hard-working brother, who has done much for the lodge, but who has never held an office, or who, if a Past Master, has received his jewel. Brethren become lodge instructors; serve for years upon the finance committee, are selected Lodge Trustees or whose advise and counsel is so valued that it is frequently sought. After long service of this kind a lodge may desire to express its affection in some concrete way.
The presentation Apron is one very pretty solution of this problem. Presentation Aprons may be obtained from Masonic regalia supply houses with any degree of elaboration and at any cost desired. They are particularly effective for bestowal upon brethren who have served more than one year as Master. It detracts from, not adds to, the value of a Past Master’s Jewel to present any brother with two or more of them! The presentation apron with the Past Master’s Emblem worked in gold embroidery upon it, is a graceful honor which can be worn in the Mother Lodge, or in lodges visited, and is cherished by all who receive it.
Every brother is familiar with the solemn words with which an Entered Apprentice receives his lambskin or white leather apron - “More Honorable Than the Star and Garter, or any other order - .” An honor, indeed, but sometimes less appreciated than it deserves because it is given to so many; given, indeed, to all who are permitted to knock upon the West Gate.
This honor differs from a Past Master’s jewel, or other permanent honors which Freemasonry may bestow, in this vital particular; it is given before the performance. Others come as a recognition of labor done and a Master’s Wages earned. The apron may become a great and distinguished honor, or it may be “merely a piece of white lambskin.” Which it will become is wholly in the power of the recipient to say.
When worthily worn, only one grant from Freemasonry may exceed it in value - the honor of being raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. Here, too, the honor comes before the work. But if the work is done, if the wages are earned, if the newly made brother does indeed live according to the precepts of the Fraternity, then at long last, even if he has received the jewel of a Past Master - he will agree, and his brethren will unite in saying that there is no honor which Freemasonry can give to any man that is greater than that which lies in the simple words: “He is a true Master Mason.”
Masonic Talk Sept. 1930
In the ritual of the modern day Masonic Degrees, the building of King Solomon's Temple plays an important role. It has also fascinated the Biblical scholar and the archaeologist in their attempts to prove the existence of the Temple and the Bible story of King Solomon. All through history this subject has produced an air of mystery which seems to defy a positive solution.
The Masonic scholar, willing to spend the time and effort, can spend hours of research on almost any one of the many features of King Solomon's Temple and still end on a note of mystery admitting that the subject is incomplete and more research is needed. An example to illustrate this point is the reference in the Second Degree which refers to the winding staircase, which we are led to believe existed in King Solomon's Temple. Although there is but one reference to the winding staircase in Masonic ritual, it has been made the central feature of the Second Degree which every Fellowcraft Mason must symbolically ascend in order to make his advancement in the degree. As all Masons will recall, the reference is made "to advance through a porch, by a flight of winding stairs to the middle chamber, there to receive his wages." The details very clearly give a winding staircase leading from the porch way entrance up through the Temple Sanctuary to the upper floors. This reference contains a number of specific and positive statements which we are apparently asked to accept as facts. They are (1) that there was a winding staircase in King Solomon's Temple; 92) that it was approached through an entrance from the porch way; and (3) that the workmen on the building ascended these stairs to receive their wages in the middle chamber. The serious researcher will find that writers of the Charges and ritual of the craft were apparently more interested in the dramatic effect on the candidate than they were on historical accuracy. Biblical scholars and archaeologists differ widely as to the interpretation placed both on historical and the archaeological evidence dealing with King Solomon's Temple and in particular, with the passages dealing with the staircase, but it's fairly safe to say that neither the Biblical scholar nor the archaeologists would support the specific statements made in the Masonic ritual of the Second Degree.
As of today, the only historical evidence relative to the building of Solomon's Temple is found in three different books of the Old Testament and in the writings of Josephus. Of these writings, it is generally accepted that the version in the First Book of Kings is both the oldest and most reliable description we have of the Temple. Our interest here is the mention of the winding staircase. The passages relevant to the winding staircase are found in Chapter 6 of the Authorized Version, which is probably the one used by the ritualists who composed the Lecture on the Second Degree.
First Kings, Chapter 6, Verse 1: "And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zip, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord."
Verse 5: "And against the wall of the house he built chambers round about, against the walls of the house round about, both of the temple and of the oracle; and he made chambers round about."
Verse 7: "And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither; so that there was neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building."
Verse 8: "The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house; and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber and out of the middle into the third."
The description above clearly states that there were winding stairs, but an examination of the text finds inconsistencies in the passages themselves and serious discrepancies are noticed between our Masonic ritual and the scriptures above. An example is in Verse 8 which places the entrance door for the middle chamber in the right side of the building. It continues by stating that the stairway went from the door to the middle chamber and on up to the third chamber. No mention is made to an entrance on the ground floor.
The second Bible reference is in Chronicles, Book II, Chapter 3, Verses 1-9. The description, which parallels the Kings version, omits all references to the chambers except for Verse 9 which states: "And he overlaid the upper chambers with gold..." It is widely accepted that the "upper chambers" in Chronicles are the "Side chambers" mentioned in Kings. Notice that there is no mention of a winding staircase.
The third description is found in the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel came from a priestly family and some researchers think could have lived at a time which would have enabled him to have seen Solomon's Temple first hand. However, at the time of his writing, the Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians.
The parallel passages of the above quoted from Kings and Chronicles are to be found in the 41st Chapter of Ezekiel, but differs from the other two.
Ezekiel, Chapter 41, Verse 6: "And the side chambers were three, one over another, and thirty in order; and they entered into the wall which was of the house for the side chambers around about, that they might have hold, but they had not hold in the wall of the house."
Verse 7: 1 "And there was an enlarging, and a winding about still upward to the said chambers; for the winding about of the house went still upward round about the house; therefore, the breadth of the house was still upward, and so increased from the lowest chamber to the highest by the midst." It would appear that what Ezekiel was trying to say is that the chambers themselves wound about the house in long galleries. By "wound about" does he mean encircle? He makes no reference to a staircase. There are other differences noted in the three versions of the Old Testament.
Our Masonic view was probably taken from the translation of the Authorized Version of the Old Testament, which contained many mistranslations in the relevant passages. The translators themselves were aware of the difficulties, for attached to their manuscripts are numerous marginal notes and questions. Biblical Hebrew text often presents difficulties in translation and some cases impossible to a point of where one can only surmise at the true meaning.
Prof. Robert H. Pfeiffer of Harvard University and Boston University in "An Introduction to the Old Testament" writes: "The third element in Solomon's magnificence consisted of his buildings, primarily on Zion in Jerusalem, but elsewhere. The account in Chapter 6, Verses 1-9 is one of the most difficult sections in the Old Testament. First, owing to scribes who failed to understand architectural terms and the obscure descriptions of the original author, neither an architect nor a clear writer, the text has been greatly corrupted. Secondly, the account has endured successive additions and revisions."
The first difficulty comes from the Hebrew text of Verse 8 in which one word is defective. The word appears as "Lullim" and then translated to English as "Winding Stairs. ' Scholars point out that if the word is really "Lullim" it appears nowhere else in the Old Testament, but an associated word "Lulin" appears in several passages of the Jewish code known as the "Mishna" and later called the "Talmud."
One reference reads: "there were Lulin in the upper chamber opening into the Holy of Holies, by which the workmen were let down in baskets, so that they should not feed their eyes on the Holy of Holies." Most translators translate this word to mean "opening" while others translate the word as "Trap-doors." The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 12, pp. 85,92 says that the word "Lullin" refers to "trapdoors" but gives no supporting evidenced to the meaning.
The second difficulty from the Hebrew text comes from the original word "Tichonah" translated as "middle" in our phrase from Kings, Verse 8, "the door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house." The meaning of the word "Tichonah" is uncertain, but most modern translators refer to it as the "lowest~' instead of "middle." This seems to make more sense.
Dr. James Moffat in his translation of the Bible in 1924 entitled "A New Translation of the Bible" translated Verse 8 in Kings this way: "The entrance into the lower side rooms was on the south side of the Temple; you climbed to the middle row, and from the middle to the top row, through trap doors."
