The Lesser of Two Evils: A Masonic Perspective

The Lesser of Two Evils: A Masonic Perspective

Written by Bro... Marcus Radiant


I WRITE not to persuade anyone to vote one way or another, nor to condemn or venerate one’s decisions in life, but to examine the reason why we choose. In my Masonic circle of friends, there are those that lean conservative and those that lean liberal, and every four years, I hear the same argument from both sides:

“We must choose the candidate that is least evil.”

Nobody ever seems satisfied with the choices, so they opt for the age-old logical fallacy, choosing the lesser of two evils. No doubt, this supposed logical decision is the source of comfort for many. The problem with this line of logic is that the choice between the lesser evil and greater evil is still evil. This type of decision making is an abdication of choice. It forces a person into a conundrum of choosing between two options are neither desirable.

We certainly do not apply this logic (I hope) to choosing a relationship, a spouse, a friend, or even a career. Do we raise our children to seek the least bad or the greatest good? 

In Masonry, we are directed to follow the “undeviating line of righteousness.” Aided by the Level, Plumb, and Square, we are always to make choices that are morally correct, ones that measure up and conform to the system of morality which we ascribe.

More to the point, every crime against Humanity was justified by this argument of choice. Genocide, slavery, conquest, and every form of coercion is firmly planted on the argument that the oppressor represents the lesser evil, fighting the greater evil. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all used this line of thinking to align their people into the path of destruction.

THE APPLICATION OF MASONIC VIRTUES

A person who chooses the lesser of two evils forfeits the Masonic Virtues of Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice. These cardinal ideas mark the path of every Freemason throughout the world being the foundation of a Masonic system of Morality and cannot be ignored in times of ease or trouble. When we make choices out of fear, we fail to live up to our Masonic obligations.

Prudence is ignored when we make decisions on fear, rather than wisdom. Fortitude is lost when we make the easiest decisions. Temperance is neglected when we make decisions without moderation. Finally, Justice can never be achieved while we choose the lesser of two evils.

In this final virtue, there is no compromise, for if the rights of one person are violated, then the rights of all are violated. Anything less than perfect justice is tyranny, and this notion should be repugnant to any Freemason. This choice, though it may seem obvious, is indeed the root of all evil. For in any choice that one pardons ill based on the frailty of human perspective, evil has advanced.

In our delusion, we believe that we have not compromised our values, our morality, that by taking the “lesser” road we have done good and promoted righteousness. 

Yet, for all the power of justification, we have surrendered the only power that each of us truly possesses, our moral rectitude. With every compromise, the integrity of the Temple of Humanity is degraded; every time we look the other way we debase the fabric of society. How can the perfection of Humanity ever be achieved with such inferior logic? 

Machiavelli wrote in his famous book The Prince:

“Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.”

Not only is this quote insidious; it is immoral in light of Humanity’s achievements. It is a description of the impulse of our reptilian mind, of our primitive self, once needed to navigate the tumultuous landscape of the wilderness, but now an obstacle to overcome. We have evolved in cooperation and mutual support. We have grown and prospered by the moral imperative of noble thoughts and courageous actions. If we are deserving of the title human, then we should act like one, choosing only that which follows the plumbline of our moral values. If the choice requires us to deviate from what is right, then we have marked ill. 

TAKING THE HIGHER ROAD: THE DUTY OF A MASON

Before the balloting of a candidate into Freemasonry, we are told by the Master of the Lodge to vote our conscience.

Ballot Box

This simple truth should be the guiding star of our political decisions. Each must vote according to their moral compass, choosing leaders and policies that appear good, not a compromise of values, but as a choice of what is right. 

Do your duty, no matter the consequences. These sweet words of Freemasonry still fill my mind every time I am confronted with a hard decision. Choosing the lesser of two evils is half a choice, or at worst, no choice at all. Always vote your conscience. And if the right choice does not appear, continue to look, for in the search you may find exactly that which you seek. 

As Masons, we are directed to take the higher road, always and everywhere. It is a fallacy that there only exist: two choices, two destinations, two forces. The insidious powers of duality are always narrowing our senses into two opposite and extreme choices. But isn’t choice a spectrum rather than a fork in the road? Did not our ancient Brethren, whether Alchemist, Hermeticist, or Gnostic, teach us that life is a mosaic pavement of options? The material world is a trap of choices, always leading downward into the cynical abyss of “forced” choice.

What is the Truth behind the 47th Problem of Euclid?

What is the Truth behind the 47th Problem of Euclid?

Containing more real food for thought, and impressing on the receptive mind a greater truth than any other of the emblems in the lecture of the Sublime Degree, the 47th problem of Euclid generally gets less attention, and certainly less than all the rest. Just why this grand exception should receive so little explanation in our lecture; just how it has happened, that, although the Fellowcraft’s degree makes so much of Geometry, Geometry’s right hand should be so cavalierly treated, is not for the present inquiry to settle. We all know that the single paragraph of our lecture devoted to Pythagoras and his work is passed over with no more emphasis than that given to the Bee Hive of the Book of Constitutions. More’s the pity; you may ask many a Mason to explain the 47th problem, or even the meaning of the word “hecatomb,” and receive only an evasive answer, or a frank “I don’t know – why don’t you ask the Deputy?”

The Masonic legend of Euclid is very old – just how old we do not know, but it long antedates our present Master Mason’s Degree.  The paragraph relating to Pythagoras in our lecture we take wholly from Thomas Smith Webb, whose first Monitor appeared at the close of the eighteenth century. It is repeated here to refresh the memory of those many brethren who usually leave before the lecture:

The 47th problem of Euclid was an invention of our ancient friend and brother, the great Pythagoras, who, in his travels through Asia, Africa and Europe was initiated into several orders of Priesthood, and was also Raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. This wise philosopher enriched his mind abundantly in a general knowledge of things, and more especially in Geometry. On this subject he drew out many problems and theorems, and, among the most distinguished, he erected this, when, in the joy of his heart, he exclaimed Eureka, in the Greek Language signifying “I have found it,” and upon the discovery of which he is said to have sacrificed a hecatomb. It teaches Masons to be general lovers of the arts and sciences.

Some of facts here stated are historically true; those which are only fanciful at least bear out the symbolism of the conception. In the sense that Pythagoras was a learned man, a leader, a teacher, a founder of a school, a wise man who saw God in nature and in number; and he was a “friend and brother.” That he was “initiated into several orders of Priesthood” is a matter of history.  

That he was “Raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason” is of course poetic license and an impossibility, as the “Sublime Degree” as we know it is only a few hundred years old – not more than three at the very outside. Pythagoras is known to have traveled, but the probabilities are that his wanderings were confined to the countries bordering the Mediterranean. He did go to Egypt, but it is at least problematical that he got much further into Asia than Asia Minor.

He did indeed “enrich his mind abundantly” in many matters, and particularly in mathematics. That he was the first to “erect” the 47th problem is possible, but not proved; at least he worked with it so much that it is sometimes called “The Pythagorean problem.” If he did discover it he might have exclaimed “Eureka” but he sacrificed a hecatomb – a hundred head of cattle – is entirely out of character, since the Pythagoreans were vegetarians and reverenced all animal life.

Pythagoras was probably born on the island of Samos, and from contemporary Grecian accounts was a studious lad whose manhood was spent in the emphasis of mind as opposed to the body, although he was trained as an athlete. He was antipathetic to the licentiousness of the aristocratic life of his time and he and his followers were persecuted by those who did not understand them. Aristotle wrote of him: “The Pythagoreans first applied themselves to mathematics, a science which they improved; and penetrated with it, they fancied that the principles of mathematics were the principles of all things.”

It was written by Eudemus that:  “Pythagoreans changed geometry into the form of a liberal science, regarding its principles in a purely abstract manner and investigated its theorems from the immaterial and intellectual point of view,” a statement which rings with familiar music in the ears of Masons.

Diogenes said “It was Pythagoras who carried Geometry to perfection,” also “He discovered the numerical relations of the musical scale.” Proclus states: “The word Mathematics originated with the Pythagoreans!”

The sacrifice of the hecatomb apparently rests on a statement of Plutarch, who probably took it from Apollodorus, that “Pythagoras sacrificed an ox on finding a geometrical diagram.”  As the Pythagoreans originated the doctrine of Metempsychosis which predicates that all souls live first in animals and then in man – the same doctrine of reincarnation held so generally in the East from whence Pythagoras might have heard it – the philosopher and his followers were vegetarians and reverenced all animal life, so the “sacrifice” is probably mythical.

Certainly, there is nothing in contemporary accounts of Pythagoras to lead us to think that he was either sufficiently wealthy or silly enough to slaughter a hundred valuable cattle to express his delight at learning to prove what was later to be the 47th problem of Euclid.

In Pythagoras’ day (582 B.C.), of course, the “47th problem” was not called that.

It remained for Euclid, of Alexandria, several hundred years later, to write his books of Geometry, of which the 47th and 48th problems form the end of the first book. It is generally conceded either that Pythagoras did indeed discover the Pythagorean problem, or that it was known prior to his time, and used by him; and that Euclid, recording in writing the science of Geometry as it was known then, merely availed himself of the mathematical knowledge of his era.

It is probably the most extraordinary of all scientific matters that the books of Euclid, written three hundred years or more before the Christian era, should still be used in schools. While a hundred different geometries have been invented or discovered since his day, Euclid’s “Elements” are still the foundation of that science which is the first step beyond the common mathematics of every day. In spite of the emphasis placed upon geometry in our Fellowcrafts degree our insistence that it is of a divine and moral nature, and that by its study we are enabled not only to prove the wonderful properties of nature but to demonstrate the more important truths of morality, it is common knowledge that most men know nothing of the science which they studied – and most despised – in their school days.

If one man in ten in any lodge can demonstrate the 47th problem of Euclid, the lodge is above the common run in educational standards!

And yet the 47th problem is at the root not only of geometry, but of most applied mathematics; certainly, of all which are essential in engineering, in astronomy, in surveying, and in that wide expanse of problems concerned with finding one unknown from two known factors.  At the close of the first book Euclid states the 47th problem – and its correlative 48th – as follows:

47th – In every right angle triangle the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. 

48th – If the square described of one of the sides of a triangle be equal to the squares described of the other two sides, then the angle contained by these two is a right angle.

This sounds more complicated than it is. Of all people, Masons should know what a square is!  As our ritual teaches us, a square is a right angle or the fourth part of a circle, or an angle of ninety degrees.  For the benefit of those who have forgotten their school days, the “hypotenuse” is the line which makes a right angle (a square) into a triangle, by connecting the ends of the two lines which from the right angle.

