THE first of the Old Charges, “Concerning God and Religion” begins:
“A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and, if he rightly understands the art, will never be a stupid atheist….”
That all petitioners for the degrees express a belief in Deity is a fundamental requirement. That all elected candidates who receive the entered Apprentice degree publicly express a belief in deity is a fundamental requirement. No lodge would accept the petition of any man unwilling to profess his faith in Deity.
We are taught that no atheist can be made a Mason, and the reason usually assigned is that, lacking a belief in Deity, no obligation can be considered binding. The real reasons for the non-acceptance of atheists into the Fraternity goes much deeper. We are not entirely accurate when we say that no obligation can be binding without taking an oath. Our courts of law permit a Quaker to “affirm” instead of taking an oath to tell the truth, inasmuch as a Quaker’s religious belief does not permit him to swear.
Yet, a Quaker who tells an untruth after his affirmation is as subject to the penalty for perjury as the devout believer in God who first swears to tell the truth, and then fails to do so. The law holds a man truthful who affirms, as well as one who swears to tell the truth.
No atheist can be made a Mason, far less from lack of binding power of the obligation taken by such a disbeliever, than from Freemasonry’s knowledge that an atheist can never be a Mason “in his heart.” Our whole symbolism is founded on the erection of a Temple to the Most High. Our teachings are of the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man founded on that fatherhood, and the immortality of the soul in a life to come. A disbeliever in all these could by no possible chance be happy or contented in our organization.
WHAT IS AN ATHEIST?
IT is possible to spin long-winded theories about the word, draw fine distinctions, quote learned encyclopedias and produce a fog of uncertainty as to the meaning of “atheist” as hopeless as it is stupid, From Freemasonry’s standpoint an atheist is a man who does not believe in Deity. Which immediately brings out the far more perplexing question:
THE question has plagued many a Masonic scholar and thousands of men less wise. It is still a matter of perplexity to many a man who fears that the friend who has asked him to sign his petition is an atheist.
“What is this Deity in which a man must believe?”
Such an anthropomorphic God, derived from descriptive passages in the Bible, added to by the drawings of artists and crystallized in an age of simple faith, have given such a conception to many who find it adequate.
Here is where all the trouble and the worry comes on the scene. Man’s idea of God differs with the man, his education, his early religious training. To some, the mental picture of God is that of a commanding, venerable figure with flowing white hair and beard – the great artist Dore so pictured God in his marvelous illustrated Bible. Such a conception fits naturally in a heaven of golden streets, flowing with milk and honey. White clothed angels make heavenly music on golden harps, the while Deity judges between the good and the evil.
Others conceive of Deity as a Bright Spirit, who moves through the universe with the speed of light, who is “without form” because without body, yet who is all love, intelligence, mercy and understanding. The man who believes in the anthropomorphic God describes his conception, then asks the brother who believes in a Bright Spirit:
“Do you believe in my God?”
If the answer is in the negative, the questioner may honestly believe him who answers to be an atheist. The Deity of a scientist, a mathematician, a student of the cosmos via the telescope and the testimony of geology, may be neither anthropomorphic nor Bright Spirit, but a universally pervading power which some call Nature; others Great First Cause; still others Cosmic Urge.
Such a man believes not in the anthropomorphic God, not in God as a Bright Spirit. Shall he call his brethren who do so believe, atheists? Have they the right so to denominate him?
CAN GOD BE DEFINED?
TO the Geologist, the very handwriting of God is in the rocks and earth. To the fundamentalist, the only handwriting of God is in the Bible. Inasmuch as the geologist does not believe in the chronology of the life of the earth as set forth in the Bible, the fundamentalist may call the geologist an atheist. Per contra, the geologist, certain that God has written the story of the earth in the rocks, not in the Book, may call the fundamentalist an atheist because he denies the plain testimony of science.
One is a right, and each is as wrong, as the other! Neither is an atheist, “because each believes in the God which satisfies him!”
You shall search Freemasonry from Regius Poem, our oldest document, to the most recent pronouncement of the youngest Grand Lodge; you shall read every decision, every law, every edict of every Grand Master who ever occupied the Exalted East, and nowhere find an ukase that any brother must believe in the God of some other man. Nowhere in Freemasonry in England, its Provinces, or the United States and its dependent Jurisdictions, will you find any God described, cataloged, limited in which a petitioner must express a belief before his petition may be accepted.
For Masonry is very wise, she is old, old and wisdom comes with age! She knows, as few religions and no other Fraternity has ever known, of the power of the bond which lies in the conception of an unlimited God.
A witty Frenchman was asked once: “Do you believe in God?” He answered:
“What do you mean by God? Nay, do not answer. For if you answer, you define God. A God defined is a God limited, and a limited God is no God!”
From Freemasonry’s gentle standpoint, a God defined and limited is not the Great Architect of the Universe. Only God unlimited by definition; God without meets and bounds; God under any name, by any conception, is the fundamental concept of the Fraternity, and to believe in Whom is the fundamental requirement for membership.
LOGIC AND UNDERSTANDING
IN her Fellowcraft Degree, Freemasonry teaches of the importance of Logic. It is perfectly logical to say that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite; a truism as exact as to say that light and darkness cannot exist in the same place at the same time, or that sound and silence cannot be experienced at the same moment. A mind which can comprehend infinity is not finite. That which can be comprehended by a finite mind is not infinite. Therefore, it is logical to say that no man can comprehend God, since the only mind he has is finite.
But, if a man cannot comprehend the God in Whom he must express a belief in order to be a Freemason, it is obviously the very height of folly to judge his belief by any finite comprehension of Deity. Which is the best of reasons why Freemasonry makes no attempt at definition. She does not say: “Thus and such and this and that is my conception of God, do you believe in HIM?” She says nothing, allowing each petitioner to think of Him as finitely or as infinitely as he will.
The agnostic frankly says:
“I do not know in what God I believe, or how he may be formed or exist. I only know that I believe in something.”
Freemasonry does not ask him to describe his “something.” If it is to him that which may be named God, no matter how utterly different from the God of the man who hands him the petition, Freemasonry asks nothing more. He must “believe.” How he names his God, how he defines or limits Him, what powers he gives Him – Freemasonry cares not.
It is probable that the majority of those who profess atheism are mistaken in their reading of their own thoughts. An atheist may be an honest man, a good husband and father, a law abiding, charitable, upstanding citizen. If so, his whole life contradicts what his lips say. In the words of the poet:
“He lives by the faith his lips deny, God knoweth why!”
Many a man has reasoned about faith, heaven, infinity, and God until his brain reeled at the impossibility of comprehending the infinite with the finite, and ended by saying in despair: “I cannot believe in God!” Then he has taken his wife or his child in his arms and there found happiness, completely oblivious to the most profound, as the most simple fact of all faiths and all religions; where love is, there is also God!
DECLARATION OF BELIEF
BUT, Freemasonry does not go behind the spoken or written word. With a full understanding that many a man who defiantly denies the existence of God is actually not an atheist “in his heart” our Order nevertheless insists upon a plain declaration of belief. There is no compromise in Freemasonry;1 her requirement are neither many nor difficult, but they are strict.
Having accepted the declaration, however, Freemasonry asks no qualifying phrases “Nor should any of us question a declaration.” It is not for us to let our hearts be troubled, because a petitioner’s conception of Deity is not ours. It is not for us to worry because he thinks of his God in a way which would not satisfy us. Freemasonry asks only for a belief in a Deity unqualified, unlimited, undefined. Her sons cannot, Fraternally, do less.
When the great schism in Freemasonry ended in 1813, and the two rival Grand Lodges, the Moderns (who were the older) and the Antients (who were the younger, Schismatic body) came together on St. John’s Day to form the United Grand Lodge, they laid down a firm foundation on this point for all time to come. It was later declared to all by this, the primary, Mother Grand Lodge of all the Masonic World:
“Let any man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believes in the glorious Architect of Heaven and Earth, and practices the sacred duties of morality.”
What a Mason thinks about the glorious Architect, by what name he calls Him. how he defines or conceives of Him, so far as Freemasonry is concerned may be a secret between Deity and brother, kept forever, “in his heart!”2
1 While traditionally this is the case, some Masonic Obediences do not require candidates to profess a belief in God.
2 Originally published, SHORT TALK BULLETIN – Vol. X April, 1932 No.4
IS it possible to have civil discourse online today regarding a controversial topic? I have to say, there are times that I feel it is not, or at least it’s extremely challenging. This is particularly true of online discussions via social media, which make up more and more of the political conversations going on these days. In fact, this is an understatement; the truth is that I often feel like the world has gone totally insane.
Why is this the case? There are various ideas floating around in the ether about why it’s gotten tough to talk to each other politely, mostly having to do with the lack of face-to-face interaction and the empathy that entails while interacting online, plus the echo-chamber effect of surrounding ourselves with only those who see the world as we do. I would even add certain cultural developments, particularly the idea that we are actually obligated to be outraged by certain ideas. This seems related to the idea of taboo, that some topics or opinions are simply forbidden, a pattern that has existed in virtually all human societies, although what is taboo in those various societies may be very different.