In 1965, another translation came out in an English Edition of the "Jewish Bible" with Verse 8: "The entrance to the lower story was at the right hand corner of the Temple and access to the middle story above was by trap doors and so from the middle story to the third." There is no reference to winding stairs.
If the Temple had a winding staircase, as a few scholars still think, it was probably in the side walls and served the side chambers built into the thickness of the walls from the first and second levels. These side chambers were used while the Temple was being built for the purpose of paying the workmen their wages. Later, they were used as store-houses or treasury rooms of the Temple into which the treasures and gifts to the Temple were placed.
As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, the other source of information about King Solomon's Temple is in the writings of Josephus, a Jewish historian. He mentions Solomon's Temple in several of his works, but the main references are in his history of the Jewish people called "The Antiquities of the Jews." One relevant passage quoted from Wriston's translation, Book VIII, Chapter 3: "The King also had a fine contrivance for an ascent to the upper room over the Temple, and that was by steps in the thickness of its wall; for it had no large door on the east end, as the lower house had, but the entrances were by the sides, through very small doors."
Apart from Josephus and the Bible, we have no other literary source to turn to for information. Unfortunately, there is no evidence in Jerusalem to which we might gain a knowledge of this subject, for successive conquerors made a thorough job of the destruction of the Temple and not one part remains standing and nothing has been uncovered by archaeologists. Regardless of whether there was a winding staircase, a trap-door or just an opening to the different compartments of the Temple, the mystery still remains, and will continue to fascinate both the biblical scholar and the archaeologist and be of particular interest to the Freemason.
References: Books of The Old Testament, Standard Work-Grand Lodge of Illinois; The Mystery of the Winding Staircase by A. L. Shane; and A New Translation of the Bible by Dr. James Moffat.
"I don't believe in a Christmas celebration by the lodge. I don't think we ought to have one, or be asked to contribute to one or in any way engage in Christmas festivities."
"The Junior Mason spoke emphatically and with marked disapproval of the little ante-room group nearby, making happy plans for Yule-tide.
"That's very interesting," commented the Old Past Master. I like to hear points of view unfamiliar to me. Would you mind telling me why?"
"Of course not. It's very simple. Masonry is not Christian. King Solomon, of course, wasn't a Christian, nor were either of the Hiram's. Masonry admits to her ranks any good man of faith; Christian, Jewish, Mohammedan, Buddhist... it makes no difference, so he has a Faith. Then, as a lodge, we celebrate a holiday belonging to one faith. Now I personally am a Christian, and of course I celebrate Christmas. But my brother across the way is a Jew, who does not recognize Christianity. To ask him to spend his proportion of lodge funds in celebrating the birth of a Leader in Whom he does not believe would be exactly like asking me to celebrate, with my proportion of lodge money, the birth of Confucius. Of course, I have only one vote and the majority rules, but when it comes to personal contributions to a Masonic Christmas celebration, my hands will never come out of my pockets."
He shoved them deeper in as he spoke to emphasize his intention not to spend.
"Hum!" answered the Old Past Master. "So you think your Jewish brother across the way doesn't recognize Christianity? Don't you mean he doesn't recognize Christ as the Son of God? Wait a minute... Oh, Brother Samuels." The Old Past Master called across the ante-room. "Here a minute, will you?"
The Jewish brother rose and came forward.
"I just wanted to ask you if you are in favor or against the lodge Christmas celebration?" asked the Old Past Master.
"Me? I am in favor of it, of course, both for the lodge appropriation and the individual contribution."
"Thank you," nodded the Old Past Master. Then as the Jewish brother went back to his seat, he turned to the Junior Mason.
"You see, my son, our Jewish friend is not narrow. He does not believe in Christ as the Redeemer, but he recognizes that he lives in a country largely Christian, and belongs to a lodge largely Christian. To him the Christmas celebration is not one of His birthday, but of the spirit of joyousness and love which we mean when we sing, at Christmas time 'Peace on earth, good will towards men!' If you argue that 'peace' is only a Christian word, he might even quote to you the words of One who said 'I bring you not Peace, but a Sword.'
"Now let me explain something to you. The Jew has just as much right to refuse to recognize Christ as the Son of God, as you have to refuse to consider Mohammed the Prophet the followers of Allah say he is. But as an educated man, you must know that Mohammed was a good man, a devout leader, a wise teacher. As an educated man, you admit that the religion founded by Buddha has much in it that is good, and you admit that Confucius was a wise and just leader. Were you in the land where the birthdays of any of these were celebrated, would you refuse your part in the people's joy in their Leader, simply because you followed another? I trust not. Well, neither do our Jewish brethren or our Mohammedan brethren, desire to be left out of our celebration. They may not believe in the Divinity of Him we, as Christians, follow, but if they are good men and good Masons... they are perfectly willing to admit that the religion we follow is as good for us as theirs is for them, and to join with us in celebrating the day which is to us the glad day of all the year.
"Believe me, boy, Christmas doesn't mean Christ's birthday to many a man who calls himself Christian. It is not because of joy the He was born that many a good man celebrates Christmas. It is because his neighbor celebrates it, because it is a time of joy for little ones, because it is a day when he can express his thanks to his God that he is allowed to have a wife and family and children and friends and a lodge, because of that very 'peace on earth' spirit which is no more the property of the Gentile than the Jew, the Chinese or the Mohammedan.
"It is such a spirit that Masons join, all, in celebrating Christmas. It is on the Masonic side of the tree we dance, not the Christian side. When this lodge erects its Christmas tree in the basement and throws it open to the little ones of the poor of this town, you will find children of all kinds there; black, white, yellow, and brown, Jew and Gentile, Christian and Mohammedan. And you will find a Jew at the door, and among the biggest subscriptions will be those from some Jewish brethren, and there is a Jew who rents cars for a living who will supply us a dozen free to take baskets to those who cannot come. And when the Jewish Orphan Asylum has its fair, in the Spring, you will find many a Christian Mason attending to spend his money and help along the cause dear to his Jewish brethren, never remembering that they are of a different faith. That, my son, is Masonry."
"For Charity is neither Christian nor Jewish, nor Chinese nor Buddhistic. And celebrations which create joy in little hearts and feed the hungry and make the poor think that Masons do not forget the lessons in lodge, are not Christian alone, though they be held at Christmas, and are not for Christians alone, though the celebration be in His honor. Recall the ritual: 'By the exercise of brotherly love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family, the high and low, the rich and poor, who, as created by one Almighty Parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support and protect each other'.
"It is with this thought that we, as Masons, celebrate Christmas, to bring joy to our brethren and their little ones, and truly observe the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God, whether we be Jew or Gentile, Mohammedan or Buddhist." The Old Past Master ceased and stood musing, his old eyes looking back along a long line of lodge Christmas trees about which eager little faces danced. Then he turned to the Junior Mason.
"Well," he said smiling, "Do you understand?"
"I thank you for my Christmas present," came the answer. "Please tell me to which brother I should make my Christmas contribution?"
These strange words were first used Masonically by Laurence Dermott (1720-1721) as a title of the Book of Constitutions, printed in 1756, used by the Ancient Grand Lodge in London.
The Title Page of this Ancient Tome is as follows:
AHIMAN REZON or, A Help To A Brother
Showing the excellency of secrecy, the principles of the craft And the Benefits arising from a strict Observance thereof.
What sort of Men ought to be initiated into the Mystery, and what sort of Masons are fit to govern lo with their Brethren in and out of the Lodge. Likewise the prayers unfed in the Jewish and Christian Lodges, the Ancient Manner of Constituting new Lodges, with all the Charges, Etc.
Also the old and new Regulations. The Manner of Chufing and Installing Grand-Master and Officers, and other useful Particulars too numerous here to mention. To which is added, The Greatest Collection of Masons Songs ever presented to public view, with many entertaining Prologues and Epilogues.
Together with, Solomon’s Temple and Oratorio as it was performed for the benefit of Freemasons by Brother Laurence Dermott, Sec.