For illustrative purposes let us consider that the familiar Masonic square has one arm six inches long and one arm eight inches long.  If a square be erected on the six-inch arm, that square will contain square inches to the number of six times six, or thirty-six square inches.  The square erected on the eight-inch arm will contain square inches to the number of eight times eight, or sixty-four square inches. The sum of sixty-four and thirty-six square inches is one hundred square inches.

According to the 47th problem the square which can be erected upon the hypotenuse, or line adjoining the six and eight-inch arms of the square should contain one hundred square inches. The only square which can contain one hundred square inches has ten-inch sides, since ten, and no other number is the square root of one hundred. This is provable mathematically, but it is also demonstrable with an actual square. The curious only need lay off a line six inches long, at right angles to a line eight inches long; connect the free ends by a line (the Hypotenuse) and measure the length of that line to be convinced – it is, indeed, ten inches long.

This simple matter then is the famous 47th problem.  But while it is simple in conception it is complicated with innumerable ramifications in use.

It is the root of all geometry. It is behind the discovery of every unknown from two known factors. It is the very cornerstone of mathematics. The engineer who tunnels from either side through a mountain uses it to get his two shafts to meet in the center. The surveyor who wants to know how high a mountain may be ascertains the answer through the 47th problem.

The astronomer who calculates the distance of the sun, the moon, the planets, and who fixes “the duration of time and seasons, years and cycles,” depends upon the 47th problem for his results.  The navigator traveling the trackless seas uses the 47th problem in determining his latitude, his longitude, and his true time.  Eclipses are predicted; tides are specified as to height and time of occurrence, land is surveyed, roads run, shafts dug, and bridges built because of the 47th problem of Euclid – probably discovered by Pythagoras – shows the way.

It is difficult to show “why” it is true; easy to demonstrate that it is true. If you ask why the reason for its truth is difficult to demonstrate, let us reduce the search for “why” to a fundamental and ask “why” is two added to two always four, and never five or three?” We answer “because we call the product of two added to two by the name of four.” If we express the conception of “fourness” by some other name, then two plus two would be that other name. But the truth would be the same, regardless of the name.  So it is with the 47th problem of Euclid. The sum of the squares of the sides of any right-angled triangle – no matter what their dimensions – always exactly equals the square of the line connecting their ends (the hypotenuse). One line may be a few 10’s of an inch long – the other several miles long; the problem invariably works out, both by actual measurement upon the earth and by mathematical demonstration. [Image Credit: 47th Problem of Euclid by Peter Savant]

It is impossible for us to conceive of a place in the universe where two added to two produces five, and not four (in our language). We cannot conceive of a world, no matter how far distant among the stars, where the 47th problem is not true. For “true” means absolute – not dependent upon time, or space, or place, or world or even universe. Truth, we are taught, is a divine attribute and as such is coincident with Divinity, omnipresent.

It is in this sense that the 47th problem “teaches Masons to be general lovers of the art and sciences.” The universality of this strange and important mathematical principle must impress the thoughtful with the immutability of the laws of nature. The third of the movable jewels of the Entered Apprentice Degree reminds us that “so should we, both operative and speculative, endeavor to erect our spiritual building (house) in accordance with the rules laid down by the Supreme Architect of the Universe, in the great books of nature and revelation, which are our spiritual, moral and Masonic Trestleboard.”

Greatest among “the rules laid down by the Supreme Architect of the Universe,” in His great book of nature, is this of the 47th problem; this rule that, given a right angle triangle, we may find the length of any side if we know the other two; or, given the squares of all three, we may learn whether the angle is a “Right” angle, or not. With the 47th problem, man reaches out into the universe and produces the science of astronomy.  

With it, he measures the most infinite of distances.  With it, he describes the whole framework and the handiwork of nature.  With it, he calculates the orbits and the positions of those “numberless worlds about us.” With it, he reduces the chaos of ignorance to the law and order of intelligent appreciation of the cosmos.  With it, he instructs his fellow-Masons that “God is always geometrizing” and that the “great book of Nature” is to be read through a square.

Considered thus, the “invention of our ancient friend and brother, the great Pythagoras,” becomes one of the most impressive, as it is one of the most important, of the emblems of all Freemasonry, since to the initiate it is a symbol of the power, the wisdom and the goodness of the Great Artificer of the Universe.  It is the plainer for its mystery – the more mysterious because it is so easy to comprehend.

Not for nothing does the Fellowcraft’s degree beg our attention to the study of the seven liberal arts and sciences, especially the science of geometry, or Masonry. Here, in the Third Degree, is the very heart of Geometry, and a close and vital connection between it and the greatest of all Freemasonry’s teachings – the knowledge of the “All-Seeing Eye.”

He that hath ears to hear – let him hear – and he that hath eyes to see – let him look!  When he has both listened and looked, and understood the truth behind the 47th problem he will see a new meaning to the reception of a Fellowcraft, understand better that a square teaches morality, and comprehend why the “angle of 90 degrees, or the fourth part of a circle” is dedicated to the Master!


~  From, SHORT TALK BULLETIN – Vol.VIII, October 1930, No.10.

The Feminine of Freemasonry

The Feminine of Freemasonry

There are many, many Freemasons who would note that there is nothing about Freemasonry that is feminine. It is a masculine fraternity in their eyes, where men get together to make “good men better,” and the term “fraternity” itself indicates, to them, a wholly male organization.* While that might be true for some Masonic Orders, it is certainly not true for all.

As we’ve previously discussed, Freemasons are men and women, of all races, creeds, and religious backgrounds. As we’ve also noted in the earlier article on Gender and Freemasonry, gender has far more to do with the essence of “things” than it does with sexual aspects of humanity. Let’s lift the idea of Freemasonry as being purely masculine, and look the world of Hermetic principles and gender. Where does the Feminine find itself within Freemasonry?

We are speaking here beyond titles. Masonic titles are in most languages gendered. There is “Brother” and “Sister” both of which have a gendered connotation. However, they are titles, and while there may be the open division between physical gender in some Masonic Orders, in at least one order, all members are designated “Brother.” Why? First, we have to remember that a title is nothing more than an honorific designation – in this case, it designates a member of a Freemasonic order. It is not a designation of gender any more than “Doctor” is a designation of gender. There is baggage we all have around titles that have gender associations; there is a reason most people never refer to stewardesses any longer on flights. Actors are actors, not actors and actresses, as waiters are waiters, not waiters and waitresses. We have begun tearing down the divisions of gender and working toward the idea of unity. We designate each other with the best word we can for Freemasons – Brother.

However, as I noted, this discovery goes beyond title. If we view the Lodge Room, the Temple, as a receptive place, it is a container and vessel for creation. Ergo, the Temple is feminine. It is receiving humanity, the Brothers (masculine energy), to build something. Masculine is outgoing and active. It requires a balance to hold its nature to form. It requires a Temple that can handle that energy and transform it. Is there any doubt why the Masonic Temple and its accoutrement should not be in its best upkeep and fitness? We want a healthy mother to be able to birth a healthy child. Is this not the same?

As the Lodge is feminine, so to I believe, is the ritual. The ritual form, written and memorized, requires action to give it life. It requires an active, outward principal to give it life. Here to again, the Brothers of the Lodge are the masculine principle, taking thoughtforms and words and creating intended action in three dimensional space. Ritual requires proper and strong expression (masculine) of imagination (feminine); both are necessary to enact a whole ceremony.

At many times during different rituals, an officer changes polarity from masculine to feminine. There is a shifting flow to Masonic ritual that encourages its adherents to explore the energies of both active and passive principles. There is also a neutrality in the Lodge that is carried by significant officers; the balance is required to ensure one gender does not dominate. There is always, like the Sefirot of the Kabbalah, a middle path, a neutral state in Freemasonry that guides the poles and the swing of the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical pendulum. That is, for every pair of floor officers, there is a neutral body to perhaps bring balance to the erratic nature of the human embodying the office. Let me explain.

The officer that receives a candidate, a guide if you will, is always in the masculine aspect of their office. They need to care for and have regard for their charge. They are the voice of the neophyte when they cannot speak. The candidate is feminine – they are receiving the gift of the ritual, and incorporating it into their person. They must use imagination to connect to the offering. Here, again, it is of no consequence what the physical gender of a person may be; we all must learn to tap into our receptive nature to be a vessel for creation of any kind. After the candidate has completed their ritual, the officer in question will fall back to their intended place in the structure of the Lodge. That may be a receptive principle, feminine, to their counterpart’s masculine, directive role. The moon with its rays of reflected sunlight guides the night but eventually, the sun, the primary assertive principle, returns to assume its directive place in the heavens.

It is important to note here that the Sun has not always assumed the mantle of masculine and the Moon has not always been feminine. In order, pre-Sanskrit-based language, the denomination was reversed; we find this in Babylonian, early Egyptian, and earlier mythologies where the Sun was represented by feminine avatars. This subject is far too dense to dive into here; suffice to say that in the most recent times, the gender of these celestial bodies has changed and it might be worth noting that the attributes of feminine are found in the Sun, while attributes of the masculine may be found in the Moon.

Returning to the officers, we find the masculine, feminine, and neutral manifested in the three main officers of a Lodge. The W.J.W. is indicative of mid-day, when the sun is at its highest. This speaks of the dominant and assertive nature of that office; whereas, the W.S.W. is the sun as it recedes into darkness, It is the coolness of the moon, of night, of dreams and reception. One might dismiss their attribute, will or strength, as being a purely masculine trait but this is not the case. The feminine here is about transparency and about seeing the Other; the W.S.W. sees the entirety of the Lodge and is responsible for its voice. There is a calm confidence in their presentations to the Lodge – here is what has been made and it is of us.

It is clear that one cannot speak of the aspects of gender in a vacuum. We must reference one or the other to illustrate the differences and provide opportunities to think about principles which are not easily familiar to us in our common lives. In the next part, we’ll discuss the Masculine aspects of Freemasonry in more detail, in balance with the neutral lines that demark the place of balance, the center point were perhaps a greater vision of unity may be achieved.


* However, this commonly held belief, ie. that fraternities are wholly male organizations is erroneous. Though many people use their term “fraternity” to refer exclusively to men’s groups, many women’s groups officially call themselves fraternities. For example, the earliest chartered collegiate female fraternal organizations:

1. Kappa Alpha Theta 2. Kappa Kappa Gamma [Both Fraternities were founded in 1870], 3. Alpha Phi Fraternity [1872], 4. Delta Gamma [1873], 5. Gamma Phi Beta and 6. Sigma Kappa [Both founded in 1874], etc., as well as other mixed Fraternities, which admit both men and women at such colleges as Wesleyan and UMASS.

