Shakespeare and Freemasonry

Shakespeare and Freemasonry

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

~ BACON’S NATURAL HISTORY. 

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

~ WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY


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

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

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

THE PURPOSE OF FREEMASONRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARE THE TEACHINGS OF SHAKESPEARE AND FREEMASONRY IDENTICAL?

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

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

To show how such conclusions were reached naturally is… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHERE SHAKESPEARE AND FREEMASONRY MEET

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

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

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

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

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

THE MASONIC LANDMARKS

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

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

FREEMASONRY AND THE TEMPEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FREEMASONRY AND THE WINTER’S TALE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Combating Ignorance

Combating Ignorance

It is only necessary to make war with five things; with the maladies of the body, the ignorances of the mind, with the passions of the body, with the seditions of the city and the discords of families.” – Pythagoras

Science is not a philosophy or a spiritual path; it’s a way of behaving in the world. It is a way of thinking that encourages logic, reason, information and communication in such a way as to explore the world in wonder and discovery.

It is unfortunate that polarization and nationalism, tribalism if you will, have made “fake news” and “alternative facts” part of our everyday life now. It is a reality with which we must learn how to navigate. It is not only learning to dig through facts and figures, research and media hype, but it is learning that we must, sometimes, unlearn. It begin with the idea of “we must know” is a fallacy. What we must do is begin to swim in our own ignorance and be cognizant of what we do not know.

To be blunt, if we want to fight ignorance, we must start with our own.

project_open-scienceWe listen every day to people who, by virtue of their self-appointed “knowledge,” without the science or experience to back it up, discard the rigorous work that scientists have done to establish or debunk our knowledge of nature. Chemists, astrophysicists, climatologists, oceanographers, biologists, geneticists, and nutritionists have all been sidelined when their messages did not fit the narrative of corporate interests or media hype. Those that seem to have the most money, most market share, or most “brand” have the last say. We separate the educated as elitists and the corporate interests as “the common man.” Who would have our best interests at heart?

To be very clear, expertise is not the same thing as elitism. A real expert and scientist knows where their knowledge boundaries lie. They know that they know less than they have researched, and are on a quest to explore. They are developing theories and testing them, asking what didn’t work and what did. They know that the fruits of their labors may take years, decades, to bear truth, and most likely lead to more questions.

Elitism, on the other hand, is “the belief or attitude that individuals who form an elite—a select group of people with an intrinsic quality, high intellect, wealth, special skills, or experience—are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole, and therefore deserve influence or authority greater than that of others.” They are the self-appointed leaders or gurus that have the answers. A scientist may be an elitist, but that is not a reflection on science but on the character of the individual. Or lack thereof.

Having just finished the documentary, “Behind the Curve,” on Netflix, I found it extremely interesting to listen to both sides of the debate on “flat earth theory.” There are those in the Flat Earth community who truly believe what science has let them down, that they have the truth and the science to back it up. What was extremely interesting was to hear the scientist’s remarks about this group of contrary thinkers. There was no condescension or elitism of any of the scientists interviewed. There was no pity or condemnation. It was a true desire to not ignore or sideline the discussion but to engage in it; it was about bringing people together rather than considering it an “us” and “them” situation. This was not about belief and fact; it was about education. Knowledge. Combating ignorance.

Freemasonry has an interesting take on the ideas of nature and science as they are combined with philosophy and a search for Truth. It is one of the few places that it seems both can come together, to discuss and debate with a very open narrative. Science is valued as much as the experiential; physics and metaphysics co-exist in conversation and thought. Nothing is off limits. These conversations, whether in a Lodge meeting or in social gatherings, at study groups or philosophical study centers are the ways we fight ignorance, if we are willing to listen.

top-10-books-every-college-student-read-e1464023124869I recently attended a study group where the topic was considering whether or not humanity had an influence on climate change. I was dead certain that humans influenced nature’s cycles; how could it not? There are seven billion people in the world, occupying space, consuming resources, and polluting the world around them. It was a belief and I knew it. However, I challenged myself to come with an open mind and not not make a judgment before entering the room. I am not, by training, a climatologist, meteorologist, geologist, or any other kind of -ologist. I know high-school level geology, and freshman college science. Let’s face it, I know nothing. What I did was bring in my own attitude and readings from media and pseudo-science journals, aimed at producing a message swinging one way or another. Being out of school for many years, I also felt the pride of age – I knew something of the world, darn it. I really felt like “know thyself” was part of my vernacular.