According to “The Builders,” at one time or another, eight American Grand Jurisdictions have used the words as a title to their Books of Law; Georgia, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Two still retain the old title; Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Georgia now has “Masonic Manual and Code;” Maryland, “Constitutions, By-Laws and Standing Orders;” New York, “Book of Constitutions;” North Carolina, “Code,” also named “Constitution and Regulations;” Tennessee, “Masonic Code;” and Virginia, the “Text Book,” commonly referred to as the “Methodical Digest.” Pennsylvania’s Ahiman Rezon contains the following:
SECTION XII - HISTORICAL NOTES - AHIMAN REZON.
The first Masonic book published in America was printed in Philadelphia by Brother Benjamin Franklin in 1734. It was a reprint of what is known as “Anderson’s Constitutions,” which was published in 1723 under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England, and entitled: “The Constitutions of the Freemasons. Containing the History, Charges, Regulations, &c., of the Most ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity. For the use of the Lodges,” and was compiled by Brother James Anderson, D.D. This reprint is now very scarce. A copy of it is in the Library of the Grand Lodge.
The “Ahiman Rezon; A Help to a Brother,” was prepared in 1756 by Brother James Dermott, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of England According To The Old Institutions,” once called the “Ancients.”
This corresponded to the Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England, once called the “Moderns.”
The first Book of Masonic law published by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania was entitled: “Ahiman Rezon abridged and digested” as a help to all that are or would be Free and Accepted Masons.” It was prepared by the Grand Secretary, Rev. Brother William Smith, D.D., Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and was almost entirely a reprint of Dermott’s work; it was approved by the Grand Lodge November 22, 1781, published in 1783, and dedicated to Brother George Washington.
It is reprinted in the introduction to the first or edited reprint of the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, 1730-1808. (See the Library, p 201.)
On April 18, 1825, a revision of the Ahiman Rezon was adopted, being taken largely from “Anderson’s Constitutions.” Another revision was adopted June 15, 1857, which was followed by the revisions adopted June 15, 1867, December 5, 1877, December 6, 1893, December 4, 1895 and December 1, 1915. The revision of 1825 contains the following as the definition of the words Ahiman Rezon:
“The Book of Constitutions is usually denominated Ahiman Rezon. The literal translation of “Ahmian” is a “Prepared Brother’,” from “Manah” to “Prepare,” and “Rezon”, “Secret;” so that “Ahiman Rezon” literally means, the secrets of a Prepared Brother. It is likewise supposed to be a corruption of “Achi man Ratzon,” the thoughts and opinions of a true and faithful Brother.”
As the Ahiman Rezon is not a secret. but a published book, and the above definition has been omitted from subsequent revisions of the book, the words were submitted to Hebrew scholars for translation upon the assumption that they are of Hebrew origin. The words, however, are not Hebrew.
Subsequent inquiry leads to the belief that they come from the Spanish, and are thus interpreted: “Ahi” (which is pronounced “Ahee”), is demonstrative and means “there,” as if pointing to a thing or place; “Man” may be considered a form of “Monta,” which means the “Account, amount, sum total,” or “Fullness;” while “Razon” (or Rezon) means “Reason, Principle,” or “Justice,” the word justice being used in the sense of law. If, therefore, we ascribe the words “Ahiman Rezon” to Spanish origin, their meaning is - “There is the full account of the law.”
South Carolina’s Ahiman Rezon, under “Masonic Definitions,” states: “The Book of Constitution of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina is also called the Ahiman Rezon. The title is derived from three Hebrew words, “ahim,” brothers; “manah,” to appoint or select; and “ratzon,” the will or law; and it consequently literally signifies “the law of appointed or selected brothers.” It contains the rules and regulations of the Order, the details of all public ceremonies to be used on various occasions, such as consecrations, installations, funerals, etc., and is, in fact, a summary of all the fundamental principles of Freemasonry. To this book reference is made in all cases where the by-laws of the Grand Lodge are silent or not sufficiently explicit. In all public processions, the Ahiman Rezon, or Book of Constitutions, should be carried before the Grand Master by the Master of the oldest Lodge present.
Considerable controversy has taken place over the meaning of the words, and many and ingenious have been the explanations offered by various students.
Mackey, who erred so seldom that his monumental Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, albeit enlarged and revised, is still a foundation stone for most structures of Masonic lore; interpreted them to mean “the will of selected brethren.” Dr. Fredrick Dalcho, learned Masonic authority of early years, believed that a better translation of the Hebrew was “the secrets of a prepared brother.”
For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the structure of Hebrew, it may be stated that many words in that ancient tongue are susceptible of many interpretations; indeed, many words in English have different meanings, according to context. “Case,” for instance, may be an action-at-law, a container, and illness or an injury.
Other words pronounced alike but spelled differently have divergent meanings, as t-w-o, and t-o-o, or i-n and i-n-n. Written Hebrew is often without vowels (instance JHVH, usually written Jehovah in English) so the difference in translation of these two able Masonic scholars is not particularly strange.
Later authorities, however, believe that both were mistaken and that the real meaning of Ahiman Rezon is “faithful brother Secretary,” for technical reasons which have been well set forth by noted Hebrew scholars, including Brother the Reverend Morris Rosenbaum, a quarter of a century ago, in the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati (the great research Lodge in London).
According to the theory of the more modern translation, Dermott chose the word “Ahiman” because, as a Hebrew proper name, it was translated in the Geneva or “Breeches” Bible as “a brother of the right hand.” It is interesting to note that Young’s Concordance of the Bible (1924 revision) translates Ahiman, which occurs four times in the King James version, as meaning “brother of man.” Numbers, Joshua and Judges refer to Ahiman, a son of Anak, who dwelt in Hebron, and First Chronicles to Ahiman, a Hebrew porter in the Temple.
Dermott, however, must have used the Geneva Bible; all the texts in his book, quoted in his address “To the reader,” are verbatim excerpts from this work. In that “Breeches” Bible is the familiar “Table of Names and their Interpretations familiar in many editions of the Scriptures. Here Dermott must have found this “brother of the right hand” which he evidently took to indicate brother of fidelity, a faithful brother. However incorrect this translation may be - apparently it comes from the Hebrew “ah,” brother, and “yamin,” right hand - it was the translation to which Dermott had access. In the same Bible “Rezon” in translated “a secretarie or leane.”
In the dedication of his second edition of the Ahiman Rezon, Dermott wrote: I hope you will do me the honor of calling me a faithful brother.”
Dermott had a smattering of Hebrew, but he fell into the common error of those whose knowledge runs not very deep; he lacked perspective and any feeling for the relativity of facts about the difficult tongue. Moderns find the same attitude of mind among the unschooled; an ignorant man denies that the earth is a ball, because it “looks” flat, but has no difficulty in believing in ghosts and banshees; he can “understand” how “speech travels through a telephone wire” but cannot comprehend the verity of the geological doctrine that the earth is many, many times six thousand years old. Similarly, Dermott could go to a Bible for his Hebrew words and their meanings, and not comprehend that a Hebrew scholar might make a mistake.
It is curious to find the pseudo-science of numerology called upon to explain Dermott’s choice of a name for his Book of Constitutions, which was, so oddly, to persist long after its contents was superseded by more modern text. Yet the evidence is plain; one need not credit that belief which ascribes magical powers of prophecy to the numerical value of the letters in a name to see the point.
An ancient Jewish writer chose as a title of his work, words the numerical value of the letters of which would equal or nearly approximate the numerical value of the letters of his name, thus cryptographically offering evidence that he did, indeed, have the right to claim its authorship . . .a custom at least as old as 1200 A.D.
In all probability Dermott knew this; without such knowledge, it is difficult on any theories of probability to account for the fact that the numerical value of the letters in Ahiman Rezon is 372, while those in Laurence total 371. The difference of one is not actually a discrepancy, because Gematria, or numerical cryptography, regards a difference of but one as an equality, and even gives such a factor a name.
It may well be that this old Jewish custom was set forth for Dermott by a Jew, who would naturally demonstrate it only with a given name, not a surname; this may be why Dermott chose words which cryptographically equal “Laurence” and not “Laurence Dermott.”
Whatever the real meaning of Ahiman Rezon - whether it be Hebrew, properly translated “faithful brother secretary,” or “the will of selected brethren,” or “the secrets of a prepared brother,” or Spanish in origin, properly understood “There is a full account of the law” as Pennsylvania sets forth - the name for many years caught the imagination of Masons. Only lately has it fallen from its former high estate. Two old and greatly respected American Jurisdictions still find it all sufficient as the title of their official books of the law. It is to be noted, however, that but little of Laurence Dermott remains in either Pennsylvania’s or South Carolina’s volume; only the name there persists as a reminder of the Antient: influence in both these Grand Lodges.