Gamma Phi Beta was the first collegiate women’s organization to be called a “sorority,” a term coined by Latin professor Dr. Frank Smalley at Syracuse University. The terms “sorority” and women’s “fraternity” have since been used interchangeably.

Burns’ Farewell to Masons

Burns’ Farewell to Masons

Written by Bro. Rob Morris, originally published in “Light and Shadows of Freemasonry”


IT was in the latter part of the gloomy 1786, that Robert Burns, the poet, and the Mason, gathered up his thoughts. He had but little else to gather up, preparatory to leaving Scotland forever. Forever! Terrible word to the expatriated, terrible to the poor exile, who turns toward his country as the Jews turned themselves three times a day praying with their faces toward Jerusalem. Terrible in the highest degree to such a man as Burns, who to the most exalted patriotism added the keenest appreciation of home joys and social pleasures.

Disappointment had set its mark upon Robert Burns. The indulgence of passions that raged within him as the pent-up fires rage beneath the sealed crater of the volcano, had brought to him its legitimate consequences in the upbraidings of conscience, the forfeiture of friendship, and, worst of all, the loss of self-respect.

The restraints of Freemasonry had been neglected, while its social joys were most keenly relished; in other words, our tenets had been faithfully sustained, while our cardinal virtues were neglected. The use of the Compasses had never blessed his hands.  The subtle genius, the unequaled gifts that enabled Robert Burns to conceive and execute The Cotter’s Saturday Night, could not confine him into the ordinary channels of prudence, and even then, he was a doomed man.  

BURNS’ TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

HEAVY debts had accumulated upon him, such as in that barren, unenterprising country, there was but little chance of his ever being able to cancel. He had been summoned to find security for the maintenance of two children, of whom he was forbidden to legitimate by lawful marriage.

As he disdained to ask or tried in vain to find pecuniary assistance in this his hour of need, there was no other alternative remaining for him but a Scottish jail or a flight from Scotland. He had chosen the latter. After much trouble, the situation of assistant overseer on an estate in Jamaica had been secured for him, by one of his few remaining friends. In his own bitter language:

He saw misfortune’s cauld nor’west  
Lang mustering up a bitter blast;  
A jillet brak his heart at last  
Ill may she be!  
So, took a birth afore the mast
An awre tne sea.

He had said farewell to all the friends, they were not many, and to the scenes very many and very dear to their poet’s heart. This he did while skulking from covert to covert under all the terrors of a Scottish jail. His chest was on the road to Greenock. He had composed the last song he should ever measure in Caledonia. It is fraught with solemn thoughts and words, as the reader will see:  

The gloomy night is gathering fast,  
Loud roars the wild inconstant blast,  
You murky cloud is foul with rain,
I see it driving o’er the plain;  
The hunter now has left the moor,  
The scattered coveys meet secure,  
While here I wander, prest with care,  
Along the lonely banks of Ayr.  

The autumn mourns her ripening corn,  
By early winter’s ravage torn;  
Across her placid azure sky,  
She sees the scowling tempest fly:  
Chill runs my blood to hear it rave,  
I think upon the stormy wave,  
Where many a danger I must dare,  
Far from the bonny banks of Ayr.  

‘Tis not the surging billows’ roar,  
‘Tis not that fatal deadly shore;  
Tho’ death in every shape appear,  
The wretched have no more to fear:  
But round my heart the ties are bound,  
That heart transpierced with many a wound;  
These bleed afresh, those ties I tear,  
To leave the bonny banks of Ayr.  

Farewell old Coila’s hills and dales,  
Her heathy moors and winding vales,  
The scene where wretched fancy roves,  
Pursuing past, unhappy loves!  
Farewell my friends, farewell my foes,  
My peace with these, my love with those;  
The bursting tears my heart declare;  
Farewell the bonnie banks of Ayr.

A TRAVELER ON THE ROAD TO GREENOCK

NOW, all other remembered subjects having been marked by the tears of the poet, the poet himself being on the road to the port of Greenock to the ship that should witness his last glance at his native land, his heart turned lovingly, involuntarily, towards Masonry, for Robert Burns was a Freemason, prepared first in his heart.

In none of the vast folios, where stands the vast catalog of our brethren, ancient or modern, is there a character shaped more truly by Masonic skill than his? Nowhere one, who in the expressive language of the Ancient Constitutions would “afford succor to the distressed, divide bread with the industrious poor, and put the misguided traveler into the way,” more cheerfully than Burns.  

He understood right well, “that whoever from love of knowledge, interest, or curiosity desires to be a Mason, is to know that as his foundation and great cornerstone, he is firmly to believe in the eternal God, and to pay that worship which is due to him as the great Architect and Governor of the Universe.”

Robert Burns, thus, governed himself accordingly. There is many a record in the Lodge books of Scotland that gives prominence to his Masonic virtues, and in the higher Lodge, the Grand Lodge of heaven, we have reason to hope the Grand Secretary’s books also bear his name. None lament the weaknesses in his character more than his brethren, but be those defects in number and, in extent, what they may, his brethren protest in the name of their common humanity, against the inhuman judgments that have been pronounced against him.

If the royal dignity, the divine partiality, the unlimited wisdom of Solomon, First Grand Master of Speculative Masonry, could not preserve that Prince of Peace from the errors of the passions, who shall dare too cruelly to judge the son of an Ayrshire cotter, nurtured in penury and debarred the most ordinary relaxations of his age. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall.”  

THE HEART TURNED TOWARD FREEMASONRY

LOVINGLY, then turned the heart of Brother Burns towards Freemasonry. The happy hours, the honest friends, the instructive lessons, the lofty desires! Let the brother who reads this sketch endeavor to place himself in the condition of the poor exile, self-expatriated and almost friendless, and he will understand the keenness of his pangs! There came up a vision of his last Masonic night.

The presence of the Grand Master and his noble Deputy; of a gallant array of gentlemen, the chief-est in all the land; and himself with the first among the equals of those who “meet upon the level” to “part upon the square.” There was the cue, it was enough; sitting down by the roadside, he penciled upon the back of an old letter his Masonic farewell. How many a remembrance of Grand Lodges and Subordinate Lodges and social meetings among Masons is attached to these well-known lines:  

Adieu! a heart-warm fond adieu!  
Dear Brothers of the mystic tie!  
Ye favored, ye enlightened few,  
Companions of my social joy!  
Though I to foreign lands must hie  
Pursuing fortune’s sliddry ba’,  
With melting heart and brimful eye  
I’ll mind you still though far awa’.  

Oft have I met your social band  
And spent the cheerful festive night;  
Oft honored with supreme command  
Presided o’er the sons of light;  
And by that hieroglyphic bright,  
Which none but craftsmen ever saw!  
Strong memory on my heart shall write.  
These happy scenes though far awa’!  

May freedom, harmony, and love  
Unite you in the grand design  
Beneath the Omniscient eye above,  
The glorious Architect divine!  
That you may keep the unerring line  
Still rising by the plummet’s law  
Till order bright completely shine –  
Shall be my prayer when far awa’.  

And you farewell! whose merits claim  
Justly that highest badge to wear!  
Heaven bless your honored, noble name,  
To Masonry and Scotia dear!  
A last request permit me here,  
When yearly ye assemble a’,  
One round, I ask it with a tear,  
To him, the bard, that’s far awa’ ! *  

It pleased God at this crisis to turn the destination of Robert Burns and to spare to Scotland and the world, this affectionate heart. By a train of circumstances, almost miraculous, certainly unprecedented, he was brought unexpectedly to the notice of the literary circles of Edinburgh, then as now, the most classic and critical in the world, and with one consent that society placed him foremost in the ranks of his country’s poets.

CALEDONIA’S BARD

FAME and profit then flowed nightly unto him. His pen was put into constant requisition, his company everywhere sought after, and his talents met with their due appreciation. The Masonic Order added its judgment to that of an approving nation.

The Most Worshipful Grand Master Charters, with every member of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, visiting a Lodge in which Burns happened to be present, graciously gave as a toast:

Caledonia, and Caledonia’s Bard, Brother Burns!

Such rang through the whole assembly with multiplied honors and repeated acclamations.  

But he is gone. On the 21st of July, 1796, Robert Burns died. More than ten thousand persons accompanied his remains to the grave, where a spectator observed:

It was an impressive and mournful sight, to see men of all ranks and persuasions, and opinions, mingling as brothers, and stepping side by side down the streets of Dumfries, with the remains of him who had sung of their loves and joys, and domestic endearments, with a truth and tenderness which none perhaps have since equaled.

He is gone, and here in a distant land, a humble admirer of his genius, addresses his memory in the following lines:  

AMERICA’S MASONS TO ROBERT BURNS

The sun is uprising on Scotia’s far hills  
Day’s labor is opening, the Grand Master wills,  
But Lodge-lights are gleaming in cheerfulness yet,  
Afar in the west where we Masons have met.  

There’s song for the tuneful, kind words for the kind,  
There’s cheer for the social, and light for the blind:  
But when we uprising, prepare us to go,  
With one heart and feeling, we’ll sing thy Adieu.  

A melting farewell, to the favored and bright,  
A sorrowful thought, for the sun set in night,  
A round to the bard whom misfortunes befell, 
A prayer that thy spirit with Masons may dwell.  

When freedom and harmony bless our design,  
We’ll think of thee, Brother, who loved every line:  
And when gloomy clouds shall our Temple surround  
Thy brave heart shall cheer us where virtues were found.  

Across the broad ocean two hands shall unite,  
Columbia, Scotia, the symbol is bright!  
The world one Grand Lodge, and the heaven above.  
Shall witness the triumph of Faith, Hope and Love,  

And thou sweetest Bard, when our gems we enshrine,  
Thou jewel the brightest, most precious, shalt shine,  
Shall gleam from the East, to the far distant west,  
While morning shall call us, or evening shall rest.**


~ Article originally published, LIGHT AND SHADOWS OF FREEMASONRY, in 1852.

* The fifth verse unworthy of the connection and highly un-masonic, which is appended to the above in some of our American Manuals, was not written by Buras.  

** AIR “Flow gently, Sweet Aston.”

*** Main Image: The Inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet-Laureate of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge

Image 1: Bro. Robert Burn’s House

Image 2: Bro. Robert Burns in Masonic Regalia

Image 3: Burn’s Mausoleum in St. Michael’s Churchyard, Completed in 1815


The Edge of The Universe

The Edge of The Universe

In Freemasonry, it explained that the “extent of a Lodge” covers the whole of existence, rising to the heavens, to the depths of the earth, east and west to each horizon, and north and south the same. This is the width, breadth, and depth of a Masonic Lodge. This is emblematical of the Temple of Humanity, but truly not just humanity. The Lodge is all of creation, edge to edge. If this is so, then the whole of the entire universe is a Lodge, and all of the entirety of the universe are its officers and workers.