I admit to the conversation bringing my opinion around to a more moderate view rather than to a specific “side” of the debate.  The presenter discussed scientific findings I had not considered, and geologic facts of which I had absolutely no knowledge. I learned about ice ages, findings in the melting of current glaciers, ice core samples, geologic time scales, and historical facts of global significance. I won’t say that my mind was changed; I will say that I walked out with a broader idea of questioning what I have been told, and learning the truth for myself. I learned that what I had was a belief, not evidence. If I was going to change my ignorance, I needed to do the work. Myself.

This is where, to me, the collision of science and Freemasonry are at their best. Freemasonry is a mystery school – an initiatory rite that brings about the idea that the human being is nature and the best way to understand nature and the mysteries of life and death, is to study nature. How to study nature? Ancient Greek mystery schools according to Blavatsky are “not a unique system but, based on the spiritual structure of the universe,” of which it is important to understand Nature. They are inextricably linked, the Spirit and Nature, perhaps even one in the same. Freemasonry, as a modern descendant of these mystery schools seeks to take the core of nature and spirit, and propel the human into learning that both reside within humanity, and it is the Freemason’s job to not only continue to seek truth but to also seek Truth. It is to always ask questions, from knowing yourself to knowing the world, and doubt everything. It is a respect for the scientific process as much as it is for our own process. We are seven billion experiences and all are equally valid. Else, why are we having them?

pythagorasFor the ancient philosophers, ignorance was the opposite of good. To both Aristotle and Plato, no one does wrong willingly but only out of ignorance. Socrates had his own methods for combating ignorance, and many of these principles can be found in Freemasonic ritual and education. From continuous learning and making a daily advancement in education to providing education rather than criticism, the Freemason becomes a scientist of the world. Freemasons build on Socrates idea that one should “know thyself” in that they are lacking in knowledge, and that we have no idea what is best for others. The center point is the key to balance in all things but especially to combating ignorance. A measured approach, curious yet mindful. Lastly, I think Socrates was most right when he said that ignorance is inevitable. When Socrates said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance,” what he was saying was that he was not ignorant of all things but that he was aware that he was ignorant of all things. He knew that he would be forever ignorant and it was only through perseverance that he could become “good.”

The Proper Balance of Masonry: The Greater and the Lesser Mysteries

The Proper Balance of Masonry: The Greater and the Lesser Mysteries

“I THINK you are making a mistake,” writes a kindly brother, “in unsparingly condemning that phase of Masonry that is concerned with ritualistic performance.”

He continued:

Is it not true – an unpalatable truth, perhaps – that for most of us this ritualism must remain as chief aim and purpose of our connection with the Fraternity?

We know that there is an intellectual side to the Institution, where the scholar and the student find highest satisfaction. But why should those who have not yet reached that high plane, or who may not be able to appreciate the full value of these advanced studies, be denied such pleasure and such profit as is available to them in lower paths?

“I THINK you are making a mistake,” writes a kindly brother, “in unsparingly condemning that phase of Masonry that is concerned with ritualistic performance.” He continued:

SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND

MY kindly critic gives opportunity to discourse briefly upon the proper balance of Masonry. It is true that in these pages, as elsewhere, the editor has urged insistently the higher imperatives, as those which should have dominating force in the world of Masonic thought and action. He would hold out to all brothers the intellectual promise, rather than show in grosser terms the rewards and satisfactions of the Craft. He would have every Mason enter upon the quest “for that which was lost,” though convinced that few there be who shall achieve to complete object of the search.

AS from King Arthur’s table, many valiant knights arose, with high resolve to seek the Holy Graal – men bold of heart and true of soul – though only to the few was granted vision of the chalice sacred, mystical. And yet, if so I read aright these meaning stories of the past, the knights that travailed long in places perilous, doing bewhiles great deeds of fealty and of faith, although denied the precious thing for which they fought and prayed, were made the better, braver, nobler, even because they were accounted to have failed.

The properly balanced Masonry is that which gives full place and scope to all the workmen. The Master who draws designs upon the trestle-board may not speak with contempt of those who labor faithfully in the mountains and the quarries. He may indeed seek for disciples and scholars among the more eager and ambitious, who are most likely to profit by his instructions. These, indeed, he will urge to higher things, knowing full well that the great cause is to be advanced most surely and speedily by men trained to highest capabilities of head and heart.