The canvas would be pure white, unspotted by the world, because it represents the lambskin or white leather apron, an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason, its pure and spotless surface being symbolic of purity of life and conduct. As white is the reflection of every color in the rainbow, so the white canvas should reflect the individuality of each Mason within the brotherhood of men.
Although many colors will be added, its white surface must be a reminder that Masonry regards no man for his worldly wealth or honors and that the internal – not the external – qualifications of a man should render him worthy to be made a Mason.
If I were to paint a portrait of a Mason, I would start with the color gold, representing deity, because every Mason is taught that no man should enter upon any great or important undertaking without first invoking the blessings of deity. I would use many shades of reds and blacks and whites and yellows and browns, representing all the races of the world, because Masons are taught that the whole human species is one family – the high and low, the rich and poor, created by one Almighty Parent – and inhabitants of the same planet.
But I would especially use lots of blue, because blue is symbolic of beliefs, and beliefs are what distinguish a Mason. My Masonic figure would be painted with a belief in the Ancient Landmarks: monotheism; immortality; the Book of the Sacred Law; plus additional beliefs and obligations which contain nothing which conflicts with his duties to God, his country, his neighbors, or himself.
Being mindful of our country’s motto – e pluribus unum, one from many – I would strive to blend my colors so as not to lose the essential character of each one, because Masonry is a unitas multiplex – a unity out of diversity.
Because Masonry values the integrity of each individual, my Masonic portrait would look like no other Mason. Yet it would resemble all men who chart their travels by the Sacred Volume in pursuit of further light.
I would paint him as a temple builder, because Master Masons endeavor to fit themselves as a dwelling place for the Supreme Architect according to the grand design of the Celestial Trestleboard Trestleboard above. He would be facing East for, as the sun rises in the East to light the day, so rise the Inspiration and Light in the East to guide all his endeavors.
If I were to paint a portrait of a Mason, I would enclose it in a frame fashioned with all the working tools of Masonry indiscriminately, because Masons are admonished to apply their working tools of life for the noble and glorious purpose of framing their actions with the frame of rectitude. The construction would be guided by the square and compass, for should all Masons square their actions and circumscribe their passions.
The four sides of the frame would be composed of the Cardinal Virtues of a Mason, for should all Masons be bounded by Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice.
And because the individual Mason gains strength from his lodge, the frame will be painted as an Indented Tessel, representing the beautiful tesselated border or skirting which surrounded the ground floor of King Solomon’s Temple, emblematical of those blessings and comforts which surround us and which we hope to obtain by a firm reliance on Divine Providence.
If I were to paint a portrait of a Mason, I would support it on an easel of acacia, that tree which serves to remind us of that imperishable part of man which survives the grave, and bears the nearest affinity to the supreme intelligence which pervades all nature, and which can never, never, never die.
The three legs of the easel would represent the pillars of Masonry, because there must be Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn all great and important undertakings. The legs would be painted with the tenets of a Mason’s profession. Thus should all Masons support brother Master Masons, their widows and orphans with Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.
If I were to paint a portrait of a Mason, I would work with freedom, fervency, and zeal, because that is how all men should serve their Master. I would ask only for the emblematical wages of plenty, health, and peace, because the making of a Mason is a spiritual, not a worldly undertaking.
When my portrait of a Mason was completed, I would display it openly in public, rather than only in a lodge room, so the whole community could appreciate its worth. And I would dedicate it to the glory of the Grand Artist of the Universe, with confidence that He would say that, thus painted, there stands a just and upright Mason, worthy to adorn that spiritual building, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Oger L. Terry
PM Union Lodge No. 2 Madison, IN
Past Grand Steward & Tyler
Grand Lodge of Indiana
Since World War 11 Americans have become world travellers in increasing numbers. American Freemasons have joined the swelling tide of visitors to other lands for military, business, and vacation plans, as well as out of fraternal curiosity.
Many Brothers have learned by first hand experience that Masonic ritual is recited in foreign languages, a fact that all of us have been aware of but never truly realized in our fraternal travels in the United States.
From this realization has come a quickened interest in ritual as well as language differences, which has stimulated frequent questions about "how they do it over there". Many inquiries received by your Masonic Service Association are exemplified by this one: "Since they use the metric system, what do they have, in Germany for example, for the twenty-four inch gauge in the E. A. degree?"
This answer is not intended to be humorous. They use the twenty-four inch gauge. Freemasonry on the continent of Europe acquired much of its ritual, especially for the first three degrees, from England in the first half of the eighteenth century. The metric system was not widely used in Europe until after 1790 when France required its adoption by law during the period of the revolution. The metric system is a product of modern science and mathematics. The inch, a word derived from a Latin word meaning twelfth part, was known and used throughout the countries of Europe long before metric units became the standards for weights and measures.
Most of us subconsciously assume that others do what we do. When we find that what we took for granted "just isn't so", we are likely to be astonished or confused unless we inquire into the historic, linguistic, or racial differences which have created the variations that surprise us.
Many a newly-made Brother in the United States is at first bewildered when he learns of the differences from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. What are private grand honors in one Grand Jurisdiction may be public grand honors in another. Sometimes this happens within the territory of the same Grand Lodge. For example, in Connecticut, a Mason raised in East Hartford may be really surprised if his first visit to another Lodge is made across the river in Hartford, in a Lodge which has proudly maintained a somewhat different ritual entirely "from mouth to ear" since it first acquired its charter from Massachusetts before the Revolution.
Connecticut has a "standard" ritual, approved by the Grand Lodge Custodians of the Work; but since some of its founding Lodges antedate the formation of the Grand Lodge in 1789 and "have transmitted unimpaired" the rituals which they acquired (from three different sources) before that date, the Grand Lodge has never insisted on the adoption of the "standard" ritual by those older Lodges, so long as they make no alterations in their form and language, because those agree in spirit with the fundamental tenets of the Craft.
But many American Masons are also surprised to learn that there are Masonic Lodges in this country still working in other languages than English. A little reflection will remind such brethren that this nation absorbed a great many immigrants into its population, whose descendants still preserve their "mother tongue" and some of the ideas and customs of the countries of their origin.
The writer's father, a Presbyterian minister, preached two sermons every Sunday, one in German and one in English, in New Orleans, Louisiana, New York City, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, until the third generation had so largely forgotten the mother tongue of their immigrant ancestors that the German worship services were discontinued un the 1930's.
The same thing has happened in Masonic Lodges. There used to be many more which worked in other languages, French, Spanish, German and Italian. Lessing Lodge No. 557 of Chicago and United Brothers Lodge No. 356 of New York are examples of Lodges which have discontinued working in another language.
But as late as five years ago there was a considerable number of Masonic Lodges whose members still carried on the ritualistic labors of Freemasonry in their mother tongue.
The majority of American German-speaking Lodges are concentrated in New York City, especially in the Ninth Masonic District; but there are others in Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Reading); California (San Francisco) ; Baltimore, Maryland; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Boston, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; and Washington, D. C.
The polyglot origin of the people who built such cosmopolitan cities as New Orleans, New York City, San Francisco, and Miami, Florida, accounts for the survival of foreign language- speaking Lodges in those places, particularly those employing the Romance languages, French, Spanish, and Italian. Freemasonry in New Orleans, for example, had its origins among the French refugees who fled there from Hispaniola in the 1790's and the early 1800's, when that island experienced bloody revolutions led by Toussaint L'Ouverture and Henry Christophe.
French speaking Lodges may be found in New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and Montreal, Canada. Italian is still used in some Lodges in the 10th District of Manhattan (New York City), New Orleans, and San Francisco. Spanish is the language used in a few Lodges in New Orleans, New York City, Miami and Tampa, Florida. A list of these foreign language Lodges in the United States is given at the end of this Short Talk Bulletin.