Everything? So it would seem.

We also know that a Lodge is not a Temple. The Temple is the place where the Freemasons meet, to perform ritual, enjoy brotherhood, and revel in sacred space. The Lodge is the body of Freemasons that make up the Fraternity. Plainly, it would seem that the Lodge is not just Freemasons but truly all life, organic, inorganic, and all matter within the known universe. Is it any wonder that the Freemason creed is to study the hidden mysteries of nature and science? Hidden, it seems, is the operative word. No pun intended, I assure you.

Yet, I think Freemasons may rarely study either. Many are content to execute ritual with good friends, and for many, that is the whole of Freemasonry. Some are involved in activities outside themselves, such as service to their Order and to other non-profit organizations, which are necessary activities. New Masons may observe and listen; yet, there are steps to real study that need to be followed to find understanding. This study and exploration continues well beyond the Third Degree. This is not meant as a condemnation of those good works; it is but a passionate appeal to seek for more.

A Freemason’s study entails curiosity, reading, experimenting, testing, theorizing, and play. It requires creativity and intuition to explore that creativity, looking for new ways to be in and of nature. It involves art, engineering, science, and math. It involves all the liberal arts. There is so much depth the foundational principles of Freemasonry and we only have to delve further to decant vast pools of mystery where we can drink direct understanding.

Indeed, most humans rarely look beyond their own bodies, and sometimes not even then, to study nature and science. We are accustomed to people telling us what to see, hear, and do. This is not to say their input is incorrect or malicious. It is their opinion based on evidence to their eyes. It is based on their own perception of the universe. Every perception, including our own, is only a shadow of perhaps all there is, and we need to remember that when listening and observing. The ideas we come up with from observing how nature works, by the vehicle of science, is a far better path towards wisdom. This is why ancient philosophers are so fascinating. It the not-so-distant past of humanity, a mere two thousand years, we were focused on the union of these two methods – observing nature and theorizing on its state – to understand life. Philosophers would not have separated the two ideas; nature taught, philosophers sought to understand, test, and validate their findings.

They were a curious lot, and for hundreds of years helped humanity steer itself toward a union between itself and the rest of the universe. They were often wrong; yet, even today we find them often right. Democritus, “Father of the Atom,” understood that “the world is made of up of granular particles.” Today, his work has informed Einstein as well as many modern quantum physicists. We recognize that the world is made up of grains, atoms, and their constituents are also granular.

These great thinkers are not limited to just the well-known philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. In fact, I do not believe we can truly understand these three unless we take steps to understand their predecessors and successors. Zeno of Citium, in 300 B.C.E. taught that universal reason, logic, is the foundation of all goodness in life and that living a life of reason was humanity’s purpose. Epicurus, with his principles of pleasure and happiness informed Lucretius’ work On the Nature of Things, which has also informed many modern scientists. Three hundred years earlier, Anaximander, a student of Thales of Miletus, became what we now believe to be the “first” philosopher, as Thales’ writings have ceased to survive.

“Anaximander invented the idea of models, drew the first map of the world in Greece, and is said to have been the first to write a book of prose. He traveled extensively and was highly regarded by his contemporaries. Among his major contributions to philosophical thought was his claim that the ‘basic stuff’ of the universe was the apeiron, the infinite and boundless, a philosophical and theological claim which is still debated among scholars today and which, some argue, provided Plato with the basis for his cosmology.”1

The past informs the future and sometimes, it informs the far future if we pay attention. Carlo Rovelli, in “Reality is Not What it Seems,” states:  “It is only in interactions that nature draws the world.” Or, “The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events.” Rovelli sees the world as Anaximander did, as an eternal flow between events; these events may be the life of a human being or a rock, not as fleeting as that of the quantum processes of creation.

In Lucretius’ discussion about the existence and composition of space, he poses what we now know as the Javelin Argument:

“For whatever bounds it, that thing must itself be bounded likewise; and to this bounding thing there must be a bound again, and so on for ever and ever throughout all immensity. Suppose, however, for a moment, all existing space to be bounded, and that a man runs forward to the uttermost borders, and stands upon the last verge of things, and then hurls forward a winged javelin,— suppose you that the dart, when hurled by the vivid force, shall take its way to the point the darter aimed at, or that something will take its stand in the path of its flight, and arrest it? For one or other of these things must happen. There is a dilemma here that you never can escape from… Lastly, before our eyes one thing is seen to bound another; air is as a wall between the hills, and mountains between tracts of air, land bounds the sea, and again sea bounds all lands; yet the universe in truth there is nothing to limit outside.”2

We now theorize that with Loop Quantum Gravity, a form of quantum theory about how the universe is constructed at the quantum level, spacetime is a network that creates itself, as the universe is expanding. While we may believe there is an edge to the universe, it is at the quantum level unbounded in that it has a constant creation. According to Claudia de Rham, theoretical physicist at Imperial College, “General relativity yields the predictions of black holes and the Big Bang at the origin of our universe. Yet the “singularities” in these places, mysterious points where the curvature of space-time seems to become infinite, act as flags that signal the breakdown of general relativity.”

Courtesy of NASA

Additionally, Juan Maldacena, a quantum gravity theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, has said, “In quantum gravity, space-time itself behaves in novel ways. Instead of the creation of particles, we have the creation of universes.”

If the foundation stones of Freemasonry are these ancient philosophers, it behooves us to understand them so we have a foundation to understand the nature of humanity in order to perfect it. In fact, we require their knowledge to understand the nature of all things, so that we may remember whence we came and that of which we are made. To understand a thing is to know it. Can we understand ourselves if we do not understand nature? We do not stand apart. We are the universe in all things. As NASA has said,

“The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts or gravitational wave events. Elements like phosphorus and copper are present in our bodies in only small amounts but are essential to the functioning of all known life,”

and have come from exploding white dwarfs and massive stars.3

To the Freemason, then, there are ever things to explore and understand. In fact, we might even say that we are co-creators in the universe, as it constantly growing and developing. The breadth, depth, and width of our “Lodge” is on the move, and we have the past and the future to explore. Spacetime is inconstant, creative, and evolving, and there is a wonderful eternal now from which to draw our study of nature and science. Perhaps that is a subject for another time. Again.


Notes:
1 – August 21, 2020, https://www.ancient.eu/Anaximander/
2 – August 22, 2020, https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/carus-on-the-nature-of-things/simple#lf1496_endnote_nt239
3 – August 09, 2020, NASA https://ift.tt/2DCCwin

The Two-Headed Eagle of The Ancient and Accepted Rite

The Two-Headed Eagle of The Ancient and Accepted Rite

By Bro... W. J. Chetwode Crawley

The most ornamental, not to say the most ostentatious feature of the Insignia of the Supreme Council, 33° of the Ancient and Accepted [Scottish] Rite, is the double-headed eagle, surmounted by an Imperial Crown. This device seems to have been adopted sometime after 1758 by the grade known as the Emperors of the East and West: a sufficiently pretentious title. This seems to have been its first appearance in connection with Freemasonry, but the history of the High Grades has been subjected such distortion that it is difficult to accept unreservedly any assertion put forward regarding them. From this Imperial grade, or with this Imperial grade, the Two-headed Eagle came to the “Sovereign Prince Masons” of the Rite of Perfection. This Rite of Perfection with its Twenty-five Degrees was amplified in 1801, at Charleston, U.S.A., into the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Thirty-three Degrees, with the Double-headed Eagle for its most distinctive emblem.

When this emblem was first adopted by the High Degrees, it had been in use as a symbol of power for five thousand years, or so. No heraldic bearing, no emblematic device in wear to-day, can boast such antiquity. It was in use a thousand years before the Exodus from Egypt, and more than two thousand years before the Building of King Solomon’s Temple.

The story of our Eagle bas been told by the eminent Assyriologist, M. Thureau Dangin, in the volume of Zeitschriftfür Assyrliologie, 1904. Among the most important discoveries for which we are indebted to the late M. de Sarzec, were two large terra-cotta cylinders, covered with many hundred lines of archaic cuneiform characters. These cylinders were found in the brick mounds of Tello, which has been identified, with certainty, as the City of Lagash, the dominant center of Southern Babylonia, ere Babylon had imposed its name and rule on the country. The cylinders are now in the Louvre, and have been deciphered by M. Thureau-Dangin, who displays to our wondering eyes an emblem of power that was already centuries old when Babylon gave its name to Babylonia.1

 The cylinder in question is a Foundation Record, deposited by one Gudea, Ruler of the City of Lagash, to mark the building of a Temple, about the year 3000 B.C., as nearly as the date can be fixed. The Foundation Record was deposited just as our medals, coins, and metallic plates are deposited to-day, when a Corner-stone is laid with Masonic Honors. It must be borne in mind that in this case, the word Corner-stone can be employed only in a conventional sense, for, in Babylonia, all edifices, Temples, Palaces, and Towers alike, were built of brick. But the custom of laying Foundation Deposits was general, whatever the building material might be, and we shall presently see what functions are attributed, by another eminent scholar, to the Foundation Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.

The contents of the inscription are of the utmost value to the Oriental scholar, but may be briefly dismissed for our present purpose.

Suffice it to say, that the King begins by reciting that a great drought had fallen upon the land. “The waters of the Tigris,” he says, “fell low and the store of provender ran short in this my City,” so that he feared it was a visitation from the Gods, to whom he determined to submit his evil case and that of his people. The reader familiar with the Babylonian methods that pervade the Books of the Captivity, will not be surprised to learn that the King dreamed a dream, in which the will of the Gods was revealed by direct, personal intervention and interlocution. In the dream there came unto the King “a Divine Man, whose stature reached from earth to heaven, and whose head was crowned with the crown of a God surmounted by the Storm Bird that extended its wings over Lagash, and the land thereof.” This Storm Bird, no other than our Double-headed Eagle, was the Totem, as ethnologists and anthropologists are fain to call it, of the mighty Sumerian City of Lagash, and stood proudly forth the visible emblem of its power and dominion.

This Double-headed Eagle of Lagash is the oldest Royal Crest in the world. As time rolled on, it passed from the Sumerians to the men of Akhad, from the men of Akhad to the Hittites, from the denizens of Asia Minor to the Seljukian Sultans, from whom it was brought by Crusaders to the Emperors of the East and West, whose successors to-day are the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs, as well as to the Masonic “Emperors of the East and West,” whose successors to-day are the Supreme Councils, 33°, that have inherited the insignia of the Rite of Perfection.

