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.
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.
IF someone had asked me 30 years ago if Freemasonry was masculine, I would have said: “Is there anything else?” I’m speaking of course about the mainstream idea, over the past three hundred years or so, that all Freemasons must be masculine. I was not erudite enough to realize that there were far, far more meanings to “masculine” and “feminine” than I believed, as there are far more than “just” masculine Freemasons. I was learned in some esoteric traditions but found out that I had a long, lifetime journey in front of me.
To what I am referencing are the many traditions that transcend gender as a sexual, physical attribution. As I noted earlier in another essay, gender is referenced here as specific to virtues and attributes that transcend the physical. Why do we call something masculine? Why do we call it feminine?
In this essay, I will be focusing on the masculine attributes, aspects, and virtues of Freemasonry – not the gender of its adherents. Remember that true Freemasonry seeks to unite, not divide; it seeks to create order out of chaos, harmony from cacophony, and solidarity amongst all creatures.
That said, why do we call some aspects of Masonry feminine and masculine. I think in order to dissect this, you may see that the core of Freemasonry comes out of the ancient mystery schools and has roots in Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Stoicism, Neo-platonism. It is a mixture of philosophy and wisdom born of the needs of its human wielders. It is ritual and word that are combined to bring about the evolution of humanity. It is no mere repetition of plays from medieval stone worker guilds; that said, even these medieval stonemasons play a part in the gender of the ritual and philosophy of Freemasonry. Let’s explore…
GENDER IN THE RITUAL AND PHILOSOPHY OF FREEMASONRY
MANY of us are trapped in the idea of gender as given to us in our media, by our families and friends, and even taught in schools. We see gender as a division, one or the other. Gender, in the hands of the wise philosopher, is fluid and non-physical. There is a divine masculine just as there is a divine feminine, and it is as important as the feminine. Where the feminine is receptive and gives form, the masculine is forceful, outward, and expansive, as well as liberating, freeing. It is giving and generous; think of The Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. That is masculine. In Kabbalah, the masculine is the Pillar of Mercy – not because it is merciful but because of its liberating nature. The Pillar of Severity, the feminine, is labeled severe because of its constrained and passive nature. Because of these natures, one might see the masculine as unrestrained chaos, and indeed, they might be right.
When we think of the Masonic ritual, the one bit of chaos that is consistent is the human initiate, the neophyte. The neophyte is all “outside world,” bringing with them the unrestrained passions, emotions, and physicalness that the non-Masonic world has to offer. They come to be changed, to find balance – yet we must always retain our humanity. Our chaos. Anyone who has sat in any Lodge meeting will understand whence this chaos comes, and how it can expand. In this way, the masculine seems most evident in the Apprentice; all that human chaos has come to be subdued. Not subjugated, not eliminated – subdued. We come to be refined, not erased. Our modern world tends to be masculine in nature; it resonates with masculine, unrestrained energy, and growth. Freemasonry is a sanctuary to explore the balance that we humans were mean to embrace.
The exercise of ritual in Freemasonry also generates gender qualities in its energies. When we think of the masculine or feminine, we must consider the movements made during a ceremony, or even during the opening and closing of ritual. How do our officers move and what are they doing when they perform specific actions? Do they use a right hand? Do they use the right foot? What side of their bodies are being affected? What side of their minds? These are questions to which gender qualities can be applied – are they being expansive, assertive, forceful, outward, or giving? If so, these would be masculine qualities. I would challenge the Freemason to always look for the corresponding feminine action or officers. Freemasonry is overt in its display of polarity, gender, and unity if one keeps looking.
When it comes to the symbols of Freemasonry, what might act as masculine at one point becomes feminine in another. Degrees, with their different stories and lessons, shows us this over and over again. In this, we have to look at how each is employed and by which hand, or which side of the body. Wands or swords, anything carried in the right hand is masculine, expansive, or triggering growth. What side is put forward at what time? This not only triggers the masculine energy but alerts our whole body and mind to balance. Freemasonry seeks balance, harmony, and unity. Whatever is done by the left will eventually be balanced on the right. It is inevitable.