However, the current climate might be explained, what can each of us do to increase the civility of our own interactions? These are a few of my thoughts on what each of us can do to make our discussions more civil and ultimately more rewarding.
Recognize Civil Discourse as a Skill
It’s not easy to keep your cool when someone disagrees with you. Much of our identities are tied up in our opinions and worldviews, and when someone questions that, it can sometimes feel like shaking our foundations. Of course, beneath every angry response is the hidden fear that we may actually be wrong, may have not properly thought something out, and might end up looking like a fool. It’s happened to us all at least once, and it could certainly happen again.
It’s important to recognize that overcoming this inner “trigger mechanism” is essentially a skill, one that has to be practiced and honed; in Freemasonry, this references the work of subduing one’s passions and is a key step in progressing in the Craft. Self-control, restraint from excess, and moderation in all things are some of skills which should distinguish a Freemason.
We all know that children lack the self-control necessary to always regulate their emotional outbursts, and so, those who are able to do it must have learned it along the way. Ideally, this would be a part of our standard education, at least at the college level, but sadly, many college students and graduates are still lacking in this department, especially since college campuses are increasingly becoming “safe spaces” where disagreement on some topics is not permitted.
Therefore, if you find yourself getting angry when you encounter those who disagree with you, be aware of what is unfolding within you, take a step back, and understand that you are practicing a skill, as you choose to respond more skillfully. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail, as some failure is required in the learning process of every skill.
Recognize Civil Discourse as Desirable
This might seem like a no-brainer, but oddly enough, in many cases it isn’t. There are various cultural movements which are almost opposed to the very idea of civil discourse, or at least have come to think that one should not be calm in discussing some “sacred cows.” My experience has been that this is true on both sides of the aisle.
A great example of how this is the case is the classic divisive political issue: abortion. On both sides of this issue, there is a general sense that you should be outraged at the other side. If you’re “pro-life,” then you believe people are murdering babies, and what sort of monster would be able to calmly discuss that? If you’re “pro-choice,” you believe that religious zealots are attempting to control people’s medical choices about their own bodies, and so what kind of psychopath could see that as justifiable?
I’m actually somewhat on the fence on this issue, which may be why it’s so apparent to me that these two camps are both being so unreasonable. The point here is not the ethical dilemma of abortion, but the fact that we can hardly seem to have a civil discussion about it. Insert any similarly divisive issue, and it’s more-or-less the same story.
This is why we absolutely must learn the skill of civil discourse. As President Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided cannot stand.” If we are ever to make progress and have any semblance of harmony and peace in society among various groups of people who see the world so differently, it will only be if we are able to communicate and see one another’s point of view. The only way that will happen is by civil discourse. [Image: Lincoln photographed by Preston Brooks in 1860. Library of Congress Collection.]
Learn to Be Comfortable With Uncertainty
One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Anton Wilson, when he said, “The totally convinced and the totally stupid have too much in common for the resemblance to be accidental.” This is not to accuse anyone of being stupid, but rather, to make us aware that our absolute conviction about certain things is very frequently a less intelligent way of operating. Even if we feel relatively sure about something, we should always understand that the information we have at our disposal is incomplete, and therefore leave a little room for doubt.
One pattern that I have observed, and luckily managed to avoid more often than not, is the swinging pendulum effect. Essentially, someone is very adamant about a topic, and then someone argues them well enough into the ground to make them feel foolish, and they swap positions, becoming even more adamant against those who hold their previous views. I speculate that this antagonism after a paradigm shift towards those who hold one’s old paradigm is a neurotic expression of one’s own shame at having been revealed as (apparently) foolish.
The key idea here is that if we never learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, then we tend to swing from dogmatism to dogmatism, waging ideological war against anyone we disagree with, perhaps subconsciously motivated by our shame at having had to admit we were wrong in our previous dogmatism.
Unity, Equality, and Temperance
Freemasonry upholds the virtues of Temperance and Equality; its principles remind us of the inherent Unity of all of Humanity: One Brotherhood of Mankind united under God. The Craft instructs its initiates to avoid extremes by finding a middle path and to practice the Golden Rule with our fellows. All of this rage is really, I believe, misplaced fear of uncertainty, and our own fundamental discomfort at being a tiny human in the vast universe that can never know reality completely. That is an essential truth of our existence which we must be aware of enough to grow accustomed.
With that, let us conclude with these relevant words from a former U.S. Congressman and Freemason:
“We are one people with one family. We all live in the same house… and through books, through information, we must find a way to say to people that we must lay down the burden of hate. For hate is too heavy a burden to bear.”
– The V. Ills. Bro. John Lewis 33°
* Above Image: Bro. John Lewis – U.S. Capitol Rotunda October 2019 [Image Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo]
* Brother Lewis was a Scottish Rite Mason in Atlanta Consistory No. 24-A, Orient of Georgia (PHA). He was coroneted a 33° SGIG in 2011 at the United Supreme Council Session in Atlanta. And he was a Shriner in the Prince Hall-associated Khedive Temple No. 16, and later in Mecca Temple No. 10, in the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.
A CONDUIT is a tube that runs from one place to another, to channel water or other fluid, or electrical wires, or wires that connect ‘things.’ Think, a farm to a water supply, or power lines buried underground, going to homes. Conduits provide not only a safe enclosure to run these essential elements but they also contain them. Without this containment, they would disperse. Their energy would be diffuse and fall toward entropy, only to have to regenerate somewhere else anew. Likewise, the conduit protects these elements from being corrupted by outside forces.
Let’s take this a step further: a conduit must be kept in excellent condition in order for it to perform its function. It has to be free from the things that corrode it or threaten to break it. It must be kept in the proper shape and alignment, in order to conduct the elements to their proper locations. It also must be made out of the proper materials to support and safely deliver their goods. You do not run water through cardboard or lead conduits, as one breaks down and loses its form and the other poisons the water.
RIGHT FORM, RIGHT MIND, & RIGHT SPIRIT
IN a recent group presentation, a fellow Brother stated that the human body needed to be able to be in top physical condition in order for it to be a conduit for the most effective spiritual work. This was part of a larger discussion regarding martial arts and the physical form, linking the whole to the work of the Freemason. Many martial arts are built on the totality of the human form – mental, spiritual, physical – moving in alignment with the will of the Divine. The masters of martial arts are the synthesis of Right Form, Right Mind, and Right Spirit. So, too, is the Freemason admonished to take care of his body, his senses, his mind, and his spirit, caring for each to the best of his abilities and offering the proper amount of focus to each. This means getting enough sleep and exercise, meditation and study, action and work.
During the course of the conversation noted above, it was indicated the flow of energy was coming from the Divine to the Human, the connection running both ways but the energy itself running only one, like water running in a pipe to a cistern. This would indicate to me that the energy is converted by the human into useful creations; ideas or dreams, revelations, and intuition are flowing all the time into our lives, 24×7. We would then have the ability to turn on the “faucet” so to speak, and have a ready supply of Divinity. Every single moment. The human form, being itself of a honed, pristine nature, is then able to use this energy consciously toward a higher purpose, toward the evolution of humanity.
If only this were so.
FREEMASONS & THE HUMAN STRUGGLE
FOR the Freemason, and any ritualist, it should be the first thing we wrangle. Oh, but we humans struggle. We struggle to control our desires and wants, from temperature to the hardness of chairs or the stiffness of our clothing. We are hungry; we are cold; we are sleepy. We lack the exercise our bodies need, the quality of food our cells require, and the mental stimulation of an excellent book or enlivening debate. We do not look for the work that challenges us to change and grow but to the work that is just a little easier on our bodies. Even those of us who are the most disciplined struggle to maintain this homeostasis in a world filled with temptations. We could ask the question, “If I were God, would I channel through me?”
But, here’s the rub, I think: God, in whatever form you imagine it to be, does channel though us. Like a TV with an antenna that isn’t quite in tune with a signal, the Divine does make its way to us, through us maybe a little scrambled and yet still escapes in what we do. The signal is always there. The light that pours through the flawed prism is pure light – it is the imperfections in the glass that stunt the beauty. The Sun is always shining, regardless of our ability to see it. The God-Human-Connection not an all or nothing situation. It’s an always-on condition. The question is, with our earthly shackles, can we hear It?
And, can It hear us?
It’s said that ritual is the interface between human and God. That interface, I believe, runs both ways. Like a conduit of fiber-optic cable connects us to the cyber world, we are an energy source for the Divine. Upload and Download. Many believe that
“…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
That being the case, it seems to me that we come back to the Divine, luggage in hand, ready to unpack our lifetime of learning. Again, much like the internet, we take bits of energy from the greater bucket of knowledge and in turn, upload some of the same. We contribute, mindfully or not, to the consciousness of the Divine. This Universal Consciousness doesn’t just pick up the perfect signals, the light from the perfect prism. The Divine picks up the flaws and corruption, the occlusions and excrescences that cause variations in the communication.
UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS & THE PERFECTING OF HUMANITY
I AM even going to stretch this further and say that the Divine, in concept, might be Universal Consciousness, which is the unfoldment of the universe. In metaphysical circles, this universal mind is “a metaphysical concept suggesting an underlying essence of all being and becoming in the universe.” This concept was first brought out by Anaxagoras, an early 5c B.C.E. philosopher who believe that the growth of all living things only comes about by the mind within the organism, being part of a larger conceptual “Mind.” Indeed, modern philosopher Philip Goff has coined the term “panpsychism” as an all-pervasive consciousness. In his terms, consciousness is “experience” and all forms of matter have experiences, regardless of the complex or simple structure of the being. The rock, the sun, the moon, the human, and the mouse all have experiences unique to their being, all contributing to what we might call Universal Mind, or perhaps God.
Therefore, we may be conduits of the Divine, with the goal of It, Divinity or the Universe, becoming manifest in this reality. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that we too are conduits of experience filling the pool of the Universal Mind. And what if, simply, we contribute to the betterment of humanity by the pure act of filling the pool with the best we have to offer? In other words, the quality of our conduit equates to the quality of our experiences, and those experiences are ultimately adding to the “Perfecting of Humanity.” In actuality, they add to the perfection of allof the universe if matter is all-connected. This may be the legacy we leave to those who follow us, and perhaps to ourselves, if we return again. If we truly want to work toward the perfection of Humanity, then it begins, as always, with our own self – body, mind and spirit. It means becoming the best versions of ourselves, whoever we are and whatever we may be, living our dharma.
WE have more right to be astonished that the astronomical references are so few, rather than to be surprised that there are so many! We are taught that geometry and Masonry were originally synonymous terms and geometry, fifth of the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, is given more prominence in our Fellowcraft degree than the seventh, Astronomy. Yet, the beginnings of astronomy far antedate the earliest geometrician. Indeed, geometry came into existence to answer the ceaseless questionings of man as to the “why” of celestial phenomena.
In these modern days, it is difficult to visualize the vital importance of the heavens generally, to early man. We can hardly conceive of their terror of the eclipse and the comet or sense their veneration for the Sun and his bride, the Moon. We are too well educated. We know too much about “the proportions which connect this vast machine.”
ANCIENT IMPORT OF THE HEAVENS
THE astronomer has pushed back the frontiers of his science beyond the inquiries of most of us; the questions which occur as a result of unaided visual observations have all been answered. We have substituted facts for fancies regarding the sun, the moon, the solar system, the comet, and the eclipse.
Albert Pike, the great Masonic student “who found Masonry in a hovel and left her in a palace” says:
WE cannot, even in the remotest degree, feel, though we may partially and imperfectly imagine, how those great, primitive, simple-hearted children of Nature, felt in regard to the Starry Hosts, thereupon the slopes of the Himalayas, on the Chaldean plains, in the Persian and Median deserts, and upon the banks of the great, strange River, the Nile. To them the universe was alive – instinct with forces and powers, mysterious and beyond their comprehension. To them it was no machine, no great system of clockwork; but a great live creature, in sympathy with or inimical to man. To them, all was a mystery and a miracle, and the stars flashing overhead spoke to their hearts almost in an audible language. Jupiter, with its kingly splendors, was the Emperor of the starry legions. Venus looked lovingly on the earth and blessed it; Mars with his crimson fires threatened war and misfortune; and Saturn, cold and grave, chilled and repelled them. The ever-changing moon, faithful companion of the sun, was a constant miracle and wonder; the Sun himself the visible emblem of the creative and generative power. To them, the earth was a great plain, over which the sun, the moon, and the planets revolved, its servants, framed to give it light.
Of the stars, some were beneficent existences that brought with them Spring-time and fruits and flowers – some, faithful, sentinels, advising them of coming inundations, of the season of storm and of deadly winds some heralds of evil, which, steadily foretelling. they seemed to cause. To them, the eclipses were portents of evil, and their causes hidden in mystery, and supernatural. The regular returns of the stars, the comings of Arcturus, Orion, Sirius, the Pleides, and Aldebaran; and the journeyings of the Sun, were voluntary and not mechanical to them. What wonder that astronomy became to them the most important of sciences; that those who learned it became rulers; and that vast edifices, the pyramids, the tower or Temple of Bel, and other like erections elsewhere in the East, were builded for astronomical purposes? – and what wonder that, in their great childlike simplicity, they worshipped the Light, the Sun, the Planets, and the stars; and personified them, and eagerly believed in the histories invented for them; in that age when the capacity for belief was infinite; as indeed, if we but reflect, it still is and ever will be?
– Bro. Albert Pike
Anglo-Saxons usually consider history as their history; science as their science; religion as their religion. This somewhat naive viewpoint is hardly substantiated by a less egoistic survey of knowledge. Columbus’s sailors believed they would “fall off the edge” of a flat world, yet Pythagoras knew the earth to be a ball. The ecliptic was known before Solomon’s Temple was built. The Chinese predicted eclipses long, long before the Europeans of the middle age quit regarding them as portents of doom!
FREEMASONRY’S ANCIENT ASTRONOMICAL LORE
THE Astronomical lore of Freemasonry is very old. The foundations of our degrees are far more ancient than we can prove by documentary evidence. It is surely not stretching credulity to believe that the study which antedates “Geometry, the first and noblest of sciences,” must have been impressed on our Order, its ceremonies and its symbols, long before Preston and Webb worked their ingenious revolutions in our rituals and gave us the system of degrees we use – in one form or another – today.
The astronomical references in our degrees begin with the points of the compass; East, West, and South; and the place of darkness, the North. We are taught the reason why the North is a place of darkness by the position of Solomon’s Temple with reference to the ecliptic, a most important astronomical conception. The Sun is the Past Master’s own symbol; our Masters rule their lodges – or are supposed to! – with the same regularity with the Sun rules the day and the Moon governs the night. Our explanation of our Lesser Lights is obviously an adaption of a concept which dates back to the earliest of religions; specifically, to the Egyptian Isis, Osiris, and Horus; represented by the Sun, Moon, and Venus.
Circumambulation about the Altar is in imitation of the course of the Sun. We traverse our lodges from East to West by way of the South, as did the Sun Worshipers who thus imitated the daily passage of their deity through the heavens. Measures of time are wholly a matter of astronomy. Days and nights were before man, and consequently before astronomy, but hours and minutes, high twelve and low twelve, are inventions of the mind, depending upon the astronomical observation of the Sun at Meridian to determine noon, and consequently all other periods of time. Indeed, we are taught this in the Middle Chamber work, in which we give to Geometry the premier place as a means by which the astronomer may “fix the duration of time and seasons, years and cycles.”
PILLARS AND GLOBES OF THE LODGE
ATOP the Pillars, representing those in the porch of King Solomon’s Temple, appear the terrestrial and celestial globes. In the Fellowcraft degree, we are told in beautiful and poetic language that “numberless worlds are around us, all framed by the same Divine Artist, which roll through the vast expanse and are all conducted by the same unerring law of nature.”
Our Ancient Brethren, observing that the sun rose and set, easily determining East and West in a general way. As the rises and sets through a variation of 47 degrees north and south during a six-month period the determination were not exact. The earliest Chaldean stargazers, progenitors of the astronomers of later ages, saw that the apparently revolving heavens pivoted on a point nearly coincident with a certain star. We know that the true north diverges about from the North Star one and one-half degrees, but their observations were sufficiently accurate to determine a North – and consequently East, West, and South. The reference to the ecliptic in the Sublime Degree has puzzled many a brother who has not studied the elements of astronomy. The earliest astronomers defined the ecliptic as the hypothetical “circular” plane of the earth’s path about the sun, with the sun in the “center.”
As a matter of fact, the sun is not in the center and the earth’s path about the sun is not circular. The earth travels once about the sun in three hundred and sixty-five days, and a fraction, on an “elliptic” path; the sun is at one of the foci of that ellipse. The axis of the earth, about which it turns once in twenty-four hours, thus making a night and a day, is inclined to this hypothetical plane by 23 and one-half degrees. At one point in its yearly path, the north pole of the earth is inclined towards the sun by this amount. Halfway further around in its path the north pole is inclined away from the sun by this angle. The longest day in the northern hemisphere – June 21st – occurs when the north pole is most inclined toward the sun.
Ant building situated between latitudes 23 and one-half north and 23 and one-half south of the equator, will receive the rays of the sun at meridian (high twelve, or noon) from the north at some time during the year. King Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem, being in latitude 31 degrees 47 seconds north, lay beyond this limit. At no time in the year, therefore, did the sun or moon at meridian “darts its rays into the northerly portion thereof.”