Such is the accredited account of the successive flights by which the Double-headed Eagle winged its way from the Tigris to the Danube and the Neva. But it is quite possible that when the Mediaeval Warriors brought home the Storm Bird, they brought it to that nest not for the first time. We have said above that Lagash was the center of a Sumerian people in the year 3000 B.C. It has been established that the Sumerians were an Iranian people, quite distinct from the warlike men of Akhad, who were of Semitic descent. Sometime after the year 2800 B.C., the fiery men of Akhad squeezed out the Iranians, and Babylonia became to all intents and purposes a Semitic Kingdom for the time. The Sumerians appear to have followed the Iranian line of migration westwards and, very likely, brought with them the remembrance of their guardian Bird of the olden time. Hence, the Storm Bird from Mesopotamia, with its double-head and outstretched wings, may not have seemed altogether strange to the Slavs, or the Teutons, or the Celts whose dim ancestry may have dwelt beside the Tigris. The emblem may have appealed to some vague sub-conscious inheritance of the kind that latter-day psychologists stigmatize as vestigial retro-reminiscence. Verily, the nomenclature is germane to “that blessed word Mesopotamia.”

Reverting to the text of the inscribed cylinder, we gather that the Master of the Storm Bird was appeased by the King undertaking to build him a Temple, and in response to the King’s petition inspired him and his builders with a Heaven-born plan. A ‘similar celestial origin is ascribed, commonly enough, to the more magnificent Temples of the Ancient East; for instance, to the great Temple of Horus at Edfu, built by the Pharaoh, under direct inspiration of the god Im-Hotep.2

But this particular revelation to Gudea is noteworthy, because the circumstances of the revelation bear a strong family resemblance to those of the disclosure of the dimensions of the Tabernacle to Moses on Mount Sinai, as described in Exodus xxv., et seq. The cuneiform text is opportunely illustrated on this point by the discovery of a fine basalt statue of Gudea, buried for ages in the same mounds of Lagash. He is represented in the sitting posture common to Oriental statues of Great Monarchs, and he holds on his knees what is now plainly seen to be a draughtsman’s tablet, with the design inscribed on it, while hard by are the graver’s tools and scale: for all the world like a Tracing-board, Gauge, Skirret and Pencil of to-day. The mise-en-scène has an indefinable resemblance to the Frontispieces with which the engravers of the eighteenth century were wont to decorate the Pocket Companion and similar books.

The cuneiform inscription goes on to describe the ceremony of laying the cornerstone, with a thousand details of inestimable value to the archaeologist, but in no way bearing on the story of the Double-headed Eagle.

These things came to pass, under the wings of the Storm Bird, in Lagash of the Sumerians, and were there written down, more than a thousand years before Abram, the Hebrew, dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees.


Notes

1 Zeitschriftfür Assyriology Strasburg…, 1904: vol.xviii, p. 119; Le Cylindre de Gu-de-a, par Fr. Thureau-Dangin.

The old temple at Edfu, built for the worship of Horus, son of Kneph and Athor, was explored by Mariette Bey, and is reputed to contain an inscribed tablet or slab, on which is delineated a geometrical approximation to the ratio of the diameter to the circumference. Scientific readers will understand the ages upon ages that must have intervened between the dawn of geometrical conceptions and the period at which such a constant could begin to appear practicable, or desirable, or even conceivable.

* Orginally published in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. vol. xxiv (1911) Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076. pp. 21-24.

Thinking Better

Thinking Better

At work today, I was faced with the unfortunate episode that happens to everyone at least once. That unfortunate episode was misunderstanding – poor communication resulting in confusion. I had requested that a team alter the way they were performing an action. I made the mistake of requesting it of the entire team. It was taken as a mandate or edict, and one I had no right to make or demand. Having working with these people for years, I was taken aback. Neither was it my intention to demand or mandate. It was a shock to hear that my intentions had been so miscommunicated. What had I done wrong to be so misunderstood? 

In this way, I learned. I believe they had no bad intentions; this situation was just a missed opportunity for stronger bonds and communication between us. I could easily hold a grudge or condemn them for being childlike in their response. Yet, neither of those are appropriate actions to take, either for me, or against people who mean well at their core. And, naive as it may sound, I believe people will gravitate toward doing “right” or “positive” or even “good” in any given situation.

Thinking better

As part of a larger society, we all want to work toward being at peace with our neighbors and the world in general. No, not everyone but I choose to believe the positive in mankind.Regardless of the “what” of the request, I was disappointed that people chose to believe “bad” intention rather than a “good” intention. How could a plea for help turn into an edict? I looked to myself, to see if I could have worded my request better and it was clear, I could have done better.

I find that these challenging communication situations are easier for me to handle as a Freemason. When I wasn’t a Freemason and did not have that foundation, I struggled to find framework in how to move forward without being “hurt.” Now, I do my best to also see their response as positive rather than negative. Sometimes, it is still difficult. As Freemasons, we work hard to not believe ill or malintent of fellow Freemasons; that same thinking goes for the people in my life who are not Freemasons. I can’t conceive of thinking differently because the persons are or are not Freemasons. I treat all as equally as I am able, even with my inevitable biases. I think I hold my fellow Masons to a higher standard because they are Freemasons; in many ways, they really do know better.

Yet, we all have gaps in our education. It’s up to our fellow Freemasons to help us become the best version of ourselves and it’s our job as Freemasons to hold ourselves accountable. I am better for making mistakes and having my Brothers correct me, help me, assist me toward seeing situations and myself differently.

Self Improvement

Where this has led me is to really striving to think through my passionate first responses to being ‘wronged’ and take a different approach.

Freemasonry teaches that we should endeavor to never misjudge a brother or to willfully misunderstand him. I think, in Co-Masonry, where family members or friends may be fellow members, teaches us to not segregate that treatment to a single group. When your wife or husband is a fellow Freemason, you take these lessons from the Lodge into your home. They can’t help but spread beyond the border of your front door. When everyone “plays by the same rules,” it makes it easier to be truthful and authentic with your reactions. You grow because you are able to absorb the lesson, let go of the ego, and move into how you can communicate better.

When you do take these principles out into the world, it’s disappointing to be reminded that not everyone plays by those same rules. This lack of “thinking better” creates the nasty politics of business culture and the fear of political discussions with strangers. It twists us into politically correct pretzels, attempting to hide what we really think and feel, and never really communicating. We have seen this in our recent upheavals in the United States. It seems easier to hate than to understand, and easier to believe ill in people than to believe well of them. I think many people just want to be heard, and listening to them requires we check our personal agendas and self-importance at the door. The lack of “thinking better” brings us to being deadlocked in negotiation or discussion, rather than truly solving problems.

It’s difficult to think well of someone who is bringing up their “issues” about us or has difficulty with something we did. I find myself hurting at the thought of rejection and the idea of a personal attack. I can be emotionally roughed up by someone thinking poorly of me. I think most of us would be, if we know what we’ve done or said to be in the spirit of cooperation rather than being malicious.

Conversely, it’s also a challenge for me to not be a child in return, to lash out and hold that grudge like some four-year-old child. That is where I become grateful for Freemasonry and the challenge to reframe the situation into a learning experience for me. I can push through the grudge and bring it back to “thinking better.” It’s more peaceful for me and it certainly keeps the door open rather than slamming it shut in their face or to my future experiences with them.

Harmony, to this Freemason, is a shining goal, where the spirit of cooperation and unity produce amazing results in our rituals and in our lives. It seems to me that to focus on “thinking better” is what helps bring us into that harmony; not just in our Lodge rooms but in our lives. With a little intent, we can bring this consonance to all of the people we touch, a greater humanity. Imagine, a world of thinking better: makes you smile, doesn’t it? 

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

What Would Your Sentence Be?

What Would Your Sentence Be?

One dark, cold Winter night, in the pine forest near the foothills of the Rockies, a small rabbit runs across a snow-littered meadow. His small feet crunch the rocks as he makes a break for his warren. In the deep silence, a sudden flash and the night becomes day for a brief moment. Seconds tick by as the light rises and slowly fades, an eerie backdrop to the silence. Minutes later, a great tidal wave of energy flattens the forest, the rocks, the warrens, the sleeping life that will continue to sleep. Forever.

In the wake of this powerful destruction, debris falls from the sky, littering the once verdant land with the detritus of its previous inhabitants. Plastic, wood, ash – all drifting in the growing silence. A single white piece of paper, seemingly untouched by the devastation, floats down, swinging wide in the light wind until it reaches the ground. It has the scratches of some writing embedded in its fibers.

What does this writing say?

Feynman 1This is the question that Richard Feynman posed to his physics students on the first day of his new physics curriculum at CalTech in 1961. This question is highlighted in a recent Radiolab episode, entitled “The Cataclysm Sentence” as well as in his collected lectures, called “The Feynman Lectures on Physics.” Rather than teaching his students the history of physics, he wanted them to think critically, creatively, and for themselves.

He posited this question:

If, in some cataclysm, all of the scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed onto the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?

His own answer to that question is covered in both places; the twist that Radiolab put on this question was to ask writers, artists, musicians, and contemporary scientists –  what would your sentence say?

Feynman’s answer is at once interesting and a cultural legacy. Here is what he said:

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

We could take time to unpack his response, or we could delve into our own. Or, we could wander around the purpose of such a sentence, and how might a Freemason answer.

What would the purpose of such a sentence be? What sort of creatures would pick it up? I imagine that this thinking was once applied to the study of Lemuria or Atlantis, and what their civilizations had left for us. From Plato, we learn of Atlantis, which existing approximately 11,000 years ago. It is considered a myth, a metaphor, a fact, and all things in between. In truth, we have no writings existent from Atlantis, and only Plato (and his character’s word) that it existed. Lemuria, an even fainter impression of a culture and continent, is said to have existed up to 52,000 years ago, in the Indian Ocean, and fell to ruin by Nature’s hand around 16,000 B.C.E.. In this case, the Tamil’s claim that this land, Kumari Kandam, was the “cradle of civilization” and that it was, like Atlantis, a thriving civilization but to theosophists, it was the place where humanity took form. Again, we have Tamil folklore and speculation by both theosophists and 19th C.E. anthropologists but we have nothing written directly from this civilization.

Colors of Freemasonry Part IIIn both cases, no such miracle sentence was imparted to us, no wisdom floating to us through the ages. We might imagine that Plato was telling us that Atlantis’ sentence was “Don’t get greedy.” From Lemuria, it might be “Experience everything as human,” or perhaps “Become.” As their worlds were ending, did any of them think of another race of humans? Would we?

Feynman’s question was specific in that he didn’t specify “humans,” but creatures. Creatures. This presupposes they would understand whatever language was written down or that they would understand the reference. In the Radiolab episode, the answers that artists and philosophers provided were at once strange, funny, serious, and deep. The idea here is that the sentence “jump starts” the next “human” race, or race of advanced creatures, whatever that might be.