Some symbols are displayed consistently and should be of consideration so as to give us clues about the actions of officers, neophytes, and in Ceremony. We know that Freemasonry is a Western esoteric tradition, built on many different Western philosophies. For example, for the majority of Western cultures, the Sun has a masculine, forceful connotation while the Moon is feminine, displaying its reflective nature. Stars tend toward neutrality. Think of the languages of the Western world and you will see some of these gender qualities reflected in the culture. While this is not always the case, language can tell us a great deal about our own paradigms. The vigilant Freemason will realize that there are some symbols that are fairly constant in Lodge. Those constant symbols tend to be those of the celestial nature; the symbols that change their gender qualities tend to be those in which a human is involved – either in their creation or their use.
THE HERMETIC PRINCIPLE OF GENDER
MANY volumes of sacred writings discuss the masculine and feminine working together to achieve this balance. The Kybalion talks at length about the Hermetic Principle of Gender.
“Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.” ~ The Kybalion
The Masculine is seen as will or strength the actual force to move matter, thoughts, or ideas. In Freemasonry, this is evident in the catechism of part of the Apprentice degree: while the heart may come up with a plan (feminine), or the brain scheme (neutrality), we need the force of work, using our hands, to actually create and execute the desired action (masculine): be it physical, mental, or spiritual. If we take the Hermetic principles together, as discussed gnostically in the Kybalion, these gender principles existing on all planes are, using the Mind (the first law – Mentalism), the source of all creation. Indeed, the root of the word gender, as spoken about previously, means generation, creation, or regeneration. Humans are, on all levels and on all planes, meant to create.
THE BALANCE OF GENDERS IN TAOISM AND HINDUISM
TAOISM is gender-neutral but emphasizes the equality and need of having a balance of genders, of masculine and feminine. In fact, the qualities of Yin Qi and Yang Qi are necessary to be in balance in order for creation to actually happen. In the cosmology of theTao, the dual natures are necessary to create the Five Elements and indeed, the Ten Thousand Things. In Hinduism, the same concepts exist; the feminine power resides in all beings but it requires the masculine spark of force to trigger creation. The Vedas speak about the Absolute (The One) being genderless, and physical gender necessary for the smooth function of society; the masculine and feminine have complementary roles to play in the physical world. All of this mimics the human creation experience physically, and as I believe, Freemasonry is emphasizing, mentally, and spiritually as well.
KING SOLOMON, WISDOM, AND CREATION
KING Solomon considered Wisdom to be feminine and a part of the divine’s ability to create the universe. The “I” in the following passage is “Wisdom,” as defined in Chapter 8, Verse 22 of Proverbs: “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion.” Wisdom goes on to say:
The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills I was brought forth; While He had not yet made the earth and the fields, Nor the first dust of the world.
When He established the heavens, I was there, When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, When He made firm the skies above, When the springs of the deep became fixed, When He set for the sea its boundary, So that the water would not transgress His command.
When He marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him, Rejoicing in the world, His earth, And having my delight in the sons of men.
~ New American Standard Bible, Proverbs 8:22-29
I take this to mean that the idea of “wisdom” here is also the idea of concept, idea, vision. The force of creation (masculine) requires that wisdom (feminine) to create something which continues; this harkens back to the concept in the Kybalion in the natural law that requires the force, or will, to bring forth the vision of beauty. In a Freemason’s ritual, this might be explained as wisdom needing strength, to bring forth beauty. The feminine requires the masculine to become manifest – to be created.
While we continue to struggle with the ideas of human (physical) gender, perhaps we can explore the idea of gender, the creative principle, within a more philosophical state, and perhaps, find a measure of equality in all aspects of our lives. To me, a Freemason, that seems like a worthy goal – one that could benefit all of Humanity.
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.