But for every Brother who is surprised to learn that there are still so many Lodges in the United States using a foreign language, there are many more who are amazed to discover that a number of Lodges (most of them still using a foreign language) employ a "Scottish Rite" version of the three degrees of Symbolic Masonry. The average American Freemason is bewildered to hear that there is a "Scottish Rite Blue Lodge ritual".
To clear up the first and most natural misunderstanding which such a statement may create, it should be emphasized that the Supreme Councils of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in the United States most emphatically disclaim any control over "the symbolic degrees of ancient Craft Masonry", i.e., over the "Blue Lodges" and their governing bodies, the sovereign Grand Lodges of the various states of the nation. In fact, the Supreme Councils have done all in their power to proclaim and to demonstrate their acknowledgment of the Grand Lodges as the supreme Masonic authority in their respective jurisdictions.
To understand the term, "Scottish Rite Blue Lodge ritual", one must become aware of the historical developments which produced that phrase. Since it is a phenomenon associated primarily with those Lodges using a foreign language in their labors, it is closely tied to the theme of this Bulletin, "Some Lodges are different."
When Speculative Freemasonry underwent its phenomenal spread and growth in the eighteenth century, its ritualistic ceremonies had not been fixed or finally determined. When the Mother Grand Lodge of England was established in 1717, there was no ritual of the third degree, as we recognize that term today. The ritual grew and expanded as "ritual tinkerers" experimented with it and added to its language and its ceremonies.
As it spread into other countries on the continent of Europe, it took on different forms and ceremonies which reflected the tastes and predilections of various national groups. The French especially liked colorful rites and pageantry, which became the characteristic features not only of the "higher degrees", but even of the primary degrees of symbolic Craft Masonry.
Because of the association of the term "Scottish Rite" with some of those degrees in France, as a result of the activities of the Chevalier Ramsey and other Scottish Freemasons in exile in that country, the basic degrees also were described as "Scottish Rite" to distinguish them from the symbolic degrees as they had developed in England. In fact, in some European systems of Masonic rites, Supreme Councils actually claimed control over the symbolic degrees.
"Scottish Rite Blue Lodge ritual", therefore, is a term which describes the ritual of the symbolic degrees as it developed in France and other nations on the continent, especially those which had a closer cultural affinity with the French because of their kinship in the use of Romance languages.
The "Scottish Rite" version of the ritual has been the most popular one among Latin peoples; so it is not surprising that where we find that ritual in use in the United States today, it is usually in foreign language speaking Lodges using French, Spanish, or Italian. The only German speaking Lodge known to employ a "Scottish Rite" ritual in the first three degrees is Aurora No. 30 of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
For those brethren whose first reaction is to say about Lodges which are different, "Why can't they do the way we do?", there is a humbling consideration in the thought that the "Scottish Rite" version actually represents only one of many versions different from those usually found in American jurisdictions. Even the ritual used in English Lodges - and there are various "workings" permitted by the Mother Grand Lodge! - differs appreciably from that which the American Mason regards as "standard". The Short Talk Bulletin for March, 1961, pointed out one of the minor differences which create misunderstanding: what we call movable and immovable are just reversed in English practice!
There are approximately twenty-five legitimate Lodges in the United States which use a "Scottish Rite" version of the ritual of the three symbolic degrees. (A list may be found at the end of this Bulletin.) Unfortunately for the Brother who desires to visit some of them, they are concentrated in New York, New Orleans, and California. But with our "population on the move" so much, American Freemasons visit other jurisdictions much more frequently than they did a couple of generations ago. An awareness of the location of "Scottish Rite Blue Lodges" may help an interested Brother arrange his travel plans to include a Masonic visit to one of the cities mentioned above.
While this Short Talk cannot be extended to include even a brief description of the "Scottish Rite" version of the "Blue Lodge" ritual, it should be mentioned that the first degree is the most impressive of the three. More ritualistic officers are usually employed; the ceremonies of the first degree are more elaborate and extended. However, the basic lessons of the three degrees are developed as any Mason would expect to find them. A description of these ceremonies, especially as they differ from the familiar features of "the American rite", may form the subject matter of a future Short Talk Bulletin.
These variations illustrate the richness of Masonic heritage. Displeasing though they may be to those who crave a global uniformity for Masonic rites and ceremonies, they show how differences in the interpretation and exemplification of Freemasonry's universal ideas can satisfy different individuals in different cultures. And in that way, they illustrate the Masonic slogan: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty."
Author: Bro. Norman Peterson
The Masonic Services Association
FOREIGN LANGUAGE LODGES IN THE UNITED STATES
Allemania No. 740, New York City
Copernicus No. 545, New York City
German Pilgrim No. 179, New York City
German Union No. 54, New York City
Goethe No. 629, New York City
Harmony No. 199, New York City
Hermann No. 268, New York City
Lessing No. 608, New York City
Lincoln No. 748, New York City
Navigator No. 232, New York City
Schiller No. 304, New York City
Socrates No. 595, New York City
Solon No. 771, New York City
Teutonia No. 617, New York City
Uhland No. 735, New York City
Von Mensch No. 765, New York City
Zschokke No. 202, New York City
Hermann No. 125, Philadelphia
Humboldt No. 359, Philadelphia
Germania No. 509, Pittsburgh (Knoxville)
Jefferson No. 288, Pittsburgh
Solomon No. 231, Pittsburgh
Teutonia No. 367, Reading, Penn.
Hermann No. 127, San Francisco
Arminius No. 25, Dist. of Columbia
Germania No. 160, Baltimore
Germania Lodge, Boston
Schiller No. 263, Detroit
Aurora No. 30, Milwaukee
Etoile Polaire No. 1, New Orleans
La Parfaite Union No. 172, San Francisco
Vallee de France No. 329, Los Angeles
L'Union Francaise No. 17, New York City
La Sincerite No. 373, New York City
La Clemente Amitie No. 410, New York City
Dante No. 174, New Orleans
Garibaldi No. 542, New York City
Italia No. 786, New York City *
Roma No. 854, New York City (Brooklyn) *
Alba No. 891, New York City *
Archimede No. 935, New York City *
Speranza Italiana No. 219, San Francisco
Mazzini No. 824, New York City
Cavour No. 872, New York City *
Dante No. 919, New York City (Bronx) *
Leonardo No. 937, New York City (Brooklyn) *
Cervantes No. 5, New Orleans
Universal No. 178, Tampa
Dr. Felix Varela No. 63, Key West
La Fraternidad No. 387, New York City
La Universal No. 751, New York City
Luz de America No. 255, Miami
* Since the first printing of this Bulletin in 1963, it has been learned that this Lodge now works only in English.
U. S. LODGES USING "SCOTTISH RITE BLUE LODGE" RITUAL
Le Progres de l'Oceanie No. 371, Honolulu (3d only)
Cervantes No. 5, New Orleans
Dante No. 174, New Orleans
Etoile Polaire No. 1, New Orleans
Germania No. 46, New Orleans
Galileo-Mazzini No. 368, New Orleans
Kosmos No. 171, New Orleans
Perseverance No. 4, New Orleans
Albert Pike No. 376, New Orleans
Schneidau No. 391, New Orleans
Union No. 172, New Orleans
Alba No. 891, New York City
Archimede No. 935, New York City
Cavour No. 872, New York City
Dante No. 919, New York City
Garibaldi No. 542, New York City
Italia No. 786, New York City
La Clemente Amitie No. 410, New York City
La Fraternidad No. 387, New York City
La Sincerite No. 373, New York City
La Universal No. 751, New York City
L'Union Francaise No. 17, New York City
Leonardo No. 937, New York City
Mazzini No. 824, New York City
Roma No. 854, New York City
La Parfaite Union No. 17, San Francisco
Speranza Italiana No. 219, San Francisco
Vallee de France No. 329, Los Angeles
Aurora No. 30, Milwaukee
"I bought me a high school geometry the other day" confessed the Very New Mason to the Old Past Master, sitting on the benches waiting for the Worshipful Master to call the lodge to labor. "I was so much impressed with what I learned of its importance to Masons, during the Fellowcraft Degree, that I determined to go back to my school days and try again. But I am much discouraged."
"Why so?" asked the old Past Master, interested. "I recall geometry as rather an interesting subject. I don't suppose I could do a single original now, it's been so many years.... I don't know when I have looked in one!"