CAITLIN DOUGHTY: For me, it’s something like you will die, and that’s the most important thing.

ESPERANZA SPALDING: …The willingness to respond creatively to fear, without trying to eradicate the source of the fear.

CORD JEFFERSON: “The only things you’re innately afraid of are falling and loud noises. The rest of your fears are learned and mostly negligible.”

MERRILL GARBUS: [singing] Evolving over millennia. We learn to fly. We’re nourished by the fruits of the Earth. Inspired by each other’s music. But we failed as a species. Injured the very hands that fed us, when we chose fear as our ruler. When we could not grasp being mere fractals in one collective being. In the end there was no “we.”

JENNY ODELL:  All of human effort is meaningless, as he puts it. So he says humanity knows nothing at all. There’s no intrinsic value in anything and every action is a futile, meaningless effort. (Speaking of a Japanese farmer who created “Do Nothing Farming.”

ALISON GOPNICK: Why?

REBECCA SUGAR: …And maybe the ultimate goal would be to just devote oneself fully to creating the life that feels the best on this world in the time that we have.

JAMES GLEICK: The moon revolves around the Earth, which is not the center of the universe, far from it. But just one of many objects, large and small, that revolve around the sun which in turn, is one of countless stars mostly so far away that they’re invisible, even on the clearest night. All traveling through space on paths obeying simple laws of nature that can be expressed in terms of mathematics. Oh and by the way, there is no God.

JARON LANIER: I would give them nothing….It’s redundant. Like, all of that kind of information is just the stuff that’s out there waiting to be discovered in nature anyway, so we don’t have to do anything. If people apply themselves they’ll rediscover all that stuff. So it’s not like we’re special. Letting them get it in their own good time might be better for them, so what have we actually added? Perhaps we’ve only taken away.

Since I listened to this episode and looked into Feynman’s life, and subsequently, delved into Physics and thought experiments, and the meaning of humanity, the answer on the piece of paper that I write has to be something that would be unique to the creature reading it. In this, I think Freemasonry, and really mystery schools overall, has the far view. If we’re working to the perfecting of humanity, we know we have a long, long road ahead, and possibly many lifetimes. Freemasonry looks to the soul of humanity itself, and works to ascertain its perfection. What would we leave to the next generation of souls to inhabit the universe? Maybe we can’t even say until we’re at the end of our own existence. My hope is that is farther away than closer.

nosceMy thoughts stray to what I learned from long-dead philosophers in Greece, precursors to modernity, leftovers from Atlantis. They didn’t know me, and their civilization has perished. What did they leave me, to provide me hope to carry on? My sentence would be “nosce te ipsum.” It transcends everything.

I’m curious to know – what would your sentence be?

The Trestle Board

The Trestle Board

By Bro... Paul R. Clark


DR. CHARLES PARKHURST in saying “To call things by their right names is always a direct contribution to wholesome effects” should receive credit for enunciating a philosophical gem. When a manufacturer seeks an economical distribution of his products, he doesn’t call a spade a shovel or “pussyfoot” down some side alley, timidly and fearfully, trying to develop vital facts, lest he uncover unpleasant truths which might materially change his pre-conceived ideas or notions.

Economical merchandising on a national scale is a problem so complex we can’t afford to shrink from the broad highway, lead us where it may. Merchants willingly spend thousands of dollars in developing facts to secure a clear picture of conditions as they are, not as they would like to find them. “A fact is a fact, whether you like it or not.” Unbiased opinions are difficult to get, because “an opinion changes with what you had for dinner.” So, we find merchants seeking facts. When unpleasant truths stalk into the conference room, business men welcome them and call them by their full names, and consider themselves fortunate indeed if they clearly uncover weaknesses in their products or their merchandising plan.

Many successful business men are members of long standing in the Masonic Fraternity. I am persuaded that, if given an opportunity, they might apply some of their hard-earned experience towards the solution of our Masonic problems.

I HAVE a close friend, a Mason, who is a large manufacturer of pianos. He is not lulling himself to sleep with clever slogans or advertisements in nationally circulated publications, nor with prettily worded or high sounding phrases when discussing his problems with his directors or stockholders.

The radio, the automobile, and the moving pictures are great, gaunt realities which overturn old traditions or customs of the piano trade and demand recognition. Turning his back on them, “ostrichizing” them by sticking his head in the sand, or parking his intelligence outside will not get him to “first base.” The changing habits of the present generation, and the new problems of this wonderful, but complex, 20th century are introducing conditions which must be called by their right names.

When pointing out some of the shortcomings of the average Blue Lodge, I am reminded of the story of the boy, returning from college, who nervously says to his father, “Dad, after all, the real thing in college is the social atmosphere. The real values lie in the social opportunities and – “Dad impatiently interrupts him at this point with the rather caustic remark, ‘What did you flunk in this time?'”

Nothing can be gained by denying the fact that too large a percentage of our brothers flunk in Freemasonry, as far as the Blue Lodge is concerned. A pitifully small percentage of those brothers who are Masonically insolvent take sufficient interest constructively to criticize the Craft, let alone discuss and try to find a solution to many of our Masonic problems. Those who haven’t flunked, like Dad, shouldn’t be too severe on the “boys” who might be justly accused of not studying or taking interest in the Craft. The boy who flunks in college is not always entirely to blame. The teachers, the parents, the curriculum, the atmosphere in the home, and the conditions under which he studies, all are contributing factors in his failure.

If newly made Masons, whom I am calling “the boys,” do not attend lodge and therefore do not take a deep interest in Freemasonry, the inevitable conclusion must be that the Fraternity or the atmosphere in the Masonic classrooms may be partially at fault. Supposing we approach it from this angle, not that the fault lies entirely with the Craft, but possibly the major part of the responsibility may lie with our Masonic leaders who do not recognize that conditions have changed considerably in the last twenty years.

SOMEONE has said that the difference between a Mack truck and a 20-mule team is the difference between coordination and persuasion. Human groups, like mules, to produce the best results, have to be organized and coordinated, as well as persuaded. Individual Blue Lodges may be efficiently coordinated fifty years hence, but I have my grave doubts. It seems to me that it is going to be a long up-hill pull.

In the Masonic Fraternity we find that the Blue Lodge, maintaining a separate and distinct identity and organization, to a great extent is a law unto itself. It is susceptible to coordination, but not subject to it. The Master may accept suggestions from the Grand Lodge or be may not, but the line of demarcation between the Grand Lodge and the individual Blue Lodge is quite rigidly fixed. The Blue Lodge requires considerable persuasion, with the hope that eventually the lodges may be coordinated, but it is evident that the latter is not possible without the desire on the part of the individual Blue Lodges. The lack of a national Masonic policy is a great weakness, but the independence of the individual Blue Lodges is a calamity, if considered from the standpoint of coordinating the Blue Lodges in any one state of these United States.

Most of us will admit that the average Blue Lodge is without a safe, sane, and well planned “selling campaign.” Further, it is just as evident that the Master of any individual Blue Lodge, if he has succeeded in vitalizing the lodge, can leave no authorized machinery to carry the policy on into the succeeding years. So the Blue Lodge is like Grandmother’s crazy quilt – it is a patchwork of individual ideas, with no blending or continuity of policies from year to year. The Master can and often does “carry on,” “follow through,” “step on the gas or apply the brakes” at will. This would discourage one of those wooden Indians that stood outside of cigar stores when we were boys – let alone a clear thinking executive or leader who knows that “Rome was not built in a day,” and that the selling of ideas and persuading the Masonic Fraternity is a problem not of a few months but years.

WE MUST build the foundations now and not be discouraged if the temple is not completed within our lifetime. The habits of the crowd, mob psychology, when applied to our Masonic Institution, are rather mundane phrases – and to the Masonic idealist a little unpleasant, if not irritating. Many of our Masonic Daddies are not unlike some parelits, who refrain from discussing social problems with their children. We have a little false modesty, and we feel that there is something wrong with anyone who criticizes an institution as old as the Masonic Fraternity; but we men of lawful age who are well qualified should not shrink from “calling things by their right names.” If we haven’t the backbone to face an unpleasant truth, we are second cousins to a moral jellyfish – nor, then, can we expect to enlist the services of men of recognized leadership and executive ability to guide our lodges.

Historical review, symbolism, and ritualistic repetition have their place in every Masonic lodge; but, when these clog the wheels, even though they are absolutely essential in the initiations of the first three degrees, it is time to consider the psychological effect that these have on he “brothers on the right and left.” Our Masonic diet is unbalanced, and we devote too much time to symbolism and repeating rituals.

Some of our lodges would be better off if the Trestle Board could be misplaced for at least six months of the year. Many Masons, with whom I have discussed this, do not hesitate to face the truth and freely acknowledge the fact that a full Trestle Board is more often a menace than a blessing.

“Grinding out rubber-stamp-Masons” is not unlike letting down the gates at Ellis Island. We found that an unassimilated immigrant was a real menace. A brother who has been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, unless he absorbs Freemasonry, is far from being a tangible asset to the Fraternity. Yet, how many times we hear men in the ante-room and speakers in the Fast talk about the potential possibilities of these bankrupt Masons?

And, we go blithely on raising Masons and then watching them sink back into Masonic oblivion. This is the nearest thing to perpetual motion that any man ever conceived.

A COMMUNITY with five Masonic lodges of 150 members each is richer and better off Masonically than with one lodge of 750 members. If these five lodges select men because of their social likes or dislikes and then limit the memberships; I wonder if your imagination can grasp the possibilities! The personal touch, the opportunity for developing real Masonic brotherhood in a small lodge of 150 members, composed of brothers who have similar hopes and aspirations and who would mix more intimately, opens up new and unexplored possibilities; nor does this idea in any way violate the universality of Freemasonry. The Grand Lodge certainly does not object to forming new lodges; but, when the Master hugs to his breast the tradition that to be successful the lodge must be big, and that a full Trestle Board and a long waiting list are an indication of goodness and virtue, it seems to me that the Masonic Fraternity is chasing rainbows – and the pitiful part about this is that so few of us seem to realize it.

Can we not see the futility of striving for volume, for big crowds, for a large, unwieldy Masonic mass, few of which are able to appreciate what it is all about? If we padlocked the doors and put the Trestle Board on the shelf for a while and then attempted to draw those who profess to be Master Masons (and who are so technically) back into the lodge, we would get results that would surprise us.

THIS summer a derby was held in Kentucky, at which 80,000 people were present. At this event there were more airplanes than there were automobiles twenty years ago. The American people spend more than $1,000,000 a day on radio equipment and accessories, yet three years ago the radio was an experimental toy indulged in by few people. Can the Masonic Fraternity expect to continue with the same methods that were used successfully by our fathers, in view of the disturbing influences that are being recognized by our schools, colleges and churches from one end of the land to the other?