But in Masonry, as in the world without, there must ever be the greater number content with tasks of lesser thought. Yet to them – to all – should be unrolled and explained the full plans and meanings of the structure to which their toil and skill are dedicated. They should gain significance of the timbers and the stones upon which their labor is expended. Such brethren are not mere wage-workers, put by task-masters to their various toil. They are free Craftsmen, and should receive instruction, increasing ever with their understanding.

So, for the Temple of Humanity and Brotherhood should Wisdom put forth ever nobler effort, with Strength evident in the mass and Beauty showing in every detail.

WHERE PROPER BALANCE LIES

I KNOW of no other comparison for Masonry than the great religious systems of the world, past and present. From them we may, perhaps, learn where proper balance lies, where associative effort before has failed, and where and how best purpose has been served. So, we find that, wherever in the world’s history an organized system has made successful appeal to the masses of men, there has ever been ample allowance for the varying capacities of adherents.

The exoteric, outward showing is for the greater number – for that larger body of worshipers content to remain in the outer court. Where subtler wants are not felt, the higher spiritual sufferings would be unmeaning. It is enough for such exoteric religion that the norms of conduct be established, and that fear of punishment or hope of reward shall be so adjusted to unawakened intelligences as to enforce compliance therewith. I know that this will be called superstition, and in no way to justify comparison with aught in Masonry. But superstition, as I take it, has two distinct meanings.

To the man who has advanced beyond the necessity for grosser compulsions, the term represents no more than do the old definitions and enforcements of the common law, altogether superseded by higher mandates. The outworn things are for him valuable as records of the spiritual evolution through which he himself, or his ancestors, have passed. But for the unlearned and unleashed radical the word “superstition” stands for such things as he will not and can not seek to understand, which he is concerned only to revile ignorantly, and to proclaim his refusal of obedience.

For him, the commands of ancient force no longer hold, not that they are without reach or meaning, but that his soul has gained only to a stage of irrational rebellion against authority. Like an immature boy, such a one seeks only to express a newly-sensed independence, being altogether unaware of the eternal compulsions.

TRUE MASONRY: EXOTERIC AND ESOTERIC

WHEN I hear “superstition” cried the loudest, in matters of faith or symbolism, l am inclined to linger longest, that so I may hope to discover something more of what has been preserved from an ancient time, and is today found worthy of the adherence of men. For whatever endures has in itself the heart of Truth. And, likewise, what is true of religious symbolisms and observances, is true of Masonry in its exoteric form. There is a superstition, perhaps, of the fraternity, and it may be regarded from the same standpoints as mentioned above. The radical by condemning and rejecting indiscriminately, loses much of highest value. It is only by providing and maintaining the proper balance, by serving the needs of the greatest possible number of men, embracing the broadest range of intellectual capacities, that this or any like institution can hope, to achieve and hold real meaning in the world.

The brother who can only grasp the outward phases of Masonry will certainly receive all that can have use for him. Go into your anterooms after the conferring of degrees, and answer if this is not true. Hear those who are grateful and appreciative after receiving the Master’s degree, and have been impressed for good, though no hint even of the esoteric has come to them.

The true learner will, from that point, still seek and find; will ask and receive; will knock, thereafter, at many doors, hidden oftentimes, and these will be opened to him. But also for him who chooses to remain in the outer court, to be satisfied with sensuous observances, there is gain, nicely calculated to capacity. For those having ears to hear, there are things cryptic, mystical, and well worth the hearing. For those who are content with the ringing of bells, the bells will ring, and in beautiful harmony. It might perhaps be permissible to compare Masonry of the Lodges – the Masonry of routine and of ritual – with those old chthonic religions, while the real esotericism of the Craft rises to the region where subtle inspirations are received and understood by highest processes of thought.

In answer to my brother, I esteem very highly that one who finds in ritual his best enjoyment, though I will not cease to urge upon such a one that he should use this ritual as a guide to upper paths. But Masonry, even in its simplest requirements, demands more than that one should go and remain upon the tread-mill of verbiage, making no advancement upward or forward. If advancement is made, whether by means of ritual, or by study or by intuitive process, be that advancement less or more, in so much is Masonry honored and benefited, and by so much has the individual brother made his gain.

~ “The Proper Balance of Masonry: The Greater and the Lesser Mysteries,” THE AMERICAN FREEMASON, May 1912.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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