"Why, you surprise me! I thought all good Masons must know geometry. We are taught.... how does it go?.... something about a noble science...." his voice trailed off in silence.
"'Geometry, the first and noblest of the sciences'" quoted the Old Past Master, "' is the basis on which the superstructure of Masonry is erected. By geometry, we may curiously trace Nature through her various windings, to her most concealed recesses. By it we may discover the wisdom and the goodness of the Grand Artificer of the universe and view with delight the proportions which connect this vast machine.'"
"Yes, that's it!" agreed the Very New Mason. "And there is a lot more, isn't there?"
"A whole lot!" smiled the Old Past Master, in agreement.
"Well, then, why doesn't a well informed Mason have to be a geometrician?"
"There is certainly no reason why a good geometrician shouldn't be a good Mason," answered the Old Past Master, "but no reason why a man who doesn't know geometry shouldn't be a good Mason.
"You see, my son, we hark back a great many years in much of our lectures, to a time when knowledge was neither so great nor so diversified as now. William Preston, the eminent Masonic student, scholar, writer, who lived and wrote in the latter part of the eighteenth century, conceived the idea of making the degrees in general, and the Fellowcraft degree in particular, a liberal education! A 'liberal education' in those days was comprised within what we still call, after Preston, the 'seven liberal arts and sciences.' In those days any mathematics beyond geometry was only for the very, very few; indeed, mathematics were looked upon rather askance by the common men, as being of small use in the world, save for engineers and designers and measurers of land.
"But Preston, if his lectures are no longer the real 'liberal education' which he planned, and which, in the form of his lectures modified by Webb (and somewhat tinkered with by various authorities and near authorities who at times have kept the husk and let the kernel escape!) builded better than he knew. For we may now justly and honorable take 'geometry' to mean not only the science of measurement of surface and area and the calculation of angles and distances, but to mean all measurement. And to study measurement, my son, means to study science, for all science is but measurement, and by that measurement, the deduction of laws and the unravelling of the secrets of nature.
"I do not understand geometry anymore; it is long since I studied it. But I do study, and do try to keep my mind awake and always filling, if never full. It is true that to many a Mason the study of geometry itself would be a grand mental discipline and thus greatly improve his mind. But I do not think we are to take this admonition literally, any more than we are to accept literal interpretations for other wordings in our ritual. We meet upon the level, in Masonry, and we act upon the square. But that does not mean that we put our feet upon a carpenter's level, or sit upon stone masons' squares while we 'act.' The words are symbols of thoughts. I take the admonition to study geometry as a symbol of a thought, meaning that a Mason is to educate himself, to keep his mind open, to keep it active, to learn, to think, to develop his reason and his logic, the he may the better aid himself to know himself and his work to aid his fellowmen.
"Even Preston, literal-minded as he was, and focusing all his attention as he did, upon ritual and teaching by it and a formalism which is not yet outworn in our ranks, had a vision of what geometry might mean beside the mathematical science of angles. For.... how does it go? In our charge to a Fellowcraft, we say "Geometry, or Masonry, originally synonymous terms, being of a divine and moral nature, is enriched with the most useful knowledge, while it proves the wonderful properties of nature, it demonstrates the more important truths of morality.'
"It should be obvious that a study of mathematics of any kind cannot demonstrate morality unless it is considered a symbol as well as a science. As we are thus told in so many words to use geometry as a symbol, we may well agree with Pike, who wrote learnedly to prove a Mason's inherent right to interpret the symbols of Freemasonry for himself. To me, geometry is a symbol of science, and one which I should use to impress upon myself the need of something else. To a Mason who had had few educational advantages, the word might mean its literal sense, and he be greatly benefited by a close study of the book which discourages you.
"I do not attempt, my brother, to force upon you my understanding, or to quarrel at all with those Masons who find a different interpretation of the geometry which is Masonry as we understand it. I do but give you my ideas for whatever use they may be to you, and so you will not be discouraged in what is a praiseworthy attempt to profit by the Masonic lectures. Do you recall the end of the charge you received as a Fellowcraft?"
"I.... I.... I am afraid I don't, just exactly...."
"It runs this way," smiled the Old Past Master. "....'in your new character it is expected that you will conform to the principles of the Order by steadily persevering in the practice of every commendable virtue.' If you study the 'principles of the Order' you will, indeed, be learning Masonic geometry."
Old Past Mster
America -fifty States and forty-nine separate Sovereign Grand Lodges!
On my first visit, in 1960, I travelled to New York, Boston, and Washington; then right across country to San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles. It was a seven-week Masonic tour and holiday combined, and I gave my Prestonian Lecture to enormous gatherings of Masons in all those cities, covering more than 7,000 miles within the American continent. When I returned to London, the D.C. of my Mother Lodge said, "Harry, you must tell us all about it after dinner; and we can give you ten minutes." Brethren, it cannot be done in ten minutes, but if you will stay with me a little longer, I shall try to keep you interested.
My principal equipment for the tour consisted of an insatiable curiosity, and a sufficient knowledge of English Masonic practices to enable me to ask the right sort of questions, so that I could make a reasonable assessment of our differences. I met and spoke to literally hundreds of Masons from Entered Apprentices to Grand Librarians, Grand Secretaries and Grand Masters. I saw many things that pleased me enormously, many that horrified me; and I never stopped asking questions!
(Grand Masters are amazingly plentiful in U.S.A., because most of them are elected for only one year. Sad, because a good man will only rarely see the fruits of his efforts!)
As a lecturer, it is probable that I was meeting the best types of American Masons, men with a real love for the Craft and a serious interest in its background. I can never forget that in Los Angeles I addressed a large gathering of Masons in a huge Masonic centre that they had built with their own hands, working voluntarily in their spare time under a hired architect and with a practical team of builders who ensured that the work was well and truly done; and I was proud to be associated with brethren of this calibre.
But of course the following impressions do not pretend to be a complete survey, nor can they possibly be true of the whole Craft in the U.S.A. I have simply tried to describe something of what I saw, emphasizing our differences in practice, with a critical eye for what seems strange to us, and with wholehearted praise where praise is due. American Masons are warm, friendly folk, good hosts, good company, and eager to be helpful; and if my words appear to accentuate certain peculiarities, I must plead that they were written without malicious intent, knowing full well that our brethren overseas can find much in our own system and practices that calls for criticism.
The first thing that is obvious to every English Mason who visits the U.S.A., is that their Freemasonry is unlike ours. In the first place, Masonry is not for father alone, but for the whole family. For father, there are the usual three "Blue" degrees, and then all the rest running right up to the 32. (the 33 is by selection and invitation; in fact, and hournor, rather than a degree.) For mother, there is the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of Amaranth, and several others, less well known.
For boys, aged from 14 to 21, there is the Order of DeMolay, named after Jacques DeMolay, the last Grand Master of the medieval Knights Templar. For girls, aged 13 to 20, there is an Order called Rainbow and another called Job's Daughters; and all these are, in a very special and peculiar sense, Masonic. This must be explained and I shall do so in a moment.
I have called these Orders Masonic, and it is difficult for us in England to appreciate the point. Perhaps the following illustration may help. In A.Q.C., Vol. 75, p. 119, we recently reviewed the sesqui-centennial History of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, a regular and recognized Grand Lodge which is in amicable fraternal relationship with our own Grand Lodge of England. Chapter 20 in this History is entitled "Bodies Identified with Masonry in Louisiana," (my italics) and among those listed are:
The Order of the Eastern Star, The Order of the Rainbow for Girls, for Boys The Order of DeMolay
In Eastern Star, and the majority of the others, a genuine Masonic relationship is an essential pre-requisite for joining, so that for Eastern Star, the lady candidate must be mother or wife, sister or daughter of a Freemason in good standing. (For Rainbow and DeMolay, relationship is preferable, but not essential.) There is no suggestion that these Orders are quasi-Masonic or that they attempt to copy Freemasonry. It is best to regard them as adjuncts to Freemasonry; and in the U.S.A., they are so regarded: the youth organizations as training-grounds for the future, while the women's Orders count it a duty and a privilege to serve Freemasonry in every possible way. All this appears very strange to us in England, and although it may seem wrong for a Grand Officer to say so, I like it and I believe that it works and it has obvious advantages. In the first place, father knows where mother is on her night out, and vice versa; and both are able to take an interest in the children's organizations. Whether all these efforts have any marked effect on juvenile delinquency rates in the U.S.A., would be very hard to say, but I am firmly convinced that this "family approach" to the Craft can do nothing but good.