The average Mason may have a very high code of ethics, but his Masonic obligation to attend the meetings has been diluted by these distracting and disintegrating influences – and we are in competition with some very potent undercurrents which the Blue Lodge must acknowledge. If we stop “grinding out Masons on a tonnage basis,” which takes so much of our time, we can devote some attention to the real worth-while things and bring out the richness and depth of Freemasonry, which have never been really uncovered to the Masonic masses. A lodge with a limited membership would at least have time to develop Masters of Masonry instead of “grinding out half-baked Masons,” who become Masonically insolvent due to this moth-eaten tradition that seems to grip the average Masters to strive for bigness and volume continually.

If we limited our Blue Lodge membership and devoted some of the time now consumed in working the three degrees to selling Masonic ideas to the brothers on the right and left, those who profess Freemasonry might practice it more diligently. We need better Masons, not more Masons. We have every reason to be proud of our achievements, but we ought to be honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge our faults and to try to correct them. Volume production, with no consistent policy to keep our brothers in Masonic intercourse, is a fault which we do not fully recognize; and our failure to accomplish results is blamed on general conditions.

IF THE Blue Lodge’s chief function is to graduate Masons to the so-called “higher degrees,” then I would say, “Let’s speed up the machinery, because it is very efficient and is producing results.” If, on the other hand, the attendance in the Blue Lodge is the barometer of its success, then it is quite evident that we have much to be concerned about. Limiting the Blue Lodge membership may not be the only remedy, but isn’t it reasonable to state that this would allow a lodge graciously to do what every Blue Lodge does to some extent? By following a policy of this kind, it seems reasonable to suppose that we would have greater opportunities for increasing the interest of those who have already joined the Craft and are wondering what it is all about.


– Originally published in THE MASTER MASON – MAY 1926

Shakespeare and Freemasonry

Shakespeare and Freemasonry

We have set it down as a law to ourselves to examine things to the bottom, and not to receive upon credit, or reject upon probability, until these have passed a due examination.

~ BACON’S NATURAL HISTORY. 

SPECULATE: To consider by turning a subject in the mind and viewing it in its different aspects and relations; 2. In philosophy, To view subjects from certain premises given or assumed, and infer conclusions respecting them a priori.1 

~ WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY


ANYTHING proposed at this late day as a new contribution to the history and purpose of Freemasonry should be accompanied by the best of credentials. And, yet, the very fact of its being new may preclude almost any evidence except what it bears within itself; so that the most one can do is to state what appears to be a truth, show how it has become such to him, and then rely upon it being apprehended by others. 

In offering to the Craft this essay, which in its main proposition may seem altogether new, and perhaps revolutionary, all that is asked for it is the application of a primary Masonic rule of action. A strange brother coming into a community is not received as such on his own representation, but neither is he discarded. Let the same method by which he is duly accepted as a member of the Fraternity be applied to the views here expressed. It is the only way in which they will become true to other persons. 

Should these views appear to any reader like an attempt to overthrow some of the most ancient landmarks of the Fraternity, the assurance is given that such is not the writer’s purpose. Rather it is an effort to restore to the Order the original patent or charter of Freemasonry, thus making it possible to verify or correct all its landmarks. 

THE PURPOSE OF FREEMASONRY

In reflecting upon the work in Lodge meetings, and its exemplification in the lives of brethren, these questions often presented themselves:

  1. What is the purpose of it all?
  2. Is its full purpose understood?
  3. Are the results commensurate with the ideals of expectations?

And to answer these questions was not an easy matter. There is a feeling abroad, which must be wide-spread, as its expression can be traced through many Masonic journals, that something is wanting in the working of the Order; either there is a misconception as to its origin and object, or errors have crept into the exposition of the work. At any rate it seemed worth some study to ascertain whether there might not be a reasonable explanation for such conditions. 

It is apparent to many of the most zealous and loyal Masons that the discussions and uncertainty as to the origin of their Order is placing it on the defensive, and is a handicap to its progress. In these days of libraries and general reading, the influence of standard works of popular education cannot be ignored. At the beginning of the article on “Freemasonry,” in the New International Encyclopedia, after a passing reference to the claims made for the antiquity of the Order, the statement is made that:

…the Order, however, is now considered to have been instituted about the early part of the eighteenth century – the pretensions put forth to a date coeval with the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, with King Solomon as its first Grand Master, being considered by those who have thoroughly investigated the subject as not worthy of credit.

In the new Encyclopedia Britannica, the article on “Freemasonry” was written by William James Hughan, recently deceased, a recognized authority on questions pertaining to Masonry. After noting that the Mother Grand Lodge is that of England, which was inaugurated in the metropolis on St. John Baptist’s day, 1717, and that a Grand Lodge was founded in Ireland in 1725 and in Scotland in 1736, he states:

It is important to bear in mind that all the regular Lodges throughout the world, likewise all the Grand Lodges, directly or indirectly, have sprung from one or the other of these three governing bodies named… It may be a startling declaration, but it is well authenticated, that there is no other Freemasonry, as the term is now understood, than what has been so derived. In other words, the Lodges and Grand Lodges in both hemispheres trace their origin and authority back to England for working what is known as the Three Degrees, controlled by regular Grand Lodges. 

Yet, in face of all this the general work and reputation of the Order is based on the assumption that modern Freemasonry is something very ancient.

Studies extending over a number of years led to a generalization so remarkable that at first it seemed incredible, as no doubt it will to many other persons; but it grew so clear and definite, accounting for an origin of the Order consistent with the known facts, furnishing a reasonable explanation for the difficulties which beset it, and giving such an exalted conception of Freemasonry, that its truth could scarcely be questioned. 

ARE THE TEACHINGS OF SHAKESPEARE AND FREEMASONRY IDENTICAL?

A point was reached where there was no avoiding the conclusion that the teachings and purpose of Shakespeare and Freemasonry are identical; that their origin was coincident, or nearly so, the Order being designed to prepare a special body of men to exemplify in actual life the principles embodied in the plays; and, reciprocally, the plays being intended to supply, with concrete illustrations, correct rules of conduct and life; and that both are parts of the grand and comprehensive philosophical scheme of Francis Bacon to regenerate the world and unite mankind into a universal brotherhood. 

This view of Freemasonry places it at the very top of that vast scheme, making the institution a necessary integral part of the wonderful plan, without which it would have been incomplete. This view makes the purpose of the Order the sublimest conception of man, this being no less than to secure and maintain the freedom, the welfare and the very preservation of the human race, A little reflection will convince any member of the Order that its work has tended toward that end; but what has been done, notable as it has been, is hardly more than a beginning or earnest of what it was meant to accomplish. 

To show how such conclusions were reached naturally is… 

a chronicle of day by day, 
Not a relation for a breakfast. 

and yet it may be possible to give in a reasonably small compass at least an intelligible, if bare, outline of the course which led up to it. 

It is but fair to remark that others have had suspicions or intimations of some close relation between Shakespeare and Freemasonry. The Worshipful Master of Bard-of-Avon Lodge claimed Masonic fraternity with Shakespeare, thinking that allusions to Masonic terms and customs are scattered through the plays, but chiefly on the strength of Hubert’s words in King John

They shake their heads,  
And whisper one another in the ear,  
And he that speaks doth grip the hearer’s wrist. 

That action being symbolic of the Sublime degree.2 Of course, this is but a slight and superficial argument, since such actions are not peculiar to Masons. 

Frederick Nicolai, a learned book-seller of Berlin, advanced the belief that Lord Bacon, influenced by the writings of Andrea, the alleged founder of the Rosicrucians, and of his English disciple, Robert Fludd, gave to the world his “New Atlantis,” a beautiful apologue, in which are to be found many ideas of a Masonic character. But in his opinion the Order was not established until 1646, when a number of men met for that purpose. It is worth noting that this is the same year in which the Royal Society was founded. Had Nicolai understood the relation between Shakespeare and Freemasonry, and the part they bear in Bacon’s system of philosophy, no doubt he would have made a different guess. 

In the effort to establish the truth of the main proposition – the identity of Freemasonry and Shakespeare – let all questions relating to their history be laid aside for the present, and let attention be directed to their actual nature. Long ago the wise man who, it is believed, knew all about these subjects, said: “The nature of everything is best considered in the seed.” That is, by beginning with the elements of which it is composed. This course is pursued in all the investigations of modern science, and it should be the proper course for Speculative Masonry. That is the significance of the term Speculative. 

It will hardly be questioned that the whole system of Freemasonry is the expansion of some principle, some fundamental idea, just as truly as the mighty oak has developed from the germ within the acorn. Now, the germ idea of Freemasonry is contained in one paragraph of the Charges of a Free-Mason (1723), and in the first line:

 A Mason by his tenure is obliged to obey the moral law.

And as the embryo of the acorn sends roots down into the ground for the sake of the tree that grows above, so the observance of the moral law is to the end that mankind may be united into one brotherhood – a high ideal, never to be attained, but still the goal toward which to strive.

While the main part of this Book of Constitutions pretends to trace the history of Masonry from the earliest period of the world’s history, the least reflection will convince one that all this has nothing to do with speculative Masonry. Almost all the book having reference to Freemasonry may be said to be in that one paragraph, which is here given: 

A Mason is obliged by his Tenure to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the ART, he will never be a stupid ATHEIST, nor an irreligious LIBERTINE. And though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to obligate them to that Religion in which all Men agree; leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that is, to be GOOD MEN AND TRUE, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denomination or Persuasion they may [be] distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Unity, and the means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must else have remained at a perpetual distance. 

This paragraph may be summed up in a single phrase, which fully expresses the vital spirit of Freemasonry – The Majesty of the Moral Law. 

Professor Henry Van Dyke has made the splendid generalization that the aim and purpose of the Shakespearean dramas also is to teach the Majesty of the Moral Law. It will be found, when the plays are studied from this viewpoint, that they form a comprehensive and consistent body of ethics or moral philosophy, the term being used in the Baconian sense as embracing politics, ethics, as commonly conceived, and logic; and that this system is entirely in harmony with the teachings of Freemasonry. It may be more exact to say that Freemasonry is a training school to make the realization of this philosophy possible.

Perhaps the simplest and yet most satisfactory definition of Freemasonry is Dr. Hemming’s, that…

Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morals, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

WHERE SHAKESPEARE AND FREEMASONRY MEET

Shakespeare may be also defined as a beautiful system of morals, veiled in allegory and illustrated by fictitious and historical personages. Further, one play, The Tempest, which stands first in the collected plays, is an epitome, a miniature of the whole. The argument of our main proposition – the identity of Shakespeare and Freemasonry – may be based upon the proper interpretation of this play. One primary idea must be kept in mind: these plays are works of art; works of literary art, which, next to music, is the highest art; and again, in the form of the drama, which is the highest form of literary art.