As astronomy in Europe is comparatively modern, some have argued that this reason for considering the North, Masonically, as a place of darkness, must also be comparatively modern. This is wholly mistaken – Pythagoras (to go further back) recognized the obliquity of the world’s axis to the ecliptic, as well as that the earth was a sphere suspended in space. While Pythagoras (510 B.C.) is much younger than Solomon’s Temple, he is almost two thousand years older than the beginnings of astronomy in Europe.
UNIVERSALITY AND SYMBOLISM
THE “world celestial and terrestrial” on the brazen pillars were added by modern ritual makers. Solomon knew them not, but contemporaries of Solomon believed the heavens to be a sphere revolving around the earth. To them the earth stood still; a hollow sphere with its inner surface dotted with stars. The slowly turning “celestial sphere” is as old as mankind’s observations of the “starry decked heavens.”
It is to be noted that terrestrial and celestial spheres are both used as emblems of universality. They are not mere duplications for emphasis; they teach their own individual part of “universality.” What is “universal” on the earth – as for instance, the necessity of mankind to breathe, drink water, and eat in order to live – is not necessarily “universal” in all the universe. We have no knowledge that any other planet in our solar system is inhabited – what evidence there is, is rather to the contrary.
We have no knowledge that any other sun has any inhabited planets in its system. Neither have we any knowledge that they have not. If life does exist in some other, to us unknown world, it may be entirely different from life on this planet. Hence, a symbol of universality, which applied only to earth would be a self-contradiction.
Real Universality means what it says. It appertains to the whole universe. While a Mason’s Charity, considered as giving relief to the poor and distressed, must obviously be confined to this particular planet, his charity of thought may, so we are taught, extend “through the boundless realms of eternity.” Hence “the world terrestrial” and “the world celestial” on our representations of the pillars, in denoting universality means that the principles of our Order are not founded upon mere earthly conditions and transient truths, but rest upon Divine and limitless foundations, coexistent with the whole cosmos and its creator.
We are taught of the “All-Seeing Eye whom the Sun, Moon, and Stars obey and under whose watchful care even comets perform their stupendous revolutions.” In this astronomical reference is, oddly enough, a potent argument, both for the extreme care in the transmission of ritual unchanged from mouth to ear, and the urgent necessity of curbing well-intentioned brethren who wish to “improve” the ritual.
The word “revolution” in this paragraph (it is so printed in the earliest Webb monitors) fixes it as a comparatively modern conception. Tycho Brahe, progenitor of the modern maker and user of fine instruments among astronomers, whose discoveries have left an indelible impression on astronomy, made no attempt to consider comets as orbital bodies. Galileo thought them “emanations of the atmosphere.” Not until the seventeenth century was well underway did a few daring spirits suggest that these celestial portents of evil, these terribly heavenly demons which had inspired terror in the hearts of men for uncounted generations, were actually parts of the solar system and that many if not most of them were periodic, actually returning again and again; in other words, that they revolved about the sun.
Obviously, then, this passage of our ritual cannot have come down to us by a “word of mouth” transmission from an epoch earlier than that in which men first commenced to believe that a comet was not an augury of evil but a part of the solar system. The so-called “lunar lodges” have far more a practical than an astronomical basis.
In the early days of Masonry, both in England and in this country, many if not most lodges, met on dates fixed in advance, but according to the time when the moon was full; not because the moon “Governed” the night, but because it illuminated the traveler’s path! In days when roads were but muddy paths between town and hamlet, when any journey was hazardous and on black nights dangerous in the extreme, the natural illumination of the moon, making the road easy to find and the depredations of highwaymen the more difficult, was a matter of some moment! One final curious derivation of a Masonic symbol from the heavens and we are through. The symbol universally associated with the Stewards of a Masonic lodge is the cornucopia.
According to the mythology of the Greeks, which goes back to the very dawn of civilization, the God Zeus was nourished in infancy from the milk of a goat, Amalthea. In gratitude, the God placed Amalthea forever in the heavens as a constellation, but first gave one of Amalthea’s horns to his nurses with the assurance that it would forever pour for them whatever they desired! The “horn of plenty,” or the cornucopia, is thus a symbol of abundance. The goat from which it came may be found by the curious among the constellations under the name of Capricorn. The “Tropic of Capricorn” of our school days is the southern limit of the swing of the sun on the path which marks the ecliptic, on which it inclines first its north and then its south pole towards our luminary. Hence there is a connection, not the less direct for being tenuous, between out Stewards, their symbol, the lights in the lodge, the “place of darkness” and Solomon’s Temple.
Of such curious links and interesting bypaths is the study of astronomy and its connection with Freemasonry, the more beautiful when we see eye to eye with the Psalmist in the Great Light:
“The Heavens Declare the Glory of God and the Firmament Sheweth His Handiwork.”
* Originally Published: SHORT TALK BULLETIN – Vol.VIII, March 1930, No.3.
ALL great moral forces in men’s lives permeate, and to some extent affect, their business careers. A Sincere Christian will endeavor to live by the golden rule. A Consistent church member will not be honest because it is the best policy, but because he believes in honor. A real philosopher will apply the principles of his study to his daily relations with trade and commerce. A real Mason will act Masonically in business as well as in the lodge.
It is idle to say that Masonry is only for Masons. It is not. Masonry, if it is to fill its promise, must be, in its esoteric aspects, as much for the profane as for the Mason. Still, more must Masonic principles be applied when dealing with Masons. But there are many abuses committed in the name of Masonic business, against which the newly made Mason may well guard himself. Chief of these is the demand, in the name of Masonry, for business favors that would never be asked or granted without a Masonic background.
MASONIC CONDUCT IN BUSINESS MATTERS
THERE is no real excuse for the stranger who comes to you pleading for your indorsement on his note because of your common Masonry, and you are not acting un-Masonically if you refuse it. It is far less Masonic to get than to give, to ask than to offer, to demand than to propose. The Mason who uses his Masonry as a means of getting, when without the Masonry he would have no excuse, is not acting in a truly Masonic manner.
Therefore, it is not at all necessary that he who is asked should respond as he would to a legitimate Masonic request. To a man who says to you:
“You should do this because we have a common brotherhood.”
You can well reply:
“You should not ask it because we have a common brotherhood.”
Your real brother will not ask you to do that in the name of brotherhood which he would not ask you to do in the name of friendship.
Yes, there are exceptions many of them. The tales which might be written of the instances in which the Masonic brotherhood feeling has saved men from disaster are legion. A man in deep trouble may turn to his brethren for help, when the man who only wants an accommodation in business is outlawed before he starts. There was a Mason whom we will call Tim Jones because that was not his name. Tim was about to fail in business, through no real fault of his own. Tim laid the matter before the Master of his lodge. The Master called a couple of bankers into consultation, and the loan needed was made, not as bankers to client, but as Masons to a Mason. Five Masons signed the notes, and every note was paid.
Here was a case where a man had exhausted his commercial credit and had to call on his Masonic credit it was a wise thing to do, and the Masonic aid was beautifully given. But when Tim’s neighbor, Smith, was ready to fail and asked the same remedy for himself, he met with no success. He professed himself as unable to understand why, if Masonry could help Jones, it could help Smith. But the reason was patent to all who knew of the cases Jones was in danger through no fault of his own and Jones had a reputation, both in business and Masonry, which made him a good risk. Smith was in trouble because he lacked judgment and ability, and his reputation was good in neither business nor Masonry.
We quote these little instances because it is difficult to phrase a rule as to when Masonry may be used in business and when not. In general, it should never be used when any other means is available. Masonry does not contemplate that its followers lean on each other but expects them to stand upon their own feet. Masonry does not contemplate that the strong shall carry the weak, the able supply ability for the feeble. Masonry is not a panacea for social or business ills. A blood brother will help one while he will help himself, will love one while he is lovable, and defend one while he is weak, as long as he knows his brother will give him of his own strength when he recovers it. But blood brothers will not, because of mutual parentage, support one is he is a wastrel lend to one if he is dishonest or prop one up if he stumbles, if one is not man enough to learn to walk alone.
The Masonic brotherhood is modeled upon the tender relation of blood-brother. Its most optimistic altruists do not believe it should go further.
If a rule be necessary, let it be this: Give, when you can, help sought ask help only when all other means fail. Offer the helping hand as often as you have the strength to spare use Masonry for a crutch only when its absence will mean disaster.
Lest some say that this seems to draw back from giving aid, rather than pressing forward to give it, let us reply that we truly believe it is better to give Masonic help where it should not be given, than to deny it where it should be given. But, we have great regard for Masonry and are jealous of its reputation we hold it too high and too holy to look equanimity upon its exploitation. We believe there is no more heart-stirring appeal than that made in the name of Masonry when it is proper to be made as a consequence, we must believe there is no more despicable act than abusing Masonry for personal ends when the appeal is made and granted improperly.
Help your brother all you may but never let your brother abuse your help, your heart, or your Masonry. For Masonry is far, far greater than the individual, and its purity and its preservation far more important than, that we give ourselves the pleasure of saying “Yes,” when the only Masonic answer we can give is “No!”