There are many, many Freemasons who would note that there is nothing about Freemasonry that is feminine. It is a masculine fraternity in their eyes, where men get together to make “good men better,” and the term “fraternity” itself indicates, to them, a wholly male organization.* While that might be true for some Masonic Orders, it is certainly not true for all.
As we’ve previously discussed, Freemasons are men and women, of all races, creeds, and religious backgrounds. As we’ve also noted in the earlier article on Gender and Freemasonry, gender has far more to do with the essence of “things” than it does with sexual aspects of humanity. Let’s lift the idea of Freemasonry as being purely masculine, and look the world of Hermetic principles and gender. Where does the Feminine find itself within Freemasonry?
We are speaking here beyond titles. Masonic titles are in most languages gendered. There is “Brother” and “Sister” both of which have a gendered connotation. However, they are titles, and while there may be the open division between physical gender in some Masonic Orders, in at least one order, all members are designated “Brother.” Why? First, we have to remember that a title is nothing more than an honorific designation – in this case, it designates a member of a Freemasonic order. It is not a designation of gender any more than “Doctor” is a designation of gender. There is baggage we all have around titles that have gender associations; there is a reason most people never refer to stewardesses any longer on flights. Actors are actors, not actors and actresses, as waiters are waiters, not waiters and waitresses. We have begun tearing down the divisions of gender and working toward the idea of unity. We designate each other with the best word we can for Freemasons – Brother.
However, as I noted, this discovery goes beyond title. If we view the Lodge Room, the Temple, as a receptive place, it is a container and vessel for creation. Ergo, the Temple is feminine. It is receiving humanity, the Brothers (masculine energy), to build something. Masculine is outgoing and active. It requires a balance to hold its nature to form. It requires a Temple that can handle that energy and transform it. Is there any doubt why the Masonic Temple and its accoutrement should not be in its best upkeep and fitness? We want a healthy mother to be able to birth a healthy child. Is this not the same?
As the Lodge is feminine, so to I believe, is the ritual. The ritual form, written and memorized, requires action to give it life. It requires an active, outward principal to give it life. Here to again, the Brothers of the Lodge are the masculine principle, taking thoughtforms and words and creating intended action in three dimensional space. Ritual requires proper and strong expression (masculine) of imagination (feminine); both are necessary to enact a whole ceremony.
At many times during different rituals, an officer changes polarity from masculine to feminine. There is a shifting flow to Masonic ritual that encourages its adherents to explore the energies of both active and passive principles. There is also a neutrality in the Lodge that is carried by significant officers; the balance is required to ensure one gender does not dominate. There is always, like the Sefirot of the Kabbalah, a middle path, a neutral state in Freemasonry that guides the poles and the swing of the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical pendulum. That is, for every pair of floor officers, there is a neutral body to perhaps bring balance to the erratic nature of the human embodying the office. Let me explain.
The officer that receives a candidate, a guide if you will, is always in the masculine aspect of their office. They need to care for and have regard for their charge. They are the voice of the neophyte when they cannot speak. The candidate is feminine – they are receiving the gift of the ritual, and incorporating it into their person. They must use imagination to connect to the offering. Here, again, it is of no consequence what the physical gender of a person may be; we all must learn to tap into our receptive nature to be a vessel for creation of any kind. After the candidate has completed their ritual, the officer in question will fall back to their intended place in the structure of the Lodge. That may be a receptive principle, feminine, to their counterpart’s masculine, directive role. The moon with its rays of reflected sunlight guides the night but eventually, the sun, the primary assertive principle, returns to assume its directive place in the heavens.
It is important to note here that the Sun has not always assumed the mantle of masculine and the Moon has not always been feminine. In order, pre-Sanskrit-based language, the denomination was reversed; we find this in Babylonian, early Egyptian, and earlier mythologies where the Sun was represented by feminine avatars. This subject is far too dense to dive into here; suffice to say that in the most recent times, the gender of these celestial bodies has changed and it might be worth noting that the attributes of feminine are found in the Sun, while attributes of the masculine may be found in the Moon.