A nice example of this family spirit occurred in Massachusetts where I lectured to an assembly of some five-hundred brethren, and over four-hundred-and-sixty of us sat down to dinner afterwards. It was in an enormous hall, with a stage at one end, on which the Lodge Organist was playing light music throughout the dinner. The tables were arranged in sprigs (as in England), and everyone except the Officers were dressed in the utmost informality. But all the Officers were in meticulous dinner dress and throughout the evening we were served by waitresses immaculately dressed in white from head to foot. It was a pleasant, unpretentious meal, and all was going splendidly when suddenly the S.W., far away in the right-hand corner of the room, stood up and began to dance with one of the waitresses along the gangway between the sprigs! I was sitting at the right of the Master, and I leaned over to him and whispered, "Worshipful Master, I thought I had seen almost everything in the Craft, but this I have never seen. Does it happen very often?" He turned to me with a smile and said, "I hope it does: the lady he is dancing with is his wife. Tonight we are being waited on by our wives, Eastern Star." And there were 460 at dinner! (I was unable to find out if the husbands help with the "washing-up," but probably they do not, because kitchens are highly mechanized in the U.S.A.).
With this kind of background, the objectives in the Craft tend to take on a rather different aspect from ours. Generally, they do not go in strongly for the maintenance of large Masonic Institutions, as we do. There are, indeed, many splendid institutions, but the emphasis is mainly on the social side: parties, outings and celebrations of one kind or another. A great deal is done by way of homes and equipment for crippled children. Masonic 'blood banks' are a big feature, the blood being for ultimate use by Masons and non-Masons alike. There are some Masonic hospitals, and a number of homes for 'senior citizens'; but nobody grows old in the U.S.A. If they are lucky enough to live that long, they become 'senior citizens,' and in those jurisdictions that aspire to the maintenance of institutions, it is usually the 'senior citizens' who get first care.
Finally, I must not omit from this description of the background of the Craft the very obvious fact that almost everyone wears a badge, usually a 'lapel-badge', with all sorts of Masonic symbols ranging up to the 33 and the so-called "High Degrees' predominating. All this might seem to be a piece of pardonable male vanity and in the vast majority of cases it is nothing more. But the badges tend to become a temptation, and the Masonic visitor to the U.S.A. will not need to look far before he realizes that they are all too often used for business.
Of all the things likely to shock an Englishman, this, I think, must be the most distasteful; and though I am sure that many Brethren in the U.S.A. find these practices as objectionable as we do, one has the impression that they have grown accustomed to them, and that is a great pity. I have heard the situation stated in a somewhat different form. One of my American friends told me, "I wear the badge, to show that I'm proud of my Masonry. As long as I wear it, I'd never do anything to disgrace it; in fact, when I do business with a man whom I recognize to be a Brother, I always try to give him a bigger order than I would otherwise." All this is true, I am sure, but where is there a commercial traveller among my friend's suppliers who could resist wearing a badge under such conditions?
During a more recent visit to the U.S.A., at an informal Masonic party in Providence, Rhode Island, I teased my hosts about this custom of wearing Masonic badges for the wrong reasons, and when I had finished talking, one of the Brethren said, "It is all very well for you to talk about our using Masonry for business, but it is not always like that. Quite often, we have to try to take an order from a Roman Catholic, and then the badge is a liability--not an asset, " I had to agree with him, but privately, Brethren, I'm convinced that it is much easier to remove the badge than to change your customer's religion!
Judging by our standards in England, where average membership is around 80 per Lodge, American lodge memberships are extraordinarily high. Consider, as an example, Washington, D.C., the capital and the centre of government; it is virtually a city without industry. It has about 50 lodges in all, four of them with memberships of 1,100, 1,200, 1,400, and 1,500 respectively! And these enormous memberships are to be found in all the large cities in the U.S.A. It is, of course, impossible to strike "average figures" as between lodges in the small villages and those in the large towns, because they would be misleading. But in any of the cities, one might expect the general run of lodges to range from 400 to 800 members, with several others running into four figures.
At the time of my visit to the U.S.A., I was already Secretary of two lodges and I was naturally puzzled as to the reasons for these (to us) fantastic numbers. There appear to be several reasons, and I dare not commit myself as to their order of importance. The first two reasons are almost national characteristics: (a) The Americans are great "joiners," they like to be in on everything. (b) They admire big numbers and mass production. (c) Most U.S.A. jurisdictions have curious regulations relating to what they call single, dual or plural membership. Some Grand Lodges allow only single membership, i.e., a Brother may belong to only one Craft Lodge and no more. Others allow dual membership, usually permitting their members to belong to one Lodge inside the State and one outside. Only very few Grand Lodges permit their members the same privileges as we enjoy here, of plural membership, i.e., of joining as many Lodges as we please. It seems possible that, in some indirect way, these regulations have the effect of channelling vast numbers of Masons into a comparatively small number of Lodges, and that leads to large memberships.
I realize that this may be faulty reasoning, but there is no doubt as to the facts, i.e., that in many jurisdictions, if Lodge memberships are to be kept reasonably low, there are simply not enough Lodges to take the vast numbers of men who want to join. The reasons are purely economic .
(d) Maintenance costs arc very high for Lodges and lodge buildings in the U.S.A., and this leads to some curious results. In some cities, when a new Lodge is to be founded, it is not uncommon to find that the existing Lodges raise objections, because they regard all future Masons in their territory as their own "reserve pool," which will help swell their own membership in due course, and thus help them with their maintenance charges and their balance-sheets. In effect, the Masons themselves are opposing the formation of new lodges. (Sec the note 011 this subject in "Whither Are We Traveling?", by M.W. Bro. Dwight L. Smith, P.G.M. and Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Indiana.)
But is it possible that there is still another reason for the large numbers? I found that in many jurisdictions it is customary for the Secretary to receive 1 1/2 dollars annually per head for every member! (As a former Secretary of the Q. C. Lodge, with over 12,000 members, I must say that this idea appeals to me enormously!) In certain jurisdictions the Lodge Secretaries receive a fixed honorarium, instead. I do not for one moment suggest that Secretaries are tempted to tout for members; I merely record the differences in our respective practices.
Of course I was anxious to know how the American Lodges achieve these memberships, and the opportunity came when I visited the Grand Secretary's office in Boston, Mass. Among many interesting papers that were given to me was their Year Book, containing all the statistics for the preceding year, and thumbing through the pages casually, I came to the section which summarized their Annual Returns. There were many pages of figures but, at the very end of the list, there were the details for the very last Lodge that was consecrated just before the book was printed, and at the time of this Return the Lodge was only eleven months old. At that age, (eleven months), this infant Lodge had a membership of 174; during the eleven months it had initiated 54 Brethren, it had passed 49, and raised 45 brethren. Mass production in a really big way!
The Lodges usually meet once a month (for ten or eleven months in the year) for their "stated" or regular meetings, and every week, or fortnight, for "emergent," "special" or "work" meetings. Attendances, I am told, are proportionately low. In a Lodge of 1,000 members, an attendance of 100 at a 'Stated' meeting would be counted good. There might be only 20 or 30 at the "work" meetings, and these "work" meetings are, in effect, the factories where Masons are turned out by mass production. This may sound cynical, but I believe it is a fair statement of the situation that exists in the larger Masonic centres in the U.S.A.
Arising from all this, perhaps the most frequent question I have been asked in England is "With memberships of 800 to 1,500, how can a Mason ever become Master of a Lodge? Surely he could never live long enough." The answer is that it is easy. All he needs to do, is to express a desire to "go on," or to "get in line" as the Americans say, and the path is wide open for him. It is the great tragedy of Craft Masonry in the U.S.A. that vast numbers of those who join simply use the Craft as a springboard to the 32ø. To be Master of a "Blue" Lodge may be very pleasant, but it is not nearly so important as to become a 32ø Mason and a "Shriner," with all its attendant advantages (mainly social). As a result men become Freemasons for the wrong reasons, and the Craft is neglected in favour of side degrees.