The young Mason is faced with a question, almost as soon as he becomes a Master Mason: “Must I trade only with Masons is it un-Masonic to trade with the profane?” He will submit this to older Masons and receive almost as many different answers as the questions he asks.
We give here an answer which seems to us to be correct. But it should be noted that others have rights to their opinions. In all questions which have two sides, there is room for argument and differing viewpoints. Since this question is not of law, but of ethics, there is probably more than one correct answer.
IS MASONRY A MUTUAL BENEFIT SOCIETY?
MASONRY is not a mutual benefit society, in the sense that the Rochdale Corporative Society is one. That and similar organizations are formed for the purpose of promoting trade among members they offer financial inducements to trade with their members.
There is nothing like that in Masonry!
There is no Masonic obligation taken at the Altar which even hints that a Mason must deal only with Masons. There is no Grand Lodge law, nor any lodge by-law, which compels such trading. It is, therefore, not a violation of any Masonic law or obligation not to trade with a Brother Mason. Anyone who believes the contrary is misinformed. Nor is there any unwritten law on the subject.
But there is an obligation of brotherhood. How far that is here to be applied, every individual brother must decide for himself. If one has a blood brother for whom one possesses a sincere affection, and that brother sells, let us say, coal. That is, one would do so as long as the brother sold good coal on its merit, and for as fair a price and with as good of service as one could get from some non-relative. But if one’s brother took advantage of the relationship to charge a dollar more a ton, or to keep one waiting and cold while he filled non-relatives’ orders, one would speedily change one’s coal merchant!
It would seem that the same principle should apply in regard to one’s Masonic brethren. As between two merchants, one a profane, the other a Mason, both giving the same goods at the same price and rendering the same service, the Mason should receive the Mason’s trade. But as between a Mason selling at a high price and a profane selling at a lower one, as between a Mason giving poor service and a profane giving good service, the choice should be the other way.
This is not only good business, and good common sense, but good Masonry. For Masonry should encourage progress and weed out the drones it should make its membership love Masonry for what it is, not for what it brings. It should fight hard against any attempt to commercialize the Order and resent bitterly the use of its teachings for the making of money.
The Mason who says:
“Trade with me because I am a Mason is seldom a good merchant.”
Certainly, he has no pride in calling or willingness to stand on his own feet.
The Mason who says:
“Trade with me because I give good goods at an honest price.”
…is upholding the dignity of his calling and scorning to take advantage of his Masonic brotherhood for the sake of making more money.
The man who must depend on Masonry to enable him to keep his store open is not a good Mason.
It is a Masonic obligation to do one’s best by one’s family, to work hard and honestly, and to get, as well as to give, the value received for one’s labor. Paying more to a Mason than is necessary to pay to a profane is injurious to one’s family since it deprives them of something in order to benefit a Mason who has no right to it.
AS a general rule Masons are not the type and kind of men who wish to take advantage of their Masonic brotherhood. The greater part of them scorn to use Masonry to further business ends. The vast majority of Masons revere their Masonry they hold it high and sacred, and far apart from the money changers and the marts of trade.
But there are exceptions who ask and expect to receive special consideration because they are Masons. This is very sad and very bad!
No Mason has a right to ask or expect a discount from another Mason because of mutual brotherhood. To use Masonry – the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, the Religion of the Heart, the Philosophy of Life – to get a ten percent discount on a purchase of garden hose, is to abuse Masonry.
Give your trade to your Masonic friends because you like them because you know them to be good men and true, because they sell goods at honest prices hunt out the lodge member among the Masons to deal with because you like him and want to help him. But deal with him because you want to help him, not because you expect him to help you. If you sell instead of buy, give the Mason the best you can in service, because you like him and wish to help him, not because you feel you have any moral or Masonic right to trade to which your name, your business methods, and your standard of ethics would not entitle you.
Hold Masonry high keep its dignity, its reputation, unsullied. Do not mix it up with money and with barter. For it was written:
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s and unto God the things which be God’s.”
Money and trade belong to Caesar. Masonry in our hearts belongs to God!
* Originally published – “Masonry in Business” – SHORT TALK BULLETIN – Vol. II, October 1924, No.10.
IT is inevitable that the Masonic Institution should have been seriously affected by the great wave of anti-Masonry which followed Morgan’s disappearance. However, during the years which have intervened little has been done to determine just what happened to the Fraternity, though there has been much generalizing. Anti-Masons, even at the present time, glibly dispense the information that organized Freemasonry was exterminated and point to the disappearance of Masonry in Illinois as proof. They might also point to the fact that the Grand Lodge of Michigan became defunct for a time and that the Grand Lodge of Vermont was practically suspended for ten years. But setting forth such facts does not prove their contention for there were twenty-three other Grand Lodges which did not become defunct and which did not suspend.
Masonic historians have also failed, thus far, to make a thorough study of the effects of anti-Masonry. They, too, have been content with generalizations such as “[anti-Masonry] was disastrous to the growth and progress of the Institution.” What apparently happened in a few Grand Jurisdictions has been accepted as sufficient evidence to prove that anti-Masonry almost exterminated the Masonic Fraternity in the United States. They have pointed to the decrease in the number of lodges represented at the annual communications as illustrative of the devastation wrought by the anti-Masonic movement. But, in so doing, they have failed to consider that there might have been other factors than anti-Masonry operating to bring about a decline in Masonic strength during the period following the Morgan affair [See Image – Sketch of Morgan Affair Controversy]
When one studies the situation in each Grand Jurisdiction, separately, he becomes convinced that anti-Masonry, though a factor of great importance, was not by any means solely to blame for the low state to which the Masonic Institution fell during the decade of the thirties. In some jurisdictions, Masonry was in a low state before 1826 due to internal troubles of various kinds. In the case of most of the Grand Lodges, the percentage of lodges represented at the various communications before 1826 was not high. The development of anti-Masonry, of course, brought about a further decline in attendance.
Furthermore, in explaining the situation, especially in the thirties, there was a factor that seems entirely to have escaped the historians, and that was the prevalence of cholera in the country. During the period beginning about 1830, the whole western world was swept by an epidemic of cholera that brought death to many and created great fear among the people. It is impossible to determine just how much effect this epidemic had in causing lodges to die because the members feared to congregate. Nor can its influence in causing non-representation at the communications of the Grand Lodges be determined. Conversely, it is impossible to think that cholera did not have a harmful effect on the Institution, aiding in producing conditions which have heretofore been attributed to anti-Masonry alone.
Still another factor that must be given consideration was the financial depression and panic which occurred during the period. Whether due to the “removal of the deposits” from the Second Bank of the United States or to manipulations of the Bank, the fact remains that, beginning late in 1833 and extending into the spring of 1834, there was a widespread depression. Then followed a few years of “good times” characterized by an orgy of speculation. In 1837 a panic occurred which gripped the whole country. In some localities, its effects were felt well into the decade of the forties. The resultant difficulty of securing money must be recognized as a factor in aiding Masonry’s decline and delaying its recovery. Members could not pay their dues to local lodges, and these lodges could not discharge their obligations to the Grand Lodges.
IMPACT OF ANTI-MASONRY IN NEW YORK STATE
AN examination of the Grand Lodge Proceedings as early as 1817 reveals an unhealthy condition existing at that time in the Masonic Institution in the state. There were 293 lodges on the list but of these, only 30 were represented at the annual communication on June 4, 1817. There were 10 lodges listed as having “Ceased to Work” while 16 were listed under “Warrant Surrendered.” There were listed 47 suspensions for non-payment of dues and 5 expulsions of un-Masonic or immoral conduct. At least 17 warrants for new lodges were issued during the year, indicating that even that early an over-rapid expansion was taking place.
In 1818 only, 28 lodges were represented, and it was apparent that some action was necessary. Therefore in 1819, the “dead timber” was eliminated and the lodges were renumbered. So rapidly had new lodge been created that there still remained 323 on the list of which 82 were represented. By 1821 the lodges were again in a low state. While 79 were represented, 179 others were reported as in arrears for two years or more! In 1822 there were represented 110 lodges, and in 1823, there were 112 represented. In the latter year, internal dissensions came to a head and the Grand Lodge was split. The result was the formation of a City Grand Lodge and a Country Grand Lodge, whose rivalry in the following years was a factor of prime importance in preparing the ground for anti-Masonry.
Each Grand Lodge tries to outdo the other in chartering new lodges with the result that in some localities too many lodges were created to be properly supported. Likewise, as a result, unworthy candidates were admitted who were among the first to secede from the Fraternity after the anti-Masonic excitement began. The Country Grand Lodge, the stronger of the two, at its annual communication in 1824, granted warrants for 30 new lodges. In the same year, at its annual communication, the City Grand Lodge created 11 new lodges. At the communications the following year the Country Grand Lodge granted 46 new warrants while the City Grand Lodge granted 12.