Returning to the officers, we find the masculine, feminine, and neutral manifested in the three main officers of a Lodge. The W.J.W. is indicative of mid-day, when the sun is at its highest. This speaks of the dominant and assertive nature of that office; whereas, the W.S.W. is the sun as it recedes into darkness, It is the coolness of the moon, of night, of dreams and reception. One might dismiss their attribute, will or strength, as being a purely masculine trait but this is not the case. The feminine here is about transparency and about seeing the Other; the W.S.W. sees the entirety of the Lodge and is responsible for its voice. There is a calm confidence in their presentations to the Lodge – here is what has been made and it is of us.
It is clear that one cannot speak of the aspects of gender in a vacuum. We must reference one or the other to illustrate the differences and provide opportunities to think about principles which are not easily familiar to us in our common lives. In the next part, we’ll discuss the Masculine aspects of Freemasonry in more detail, in balance with the neutral lines that demark the place of balance, the center point were perhaps a greater vision of unity may be achieved.
* However, this commonly held belief, ie. that fraternities are wholly male organizations is erroneous. Though many people use their term “fraternity” to refer exclusively to men’s groups, many women’s groups officially call themselves fraternities. For example, the earliest chartered collegiate female fraternal organizations:
Gamma Phi Beta was the first collegiate women’s organization to be called a “sorority,” a term coined by Latin professor Dr. Frank Smalley at Syracuse University. The terms “sorority” and women’s “fraternity” have since been used interchangeably.
Written by Bro. Rob Morris, originally published in “Light and Shadows of Freemasonry”
IT was in the latter part of the gloomy 1786, that Robert Burns, the poet, and the Mason, gathered up his thoughts. He had but little else to gather up, preparatory to leaving Scotland forever. Forever! Terrible word to the expatriated, terrible to the poor exile, who turns toward his country as the Jews turned themselves three times a day praying with their faces toward Jerusalem. Terrible in the highest degree to such a man as Burns, who to the most exalted patriotism added the keenest appreciation of home joys and social pleasures.
Disappointment had set its mark upon Robert Burns. The indulgence of passions that raged within him as the pent-up fires rage beneath the sealed crater of the volcano, had brought to him its legitimate consequences in the upbraidings of conscience, the forfeiture of friendship, and, worst of all, the loss of self-respect.
The restraints of Freemasonry had been neglected, while its social joys were most keenly relished; in other words, our tenets had been faithfully sustained, while our cardinal virtues were neglected. The use of the Compasses had never blessed his hands. The subtle genius, the unequaled gifts that enabled Robert Burns to conceive and execute The Cotter’s Saturday Night, could not confine him into the ordinary channels of prudence, and even then, he was a doomed man.
BURNS’ TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
HEAVY debts had accumulated upon him, such as in that barren, unenterprising country, there was but little chance of his ever being able to cancel. He had been summoned to find security for the maintenance of two children, of whom he was forbidden to legitimate by lawful marriage.
As he disdained to ask or tried in vain to find pecuniary assistance in this his hour of need, there was no other alternative remaining for him but a Scottish jail or a flight from Scotland. He had chosen the latter. After much trouble, the situation of assistant overseer on an estate in Jamaica had been secured for him, by one of his few remaining friends. In his own bitter language:
He saw misfortune’s cauld nor’west Lang mustering up a bitter blast; A jillet brak his heart at last Ill may she be! So, took a birth afore the mast An awre tne sea.
He had said farewell to all the friends, they were not many, and to the scenes very many and very dear to their poet’s heart. This he did while skulking from covert to covert under all the terrors of a Scottish jail. His chest was on the road to Greenock. He had composed the last song he should ever measure in Caledonia. It is fraught with solemn thoughts and words, as the reader will see:
The gloomy night is gathering fast, Loud roars the wild inconstant blast, You murky cloud is foul with rain, I see it driving o’er the plain; The hunter now has left the moor, The scattered coveys meet secure, While here I wander, prest with care, Along the lonely banks of Ayr.