And as Alfred Noyes has so aptly expressed it, “The content and import of a work of art are not to be weighed in the same way as those of a philosophic system or a work of science.” It is to be realized more as a personal experience, not so much comprehended by the mind as apprehended by the soul. Let it not be thought strange, therefore, if for many persons The Tempest has little significance. For that matter, to how comparatively few persons is Shakespeare anything more than a name. The reason is to be found in our one-sided, unnatural and, in many respects, false education. Others can place themselves where Shakespeare and Freemasonry meet, if they but free their minds from traditions and prejudices. 

Hence, to read these plays as mere stories in dramatic form, filled in with many wise reflections, is to miss their real character. The Tempest may be read simply as such a story, and even as having a moral purpose. Sir Edward Strachey says quite aptly that it is “a mimic, magic tempest which we are to see, a tempest raised by art, to work moral ends with actual men and women.” 

But he fails to show how it is to bring about such a state in the actual affairs of men, say of our day or of any time. The play contains hints suggesting that it is meant to be of universal application. It will yet be clear that this play can be fairly interpreted as an allegorical drama, summing up the whole method of Francis Bacon’s philosophy, and especially his moral philosophy, as it is to affect in actual life the individual, and all the relations which men and women sustain toward each other, from the primary relations of the family to the highest, which is that of government. And when so interpreted it will be found that it is also the philosophy of Freemasonry. 

In a small frame hanging on one of the beautiful marble columns in the Library of the Masonic Temple at Philadelphia, PA., are a number of Masonic Landmarks, which may be accepted as a fair statement of some fundamental principles of Freemasonry. They are reproduced here.

THE MASONIC LANDMARKS

  1. The Moral Law is Masonic Law.  
  2. Obedience to lawful authority is inculcated by Masonry.  
  3. Masonic qualifications are mental, moral, and physical.  
  4. Masonic preferment is grounded upon real worth and personal merit only.
  5. Charity should be the distinguishing characteristic of a Mason.  
  6. The will of the majority governs for the good of the whole. 
  7. Secrecy is indispensable in Masonry. 
  8. The Master is the head of the Lodge. 
  9. In his absence, the Wardens preside according to rank. 
  10. The Grand Lodge is supreme in its sphere of jurisdiction. 
  11. The approbation of God is the highest Masonic honor. 

Comparing these Masonic Landmarks with The Tempest, it can be seen how they are woven into the word-pictures of the play. 

FREEMASONRY AND THE TEMPEST

As the Moral Law forms the first Landmark, so the main theme of the play is illustrated by the story of the violation of the moral law by the false Duke and his confederates, and their repentance; with the result that a reconciliation of all the persons is brought about, and they agree to live in harmony and unity. 

The second landmark is the recognition of lawful authority. Now, the very first scene of the play teaches the same lesson. In the first twenty-seven lines is embodied the whole theory of authority and obedience, as the basis of true liberty. Notice, the cheerful obedience of the sailors to the commands of their proper superiors, and the sudden change to sullen opposition to those who had no lawful right to order them about. In the same way it can be seen how the other general abstract principles of Masonry are illustrated as the play progresses. 

But it is desired to call special attention to the distinguishing term of Freemasonry – the word Free. Freedom is the enveloping, penetrating atmosphere of the play as a whole, and of every part of it. It is the necessary life-giving principle for the development of the individual and society as therein portrayed. The idea of freedom is present in almost every action of importance throughout the entire play, and forms the theme of a postscript, in form of an apologue. The simple wish of Caliban, type of primitive man, or of the animal becoming human, is for his freedom; and it forms the last wish of Prospero, type of the highest developed man. But above all, the promise of freedom and the hope of attaining it formed the very life of Ariel, and was the spur to all his activity; and Ariel, it is believed, symbolizes the spirit of man. 

To analyze the play in detail would make this paper too long. Let this marvelous drama of The Tempest be interpreted as an allegory expressing in the form of literary art what Bacon meant to express in sculpture by the statue of Orpheus, which he erected in his grounds of Gorhambury. The result will show whether it bears such an interpretation and has any relation to Freemasonry. 

Bacon inscribed the statue, Philosophy Personified. He interpreted Orpheus as denoting learning, and the ancient fable as a picture of universal philosophy. The music of Orpheus was of two kinds: one that appeased the infernal powers, he applied to natural philosophy, which seeks to understand and control the physical world; the other, which draws together men and beasts, to moral and civil discipline. In other words, Bacon understood Orpheus to have been to the Greeks a civilizing hero, who had induced their ancestors to renounce cannibalism, and taught them the arts and sciences and how to live together. This, Bacon thought, was the true Orpheus music or harmony. 

Now, The Tempest presents to us a picture of similar sordid, selfish and warring social conditions transformed into a society where reparation has been made for all injustice, where no man is to “shift” for himself, but where each shall shift for the others, and where, as a result, peace prevails. “The supreme harmony prevails when all things are in harmony with the moral order.”

The events which brought this about culminated in the marriage of Miranda, the admired daughter of Prospero, to the prospective reigning prince. This marriage, with its attendant happiness, is emblematic of the prosperity and peace of a state which would accept Bacon’s philosophy, symbolized here by Miranda. It will be noticed that she is the very embodiment of pity, sympathy for her fellow-men, as Ariel is the embodiment of thought, especially in its highest manifestation, that of the creative imagination.

Herein, lies the explanation of the figure which represents Freemasonry as spanning the world with its arms of light and love and benevolence. It is indeed a picture of an ideal civilization, of a state requiring a high degree of education to be even approximately realized. This is the invisible Temple, continually being built. 

The teachings of Freemasonry lead in this same direction, and I submit that the Order was instituted to bring to pass just such a condition of society, in which Masons are to be the living stones. It was meant to be a civilizing force, working throughout the whole world. The universal application of its principles and teachings attest to this fact. These principles in their general form are embodied in The Tempest, while in the other plays they are exemplified as they apply to the manifold conditions of human relations. It should be said that these plays are extra-institutional, something like the post-graduate studies of schools and colleges. They have no immediate connection with the secret work of the Lodge. 

Freemasonry is frequently conceived as a religion. The language of the Ancient Charges implies that it may be so considered. Every religion has its body of doctrines, its votaries, and an organization through which, by means of rituals and worship, these doctrines are taught to its followers and disseminated among outsiders. In Freemasonry, the Lodges and the secret work correspond to the religious organizations and their rituals. But Freemasonry has no body of doctrines. Freemasonry is not a matter of belief. Its members are to think and feel and act. And, in lieu of a body of doctrines, I name the peerless plays of Shakespeare as embodying and exempliplying the principles which are to serve as a guide and inspiration of Masons; that is, beyond what is inculcated by the secret work of the Lodges. 

FREEMASONRY AND THE WINTER’S TALE

If an explanation is asked how modern Freemasonry was connected with Operative Masonry, the answer is that the ancient Institution was taken as the wild stock on which the new was grafted, exactly as each of the plays was based on some older tale or legend. The process is set forth quite plainly in that charming play, The Winter’s Tale, where the author says: 

We marry,
A gentlers cion to the wildest stock,  
And make conceive a bark of baser kind  
By bud of nobler race; this is an art  
Which does mend nature – change it, rather; but  
The art itself is nature.3

The great secrecy and mystery which surrounded the early history of the Order was necessary to establish it, but this should no longer hold in our day. 
It may be that all this is well known in the higher Masonic circles, but kept hid, like so many other things, from motives of prudence. But if such a course seemed necessary at one time in the history of Freemasonry, it is difficult to see a reason for continuing it. If it is not known, then the conviction is expressed that a careful examination will verify the discovery. And its importance cannot be questioned or exaggerated.

Freemasonry makes a private appeal to all that is best, noblest and most unselfish in man; and to stimulate the interest by a certain amount of mystery, secrecy of symbolism is well and good. But this has its limitations. In these days many men have advanced beyond such a stage in their education. To them the actual truth cannot fail to appeal. It will solve not only the perplexing question of the authorship of the plays, but in large measure their real meaning, and furnish a practical way of relating them to men’s lives, thus making them what they were meant to be – a vital, educating force.

It will explain the tremendous spurt of civilization in England during Bacon’s life-time, and make clear who was the intellectual dynamo that furnished not only the light and power of that wonderful period, but the impulse which led to our present advanced stage of civilization. It will confirm the opinion that Freemasons were meant to be the special guardians and conservators of the richest and noblest treasure intended for the welfare of mankind that the human mind ever collected. It will establish the fact that in modern times lived a philosopher, Francis Bacon, the freest, wisest, tenderest of men, who for three centuries has met the common fate of philosophers – to be misunderstood and maligned – but who planned a scheme of philosophy surpassing all that ever preceded; and who also made provision for its dissemination and preservation among men. 

Let Freemasonry acknowledge its paternity, which will be found to have been noble in name and most noble in fact, and claim its inheritance, with its attending responsibilities, and it will have the means to solve the difficulties and dispel the fears felt by many members and expressed so forcibly by the good brother, Bishop Charles T. Williams, of Michigan, when he said:

I have often felt that Freemasonry should be something more than a mere theatrical exhibition, with some technical charity and a good deal of social intercourse; but I do not see just how its moral forces can be effectually concentrated and directed. 

It can also meet the criticism, and fufill the prophecy presented by Oswald Wirth,4 who declared that our institution has not yet found itself, that it seeks itself like the youth who is forced to recognize himself, and take knowledge of what he really is. He predicts that an epoch will come forcibly, when all that is respectable will be universally respected – when forms shall be appreciated and scrupulously observed no more by instinct or superstition, but in reason, for what they contain as living. 

Let Freemasonry but find itself – and this is possible by the author’s last will and testament, The Tempest – and there is nothing that can prevent it from becoming the world-wide civilizing force which it was designed to be, becoming the most potent factor in dispelling ignorance and superstition, in bringing about a fuller freedom and development of man, and in replacing the selfishness, deceit and inhumanity, which unchecked must eventually destroy our civilization, by the rule of justice and love, which alone can unite mankind into a universal brotherhood.

Written by Bro. William Norman M’Daniel and originally published in THE AMERICAN FREEDOM – JANUARY 1912.


a priori, “from the cause to the effect.”
2 John Weiss, Wit and Humor of Shakespeare, p. 248. 
Act IV, Scene 4. 
THE AMERICAN FRFEMASON, August, 1911.

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