Meanwhile, efforts were being made to reunite the Grand Lodges with the result that on June 7, 1827, they were merged. The interest aroused in the proposed merger resulted in an extraordinarily large representation, for at the communication of the merged Grand Lodges there were present the representatives of 228 lodges. It is significant that, at this merged communication, 14 petitions for warrants for new lodges were granted.
POLITICAL ENEMIES OF CRAFT
FROM the evidence presented, it should be clear that anti-Masonry alone did not bring about the decline in Masonic strength in New York. There can be no question but that anti-Masonry, once organized so as to combine religious fanatics and political opportunists, such as Thurlow Weed, William H. Seward, and Millard Fillmore [See Image – Portrait of President Fillmore] exercised a devastating effect on the Fraternity, but it is just as certain that the Masons of New York were, to some extent, to blame for their own troubles.
By early 1828, it was apparent that the anti-Masonic movement was having an effect on the Masonic Institution. In fact, from the time of the beginning of the Morgan investigations and trials, there had been public renunciations of Masonry by members in western New York. A group of these gave encouragement to political anti-Masonry by holding conventions at Le Roy on Feb. 19 and July 4, 1828.
WITHIN THE FRATERNITY
THE attendance at the Annual Communication of 1828 was only slightly affected, as there were 130 lodges represented, as compared with 142 represented in the two Grand Lodges in 1825. However, during the year 1828, only 3 warrants for new lodges were issued and these were the last for some years. There were 103 suspensions for non-payment of dues and 8 expulsions for un-Masonic conduct as compared with 38 suspensions and 9 expulsions in the combined lodges in 1825.
After 1828, the effects of anti-Masonry, on the individual Masons, on the local lodges, and on the Grand Lodge began to be more apparent. Early in 1829 occurred the first organized movement looking to the surrender of the local lodge charters. On Feb. 20, a circular was issued by 76 Masons of Ontario County recommending to the lodges and chapters of western New York “the expediency of returning their charters.” On March 13, six lodges of Monroe County, including that at Rochester, surrendered their charters to the Grand Lodge in “acquiescence to public opinion.” However, contrary to a rather general opinion, this example was not widely followed. On May 5, 1829, delegates from 19 lodges in Cayuga and Onondaga Counties held a meeting. Instead of adopting the course taken by the Monroe County Masons, they drew up an address disclaiming all knowledge of the Morgan affair prior to Morgan’s disappearance and denying all the charges made against the Fraternity. They declared:
We venerate Masonry for its antiquity, we admire it for its moral principles, and we love it for its charity and benevolence.
The following resolution was also adopted:
Resolved, That in the opinion of this convention it would be inexpedient and improper to take measures for the surrender of Masonic charters, and that our brethren be respectfully advised to adopt no measures in relation to that subject.
Similar action was taken by a convention of 114 delegates representing 14 lodges and 5 Royal Arch Chapters of Chenango, Cortland, and Madison Counties, held Sept. 2, 1829. Complete figures show that, during the whole period of the anti-Masonic excitement, only 76 lodges, out of the 484 existent in 1825, surrendered their charters.
Forty-three fewer lodges were represented at the 1829 Annual Communication than were represented the previous year. The fact that the dues of 23 lodges were remitted, shows that many Masons were not paying their dues, though only 22 individuals were reported during the year as suspended for that reason. It should be noted in passing that in 1829 the anti-Masons made unsuccessful attempts to secure the passage of laws by the New York legislature forbidding “extra-judicial oaths” and barring Masons from serving on juries when one party in a case was a Mason and the other was not.
THE GRAND LODGE VISITORS
At the 1831 session, the Grand Lodge hesitated to take drastic action against delinquent lodges. It contented itself with passing a resolution declaring that lodges which had not met for a year or more should forfeit their warrants if they did not meet before June 1832. A resolution was also passed requiring lodges in arrears for ten years or more to make returns by the time of the next annual communication or forfeit their warrants.
In June 1832, communication of the Grand Lodge, the threatened drastic action was taken. The warrants of 5 lodges were forfeited because a “citation” of the last annual communication had not been answered; 84 lodges which had made no returns since 1822 also had their warrants forfeited. The Grand Secretary was likewise instructed to demand the warrants of 23 lodges which had not met for over a year. This form of procedure was also followed in later communications so that, by 1836, no less than 338 lodges had had their warrants forfeited by the Grand Lodge; 45 of these later forfeitures occurred in 1833, 89 in 1834, and 92 in 1835. While this drastic action cleared out the dead lodges, it was not without its complications, for, out of all the warrants ostensibly surrendered or forfeited, only 54 had been collected by the Grand Secretary in 1836. The scattering about of the old warrants presented an excellent opportunity for the development of clandestine Masonry and for a time constituted a serious problem.
THE TURNING OF THE TIDE
SO far as anti-Masonry was concerned, the year 1836 marked the turning point for the Masonic Fraternity in New York. At the communication in June of that year, the Grand Secretary, James Herring, made a significant report in which he reviewed the events of the past ten years. He called attention to the fact that anti-Masonry in the state was rapidly dying out and that “the revival of Masonic labors and usefulness begins to be manifest.” As concrete evidence of this there was presented the petition of Ark Lodge, No. 160, to be restored, which petition was granted. Later in the year, two other lodges were revived.
In 1837, Masonry in New York was well on the road to recovery when its progress was interrupted by another split in the Grand Lodge growing out of an attempt to discipline certain Masons of New York City for promoting a Masonic procession on St. John’s Day (June 24, 1837) without authority. From this time on, the lack of prosperity in the New York Grand Lodge cannot be blamed on anti-Masonry but must be attributed chiefly to the strife among the Masons themselves. However, the Panic of 1837 must not be overlooked as a factor in hindering the recovery of Masonry in New York. But in spite of these factors, additional lodges were restored, and in 1839 the first new lodge since 1828 was granted a warrant. By 1843 there were 93 lodges in the state and the number was increasing rapidly.
In reviewing the anti-Masonic period in New York, several facts stand out as especially interesting. Out of 53 counties in the state, the lodges in 29 counties were entirely extinct in 1836, either through surrender or forfeiture of warrants. Even in New York County, where anti-Masonry made little headway politically, only 22 out of 43 lodges were alive in 1836. Altogether, there were at that time only 71 lodges left in the state, and 14 of these were not in good standing. As a result of the decline in the lodges the Grand Lodge resources dropped from $5,301 in 1827-1828 to $1,631 in 18351836. It is apparent that hundreds of Masons in the state, if they did not openly secede, at least allowed their membership to lapse. But many others dared to defy their persecutors and kept many local lodges, as well as the Grand Lodge, alive and functioning during the period. Great credit must be given to General Morgan Lewis, a veteran of the Revolution, who was Grand Master, 1830-1843, and to James Herring, the Grand Secretary, 1829-1845. The leadership of these two men during the period was of inestimable benefit to the New York Masons.
ANTI-MASONRY IN VERMONT
FROM New York, as has been pointed out,2 anti-Masonry spread to the neighboring states. In no state were its effects more noticeable than in Vermont. By 1828 the excitement had produced enough effect to reduce the Grand Lodge attendance from 52 in 1827 to 39 in 1828. When the annual communication was held at Montpelier, in October of 1829, 40 out of the 68 lodges then under Charter, were represented. In only 13 of them had there been any initiations during the year.
At this communication, two important things were done. One was to elect Nathan B. Haswell of Burlington as Grand Master and Philip C. Tucker of Vergennes as Deputy Grand Master. The former served continuously until 1847 with Tucker as his Deputy and then was succeeded by the latter. It was these two men who were chiefly instrumental in bringing the Masonic Institution in Vermont through the period of anti-Masonic persecution. The other important action was to issue the famous “Appeal to the Inhabitants of Vermont . . .”
THE POLITICAL FACTOR
THE bitterness with which the presidential campaign of 1832 was fought in Vermont was probably responsible for the decline in the representation at the annual communication from 39 in 1831 to 10 in 1832. It was noised abroad that at the next session of the Grand Lodge in 1833 another attempt would be made to secure its dissolution. This resulted in 34 lodges being represented. On Oct. 9, 1833, a preamble and resolution calling for the surrender of the local charters and the dissolution of the Grand Lodge was introduced. Again, there was heated debate, but when the vote was taken, the resolution was defeated 79 to 42.
After the adjournment of the Grand Lodge, the Grand officers, on Oct. 21, 1833, published an address to the people of the state. They reviewed the history of Masonry in Vermont and pointed out that of 73 charters issued since 1794, there were 68 still in force. They charged that those who sought to secure the surrender of charters were not animated by “an honest intention to pacify public opinion,” but had “far less honorable motives.” They denied that the Masonic Institution had interfered with politics or religion, and closed by warning the people of the dangerous precedent that would be established by the success of the movement to exterminate Masonry.
Only 7 lodges were represented in 1834. The chief business consisted of drawing up and adopting six resolutions, including a reaffirmation of a resolution passed at the previous communication giving lodges permission to surrender their charters, “a measure calculated to relieve [those] who wished to retire from Masonry.” At this session the time of the annual communications was changed from October to January, and, as a result, no meeting was held in 1835.