The autumn mourns her ripening corn, By early winter’s ravage torn; Across her placid azure sky, She sees the scowling tempest fly: Chill runs my blood to hear it rave, I think upon the stormy wave, Where many a danger I must dare, Far from the bonny banks of Ayr.
‘Tis not the surging billows’ roar, ‘Tis not that fatal deadly shore; Tho’ death in every shape appear, The wretched have no more to fear: But round my heart the ties are bound, That heart transpierced with many a wound; These bleed afresh, those ties I tear, To leave the bonny banks of Ayr.
Farewell old Coila’s hills and dales, Her heathy moors and winding vales, The scene where wretched fancy roves, Pursuing past, unhappy loves! Farewell my friends, farewell my foes, My peace with these, my love with those; The bursting tears my heart declare; Farewell the bonnie banks of Ayr.
A TRAVELER ON THE ROAD TO GREENOCK
NOW, all other remembered subjects having been marked by the tears of the poet, the poet himself being on the road to the port of Greenock to the ship that should witness his last glance at his native land, his heart turned lovingly, involuntarily, towards Masonry, for Robert Burns was a Freemason, prepared first in his heart.
In none of the vast folios, where stands the vast catalog of our brethren, ancient or modern, is there a character shaped more truly by Masonic skill than his? Nowhere one, who in the expressive language of the Ancient Constitutions would “afford succor to the distressed, divide bread with the industrious poor, and put the misguided traveler into the way,” more cheerfully than Burns.
He understood right well, “that whoever from love of knowledge, interest, or curiosity desires to be a Mason, is to know that as his foundation and great cornerstone, he is firmly to believe in the eternal God, and to pay that worship which is due to him as the great Architect and Governor of the Universe.”
Robert Burns, thus, governed himself accordingly. There is many a record in the Lodge books of Scotland that gives prominence to his Masonic virtues, and in the higher Lodge, the Grand Lodge of heaven, we have reason to hope the Grand Secretary’s books also bear his name. None lament the weaknesses in his character more than his brethren, but be those defects in number and, in extent, what they may, his brethren protest in the name of their common humanity, against the inhuman judgments that have been pronounced against him.
If the royal dignity, the divine partiality, the unlimited wisdom of Solomon, First Grand Master of Speculative Masonry, could not preserve that Prince of Peace from the errors of the passions, who shall dare too cruelly to judge the son of an Ayrshire cotter, nurtured in penury and debarred the most ordinary relaxations of his age. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall.”
THE HEART TURNED TOWARD FREEMASONRY
LOVINGLY, then turned the heart of Brother Burns towards Freemasonry. The happy hours, the honest friends, the instructive lessons, the lofty desires! Let the brother who reads this sketch endeavor to place himself in the condition of the poor exile, self-expatriated and almost friendless, and he will understand the keenness of his pangs! There came up a vision of his last Masonic night.
The presence of the Grand Master and his noble Deputy; of a gallant array of gentlemen, the chief-est in all the land; and himself with the first among the equals of those who “meet upon the level” to “part upon the square.” There was the cue, it was enough; sitting down by the roadside, he penciled upon the back of an old letter his Masonic farewell. How many a remembrance of Grand Lodges and Subordinate Lodges and social meetings among Masons is attached to these well-known lines:
Adieu! a heart-warm fond adieu! Dear Brothers of the mystic tie! Ye favored, ye enlightened few, Companions of my social joy! Though I to foreign lands must hie Pursuing fortune’s sliddry ba’, With melting heart and brimful eye I’ll mind you still though far awa’.
Oft have I met your social band And spent the cheerful festive night; Oft honored with supreme command Presided o’er the sons of light; And by that hieroglyphic bright, Which none but craftsmen ever saw! Strong memory on my heart shall write. These happy scenes though far awa’!