Among the Grand Officers who see and deplore what is happening, this is a source of constant anxiety, frequently expressed in forthright statements. It is a disease the presence of which is known and understood, but the remedy, unfortunately, is still to be found. Talk to any American Mason for five minutes, and the chances are that he will show you his wallet containing a whole "concertinafull" of Dues Cards, witnessing the number of "Masonic" organizations to which he belongs. There will seldom be more than one (or two) Craft Lodges among them; the rest are all side degrees, that are helping, unintentionally to sap the Craft of its vitality!
There are several different Craft rituals in use in the U.S.A., generally exhibiting only minor variations and, broadly speaking, they are very similar to ours in England. Yet, in a very curious way, the visitor who knows his ritual will find that the American versions sound strangely old-fashioned, repetitive, and somehow older than ours. Surprisingly, this is true; although the Americans got their ritual from Britain, their ritual is, in fact, older than ours, and that makes an interesting story.
As you probably know, our present ritual was virtually standardized at the time of the union of the rival Grand Lodges, in 1813,, when the 'Antients' and the 'Moderns' ultimately came together to form the United Grand Lodge. For several years before that date, committees of learned Brethren had been sitting, trying to evolve a revised form of the ritual that would be acceptable to both sides.
The results of their labours, very satisfying to us nowadays, did not meet with wholehearted approval at that time. Many changes had been made and a great deal of symbolical material had been discarded. Indeed, it might almost be fair to say that in cleaning up the ritual, the baby had been thrown away with the bath-water .
American Masonic workings owe their origins, unquestionably, to England, Scotland, Ireland, but the stabilization of their ritual was done by an American, Thomas Smith Webb, who, although he wrote very little of it himself, may well be described as the father of American ritual.
In 1792, Webb, a printer by trade, settled in Albany, N.Y., and soon afterwards he made the acquaintance of John Hanmer, an English Freemason who was a keen ritualist and apparently very knowledgeable about the Preston system. Webb, was then barely twenty-two years old and their mutual interests drew them together. This was the period when the English Masonic ritual was at its highest stage of development. Hutchinson and Calcott had published their works; Preston was in his prime, and the 1792 edition of his Illustrations of Masonry had just appeared. This was the 8th edition, as popular and successful as its predecessors, and it was almost a bible to the English Craft. Webb took the book, retained sixty-four pages of Preston's work intact, word for word, cut out a few minor items, and rearranged others, and published it in 1797, under the title Freemasons' Monitor or Illustrations of Freemasonry.Within twenty years, the ritual in England had been altered, curtailed and polished up, (some said, almost beyond recognition), but not so in the U.S.A.; they preserved it.
Look at some of our oldest Tracing Boards and you will find pictures of the Scythe, Hour-glass, Beehive, Anchor, etc., which once had their proper places as symbolic portions of our ritual. They have disappeared from our tracing Boards and from the ritual; but in America, they are still in use to this day, depicted on the Boards and explained in their 'Monitors.' And so it is fair to say that their ritual, though it came from us, is actually older than ours, and it is not merely 'old-fashioned,' but also more discursive, and by reason of their Lectures much more explanatory than ours, especially of the symbolical meaning of their procedures.
But apart from the things we have lost, their ritual material is essentially the same as ours, and easily recognizable. Their signs and secrets are virtually the same as ours, except that they use the Scottish sign for the Entered Apprentices. Their second degree is more elaborate than ours. Their third is basically the same as ours, but because they perform the drama as if it were a play, treating the Candidate as though he were really H.A., the result is occasionally rather rough and frightening, especially in those lodges that pride themselves on the realism of their performance.
The manner in which the Americans safeguard their ritual is also interesting. In England, our Grand Lodge views the ritual as a 'domestic matter,' i.e., a majority of the Brethren in any lodge may decide what form of ritual shall be worked, and unless the Lodge was guilty of some serious breach, the Grand Lodge would not interfere. In the U.S.A., the very reverse is the case. Each Grand Lodge prescribes the ritual that its Lodges shall work, and usually the Grand Lodge prints and publishes the "monitorial" or explanatory portions of the rituals too. Ten out of the forty-nine Grand Lodges also publish the esoteric ritual, in code or cipher, but this is forbidden in the others. Moreover, to prevent innovations, the Grand Lodges protect their forms of working by the appointment of officers, called Grand Lecturers, whose duty is not to lecture, but to ensure that the groups of lodges under their care adhere to the official workings. They do this by means of official demonstrations, called 'Exemplifications,' and during my first visit, I was lucky enough to see both first and second degrees rehearsed in this way.
The exemplifications I saw in Boston required a necessary period of adjustment to Bostonian English, but after that I would gladly give them full marks; the work is splendid. It is proper, perhaps, to add a little tailpiece to this chapter, which gives an insight to the American approach to their Masonry. I am told that in several, if not most, of the U.S.A. jurisdictions, the Grand Lecturers are paid for their services!
RITUALS and MONITORS
Grand Lodge practices, in regard to books of the ritual, differ from State to State. In Pennsylvania, and California, for example, no written or printed ritual is permitted. All tuition is, as they say, "from mouth to ear," i.e., the Officers and Candidates must attend at rehearsals or "work-meetings" until they have memorized their work simply by listening to it over and over again. In some jurisdictions each officer is responsible for training his successor, privately, not at rehearsals. The Ritual material is usually divided up into two categories,
(I) "Monitors" which print non-secret portions of ritual and procedure, symbolic Lectures, etc., all in plain language .
(2) The "Rituals" proper, which arc printed (in ten States) in some sort of cipher with . . . dots . . . in the usual places.
Books, in both categories, are supposed to be rather difficult to obtain, but one has the impression that this is merely a case of knowing where to look. The Monitors need not concern us here, but the Rituals are interesting. There appear to bc four different ciphers that are mainly used. One of the most popular is a kind of "geometrical" code, made Up of straight lines, curves, angles and symbols, which look vary difficult but are, in fact, fairly easy to break down.
In many jurisdictions, a two-letter code is used; usually the first and last letters of each word, but occasionally the first two Attars of each word. These two codes are fairly difficult to read until one begins to have a fair knowledge of the "expected word"; but as SOON as the phrases become familiar, the two-letter codes arc quite easy to read.
Most difficult of all is the one-letter code, in which only the first letter of each word is used, and this is absolutely terrifying, almost impossible to read until one has acquired a real knowledge of the ritual.
From the Officers' point of view, all this is simply a matter of patience and regular attendance, but for the candidates it is another story. Here, in England, the Candidate for passing has to learn the answers to perhaps eight or nine questions, usually printed on cards in plain language, with perhaps one or two words omitted. For raising he learns another seven or eight answers, and he is through.
In the U.S.A. jurisdictions, these examinations are called "Proficiency Tests," and they must be a really worrying experience. For example, the E. A. passing to the F. C. has to answer about seventy-seven questions, and recite the Obligation by heart, before he can pass his test; the F. C. must answer some forty questions and the Obligation from memory, and the M. M., after he has taken his third degree, another forty or so, again with the Obligation by heart. Then, and not until then does he become a real member of the Lodge. Then he is allowed to sign the Register, and enjoy the privileges of membership, including a Masonic Funeral if he wants it.
All this would be difficult enough if the Q. & A. were printed in plain language, but they are not. In those jurisdictions where no printed rituals are permitted, the candidates must attend "Classes of Instruction," usually under the care of the J. D., or S. D., until they have learned their work "from mouth to ear." Elsewhere, they learn their work from the cipher books. I have a set of the "Proficiency Tests" as used in Rhode Island, in their one letter code and they are simply terrifying. I have been a Preceptor for many years, and I find them difficult to read. Heaven knows how the candidates manage--but they do.
Here, I believe it is fair to say that American Masons, in the course of passing their "Proficiency Tests" in all three degrees, acquire a much wider knowledge of the ceremonies and especially of their symbolical meaning, than our candidates get in England. Their patience and industry are more than justified.
W Bro. Harry Carr
Past Junior Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge of England
Past Secretary of Quator Coronati Lodge No 2076
A blog dedicated