EMERGENCY MEASURES TAKES BY GRAND LODGE
ON Jan. 13 of 1836, the Grand Lodge met at Burlington, with only nine Grand officers present. These proceeded to elect officers and then passed the following resolution:
Resolved, That the Grand Master, Grand Treasurer and Grand Secretary, with such of the Grand Lodge as may make it convenient, be and they are hereby authorized to attend at the hall of such Lodge on the 2nd Wednesday of January, A. L. 5837 and adjourn said Lodge to the 2nd Wednesday of January, A. L 5838, and thereafter biennially.
This instruction was complied with, and the form of the Grand Lodge organization was preserved until Jan. 14, 1846, when a convention was held at Burlington on the invitation of Grand Master Haswell, sent privately to trusted Masons in the state. Forty-three delegates attended the meeting on the date set. After the convention had considered the matter of reviving the Grand Lodge, the meeting was dissolved, and the Grand Lodge was declared to be opened, with ten lodges represented. With this beginning, the recovery of the Masonic Institution in Vermont proceeded slowly but surely.
RESPONSE IN MAINE AND NEW HAMPSHIRE
UP to 1829, there was no tangible evidence that Freemasonry in Maine had been affected by anti-Masonry. Between 1825 and 1829 there were ten new lodges chartered, raising the total from 48 in the first-mentioned year to 58 in 1829. At the annual communication at Portland, Jan. 15, 1829, it was reported that three new charters had been issued within the past year. However, at this communication, the Grand Lodge representation was only 23 as compared with 38 in 1828. Further evidence that anti-Masonry was making itself felt is seen in the fact that 18 lodges were reported to have “unsettled accounts” as compared with one so reported in 1827. At the 1830 communication, official notice was for the first time taken of anti-Masonry when a report was submitted by a committee on “the subject of the peculiar duties of Masons at the present time.” The committee advised against the issuance of a public address for the purpose of vindicating Masonry and urged Masons to “quietly let the tempest take its course” endeavoring “to vindicate the sincerity of their profession by a well-ordered life and conversation.”
IN 1831, the Grand Lodge by-laws were amended so as to provide for holding the annual communications at Augusta, in the hope that the decline in representation would be halted. In this hope, the Masons of Maine were doomed to disappointment, for the representation declined until in 1837 only the representatives of one lodge together with the Grand officers were present at the annual communication on Jan. 19. At this session, the Charter of one Lodge was declared forfeited. But the lowest point of Masonic activity in Maine had not yet been reached.
When the time arrived for the annual communication on Jan. 20, 1842, not one lodge was represented. Neither was the Grand Master present, so the various Grand offices with the exception of that of Grand Secretary were filled by Grand officers pro-tem.
It was not until 1844 that Freemasonry in Maine may be said to have definitely started on the upgrade. At the annual communication at Augusta on Jan. 18, there were represented 19 lodges. Among these were one which had surrendered its charter in 1836 and the one whose charter had been forfeited in 1837. As the representatives of both were allowed to vote this amounted to virtual restoration, though formal restoration did not take place until later. It was decided to again hold the annual communications at Portland Action was also taken to restore such lodges as desired it. Thereafter, satisfactory progress toward complete recovery was made, though quite slowly at first. When the Grand Lodge, on July 4, 1845, broke the ground for the “Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad,” it was evident that the spirit of persecution in Maine had melted away.
1 J. Hugo Tatsch, THE BUILDER, August 1926.
2 Erik McKinley Eriksson, THE BUILDER, December 1926.
3 Article originally published – “Effects of Anti-Masonry on the Masonic Fraternity, 1826-1856” by Erik McKinley Eriksson, THE BUILDER, February 1927, Vol. 8. No. 2.
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.
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.
THE word “Mason” has been defined in many fanciful ways, as when one writer derives it from a Greek word meaning “in the midst of heaven,” and another finds in it an ancient Egyptian expression meaning “children of the sun”; but it is almost certain that the term came into existence during the Middle Ages to signify a man engaged in the occupation of building. Originally it had merely this trade significance; it was only after Masonry became a secret society that it took on a wider significance. Of course, there were builders long before the Middle Ages, but they went by other names, just as today we often speak of them as “architects,” a term that came into use in the time of Queen Elizabeth.
Builders of the Middle Ages, like all other workmen, were organized into societies, somewhat similar to, but by no means to be identified with, our trade unions, known as guilds. These guilds were permitted to make their own rules, and they were given a monopoly of the work done inside their own territory. The builder guilds were usually more important than others because their work was more difficult and required a high degree of skill and intelligence; such of them as had in hand the erection of the great cathedrals possessed among their membership the outstanding geniuses of the times and wrought such works as to this day remain our wonder and despair.
The art of building was, according to the customs of the time, held as a trade secret. Therefore the young men entering a guild of builders were solemnly obligated to divulge no secrets of the craft. Inasmuch as the work was difficult, these young men were given a long course of education under the direction of a Master Mason, in which, so it is believed. The tools and processes of Building were used symbolically and to impress certain truths on the mind of the member. In this way, and because the builders were in close touch with the church, which employed systems of symbolism as today we use books (the people could not read, but they could understand pictures), the builder guilds came in time to accumulate a great wealth of symbolic teaching and an elaborate ritual. In the eighteenth century, this symbolical element completely displaced the original craft of actual building, and Masonry became “speculative,” as we know it now, so that we are Masons only in a symbolical sense.
We are called Masons therefore because we are members of an organization that harks back to the time when builders and architects were bound together in closely guarded guilds. But why are we called “Free” Masons? This is a more difficult question to answer, as all our Masonic scholars have discovered, for in spite of a great amount of careful research, they have never vet agreed among themselves as to how the question should be answered. We have records of the word as having been used six hundred years ago, but it is evident that even then, “freemason” was a term of long-standing, so that its origin fades away into the dimness of a very remote past.
One of the commonest theories is that the freemason was originally the mason who worked in “free-stone,” that is, stone ready to be hewn and shaped for the building in contrast to the stone lying unmined. Such a mason was superior in skill to the quarrymen who dug the stone from the quarry, and this is in harmony with the fact that in early days freemasons were deemed a superior kind of workmen and received higher wages than “the rough masons”; but it does not explain why carpenters, tailors, and other workmen were also called “free.”
Another common theory has it that the early Masons came to be called “free” because they were exempted from many of the tiresome duties that hemmed in the laborer of the Middle Ages and enjoyed liberties such as the right to travel about (forbidden to most workmen of that period) and exemption from military service, etc. It is held by some writers that the early Popes granted bulls to Masons that freed them from church restrictions, but no amount of search in all the libraries of Europe, or in the records of the Roman Church (that church did not issue bulls against Freemasonry until 1738 and afterward). Has ever succeeded in unearthing a single such bull or any record thereof.
There are other theories. One has it that a Mason was free when out of the bonds of apprenticeship and ready to enjoy the full privileges of membership in his guild. Another, that there were grades of workmen inside building guilds and only the highest type were permitted all such privileges, and that these were called “free” in contrast to their less advanced brethren.
One of the most acceptable of all these theories is that so brilliantly advanced by G. W. Speth in the past century, in which that learned brother held that in the Middle Ages, there were two types of builders’ guilds, those that were stationary in each town and those that were employed in the cathedrals and were therefore permitted to move about from place to place, or wherever cathedrals might be in course of construction. Inasmuch as cathedrals represented the highwater mark of skill and learning in that day, such workmen were very superior to those that were employed on the humbler structures in the community, such as dwellings, warehouses, docks, roads, etc. so that Freemasonry descended from the aristocracy of medieval labor.
I have never been able to make up my mind between these various theories, except that it appears to me that Speth’s is the most plausible. It may be that several of them are true at one and the same time; such a thing would not be impossible because Freemasonry developed over a large stretch of territory and through a long period of time.
There is no doubt that, in some cases, this word has its face meaning and serves to remind us that our Craft is very old. The first Grand Lodge of Speculative Masons was established in London in 1717, but Masonry, even of the Speculative variety, was very old by that date. Boswell was accepted into the Craft in 1600, Moray in 1641, and Ashmole in 1646. Our oldest manuscript, usually dated at about 1390, looks backward to times long anterior to itself. There is no telling how old Masonry is; perhaps they are not so far wrong after all who date it in antiquity. In any event, it is “ancient” and has every right to the use of that word.
But in the majority of cases, this word doubtless refers to the Grand Lodge that came to be organized in England shortly after 1750. When the first Grand Lodge (that of 1717) was formed, it was planned that it should have jurisdiction only over a few lodges in London; but as these lodges increased in number, it extended its territory to include the county, and later on to include the whole country. A large number of lodges remained independent – they were often called St. John’s lodges – many in the north of England, and others in Scotland and Ireland. As time went on there grew up a feeling among the brethren of several of these independent lodges that the new Grand Lodge was becoming guilty of making innovations in the body of Masonry; therefore, after a deal of agitation had been made, a rival Grand Lodge was formed, and because its older sister Grand Lodge had made changes they dubbed it “Modern,” and because they themselves claimed to preserve the work according to its original form, they called themselves “Ancient.” This Ancient Grand Lodge was fortunate in securing as its Grand Secretary Laurence Dermott, who had such a genius for organizing that in the course of time, this newer lodge began to overshadow the older. The rivalry, often bitter enough to be described as a feud, lasted until 1813 when the first step toward a union was effected; out of this effort at reconciliation, there came at last “The United Grand Lodge of England.”
Meanwhile, the Ancients had chartered a great many lodges in the colonies of America. These, a large number of them, carried on the name long after American lodges had severed all relations with the Grand Lodges across the sea. In this wise, the word “Ancient” came into general use and remains today imbedded in the official titles of about half the Grand Lodges in this land.
Much mystery still hangs about the word “Accepted,” but in a general way, we may feel pretty safe in thinking that it refers to the fact that after the ancient builders’ guilds began to break up and to lose their monopoly of the trade, they began to “accept” into their membership men who had no intention of engaging in the actual building, but who sought membership for social purposes, or in order to have the advantage of the rich symbolism, the ritual and the philosophy of the Order. Thus, the first man admitted of whom we have a record is Boswell, who was made a Mason in 1600, as already noted, but it is fairly certain that others had been similarly accepted long before. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that non-operatives had been taken into membership from the earliest times. It is possible that the word was also applied to those members who devoted themselves to superintending and planning, but not to physical work. Throughout the seventeenth century, the number of accepted increased until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Many lodges were almost wholly made up of such members, and in 1717 the whole Craft was transformed into. A speculative science, though it is true that many operative lodges remained in existence, and some are still functioning and claiming for themselves the ancient lineage.
We shall have to wait with patience until all problems concerning these various words are cleared up, but meanwhile, we can use them with a satisfactory degree of certainty as connecting us historically with a process of growth and development that began far back in the Middle Ages, or earlier, and has continued until now. Verily it has been a history filled with wonders, and even now, there are few who have a full appreciation of the height and depth and length and breadth and exceeding riches of Freemasonry.
* Originally published, “What means Free and Accepted Masons? in THE BUILDER, 1923.
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.
Selected aphorisms from The Book of the Lodge by George Oliver (1782-1867)
I: Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
II: If you remain silent when Freemasonry is attacked, you condemn by your actions what your conscience approves.
III: As you are a Christian Mason, you must on all occasions study to perform the duties of Christian morality, which are comprehended under the triple category of God, your neighbour and yourself.
IV: The benefits to be derived from Masonry are well described by Ovid and Horace, when they say, “Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes emollit mores. Asperitatis et invidiae corrector et irae,” which may be translated thus: “To have learnt the liberal arts faithfully, softens the manners and operates as a fine corrector of ill-nature, envy, and anger.”
V: To subdue the passions has been the universal aim of all mankind. All have placed their hopes upon it; and hence sprang the first idea of the Γνωθι Σηαυτον,* which was inscribed on the portal of heathen temples, that it might prove a stimulus to virtue, of which it was the first lesson, and lead to the desirable consummation, in which all excellence was blended, of subduing the passions.
VI: If you intend to pursue the study of Masonry to any beneficial result, it is indispensable that you attend the Lodge regularly. This is your apprenticeship, and without it, you will never become a bright Mason. There is no royal road to science. (Image: Oracle at Delphi – Temple of Apollo, which bears the inscription “Γνωθι Σηαυτον”)
VII: A Lodge is not to be understood simply as a place where Masons assemble for the dispatch of business, but of the aggregate body of its members. The latter is, strictly speaking, the Lodge; the former is only the Lodge-room.
VIII: An incompetent person in the chair of the Lodge, is like a hawk on the wing, from which all the inferior birds hasten to escape, and leave him the sole tenant of the sky. In the same manner, such a Master will cause the Lodge to be deserted by its best Members, and be left alone in his glory.
IX: If you mean to attend your Lodge, be there at the hour mentioned in the summons. Whoever is late, disturbs the Brethren, and interrupts the business of the Lodge.
X: When seated, recollect your situation. If you are an Officer, do your duty, and nothing more. If you are simply a Brother, your business is to hear, and not to speak. An officious interference is unbecoming in a Mason: it may do harm, and cannot, by any possibility, be productive of good.
XI: Be always obedient to the Chair. Obedience is a virtue of the greatest importance to your own character as a Mason and to the general welfare of the Lodge. Without obedience Wisdom would be inoperative, Strength would lose its power, and Beauty its grace; and confusion and discord would soon banish the occupants of the holy ground.
XII: Never by any chance or persuasion suffer yourself to be inveigled into a party hostile to the Officers in charge of the Lodge. If you do, you will be a marked man, and your progress in Masonry will be rendered doubtful, if not altogether prevented.
XIII: During the period when serious business occupies the attention of the Brethren, you must not leave your seat, or engage in conversation with your neighbors, not even in whispers; neither should you move the chair or bench on which you are seated, or make any other noise to disturb the Master or his Officers in the orderly execution of their respective duties. Silence is the leading characteristic of a well-regulated Lodge. I have known many good Lodges spoiled for want of due attention to these trifling particulars.
XXV: Never enter into a dispute with a cowan. Like the deaf adder he will stop his ears, and refuse to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. No matter how clear are your facts, or how convincing your arguments, still he will turn an incredulous ear to your reasoning. Though you anxiously cry out, Oh… hear us, and even cut yourself with knives and lancets to bespeak his attention, there will be neither voice nor any answer, nor any that regardeth. You may as well endeavor to extinguish the sun by pelting it with snowballs or to cut rocks in pieces with a razor, as to make any genial impression on the mind of a professed cowan.
XXVI: What is the reason, Bro. ____ makes so little progress in Masonry? Indolence. Why did Bro. ____ fail to establish a good character as the Master of his Lodge? Because he was not an industrious person. Do you inquire why Bro. ____ never passed to the Second Degree? I answer because he was constitutionally idle. Indolence is the prolific parent of numerous other vices. Bad habits may be subdued, selfishness may be reformed, and passion held in check, but indolence is rarely if ever, conquered.
XXX. Silence, secrecy, and calmness of temper, are the unmistakable marks of a genuine Mason. If you hear anyone make an incessant boast of his knowledge, you may set him down as an empty chatterer. Noise is not wisdom. Those who ostentatiously proclaim their own merits may for a time enjoy the satisfaction of deceit, yet in the end, their pretensions are sure to be unmasked.
XXXII. Do you hear a man boast of his abilities, his attainments, his dignity, or his position in life? Intrust him not with your secrets.
XXXIV. When in the Lodge, beware of contentions brethren. Truth is as little an object with them as brotherly love. They will wrangle against truth as freely as against error, whether defeated or victorious, they will still argue and quarrel, question and dispute until they have banished every right-minded Brother from the Lodge.
LVII: How many disputes arise out of trifles! And how greatly would they be diminished if everyone would deliberately ask himself this question: whether is it better to sacrifice a point which is of no value, or to lose a friend more precious than rubies?
LIX: Before you pronounce a man to be a good Mason, let him pass the Chair. That is the test which will infallibly display both virtues and failing, mental imbecility and moral strength. If he passes through his year of apparent honor, but real trial, creditably, he will have nobly earned the character of a worthy and intelligent Mason.
LXII: When a cowan criticizes the science, answer him not but listen attentively to his words. They may perchance recall some point, part, or secret to your recollection, which has escaped your notice, for the castigations of the cowan are not without their use and benefit; “Like the toad, ugly and venomous, which wears a precious jewel in its head.”
LXV: Esteem the Brother who takes pleasure in acts of charity, and never babbles about it; take him to your bosom, and cherish him as a credit to Masonry and an honor to mankind.
LXIX: Be very cautious whom you recommend as a candidate for initiation; one false step on this point may be fatal. If you introduce a disputatious person, confusion will be produced, which may end in the dissolution of the Lodge. If you have a good Lodge, keep it select. Great numbers are not always beneficial.
LXXI: He is a wise Brother who knows how to conclude a speech when he has said all that is pertinent to the subject.
XCIII: The great secret for improving memory, may be found in exercise, practice, and labour. Nothing is so much improved by care, or injured by neglect, as the memory.
XCVII: As the Lodge is opened with the rising sun, in the name of T.G.A.O.T.U., and closed at its setting in peace, harmony, and brotherly love, so, if you have any animosity against a Brother Mason, let not the sun sink in the West without being witness to your reconciliation. Early explanations prevent long-continued enmities.
* “Know Thyself.”
Excerpt from: Oliver, George (1782-1867); The Book of the Lodge; reprint of the third edition by Aquarian Press (Masonic Classics Series), of Thorsons Publishing Group, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England.