May freedom, harmony, and love Unite you in the grand design Beneath the Omniscient eye above, The glorious Architect divine! That you may keep the unerring line Still rising by the plummet’s law Till order bright completely shine – Shall be my prayer when far awa’.
And you farewell! whose merits claim Justly that highest badge to wear! Heaven bless your honored, noble name, To Masonry and Scotia dear! A last request permit me here, When yearly ye assemble a’, One round, I ask it with a tear, To him, the bard, that’s far awa’ ! *
It pleased God at this crisis to turn the destination of Robert Burns and to spare to Scotland and the world, this affectionate heart. By a train of circumstances, almost miraculous, certainly unprecedented, he was brought unexpectedly to the notice of the literary circles of Edinburgh, then as now, the most classic and critical in the world, and with one consent that society placed him foremost in the ranks of his country’s poets.
FAME and profit then flowed nightly unto him. His pen was put into constant requisition, his company everywhere sought after, and his talents met with their due appreciation. The Masonic Order added its judgment to that of an approving nation.
The Most Worshipful Grand Master Charters, with every member of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, visiting a Lodge in which Burns happened to be present, graciously gave as a toast:
Caledonia, and Caledonia’s Bard, Brother Burns!
Such rang through the whole assembly with multiplied honors and repeated acclamations.
But he is gone. On the 21st of July, 1796, Robert Burns died. More than ten thousand persons accompanied his remains to the grave, where a spectator observed:
It was an impressive and mournful sight, to see men of all ranks and persuasions, and opinions, mingling as brothers, and stepping side by side down the streets of Dumfries, with the remains of him who had sung of their loves and joys, and domestic endearments, with a truth and tenderness which none perhaps have since equaled.
He is gone, and here in a distant land, a humble admirer of his genius, addresses his memory in the following lines:
AMERICA’S MASONS TO ROBERT BURNS
The sun is uprising on Scotia’s far hills Day’s labor is opening, the Grand Master wills, But Lodge-lights are gleaming in cheerfulness yet, Afar in the west where we Masons have met.
There’s song for the tuneful, kind words for the kind, There’s cheer for the social, and light for the blind: But when we uprising, prepare us to go, With one heart and feeling, we’ll sing thy Adieu.
A melting farewell, to the favored and bright, A sorrowful thought, for the sun set in night, A round to the bard whom misfortunes befell, A prayer that thy spirit with Masons may dwell.
When freedom and harmony bless our design, We’ll think of thee, Brother, who loved every line: And when gloomy clouds shall our Temple surround Thy brave heart shall cheer us where virtues were found.
Across the broad ocean two hands shall unite, Columbia, Scotia, the symbol is bright! The world one Grand Lodge, and the heaven above. Shall witness the triumph of Faith, Hope and Love,
And thou sweetest Bard, when our gems we enshrine, Thou jewel the brightest, most precious, shalt shine, Shall gleam from the East, to the far distant west, While morning shall call us, or evening shall rest.**
~ Article originally published, LIGHT AND SHADOWS OF FREEMASONRY, in 1852.
* The fifth verse unworthy of the connection and highly un-masonic, which is appended to the above in some of our American Manuals, was not written by Buras.
In Freemasonry, it explained that the “extent of a Lodge” covers the whole of existence, rising to the heavens, to the depths of the earth, east and west to each horizon, and north and south the same. This is the width, breadth, and depth of a Masonic Lodge. This is emblematical of the Temple of Humanity, but truly not just humanity. The Lodge is all of creation, edge to edge. If this is so, then the whole of the entire universe is a Lodge, and all of the entirety of the universe are its officers and workers.
Everything? So it would seem.
We also know that a Lodge is not a Temple. The Temple is the place where the Freemasons meet, to perform ritual, enjoy brotherhood, and revel in sacred space. The Lodge is the body of Freemasons that make up the Fraternity. Plainly, it would seem that the Lodge is not just Freemasons but truly all life, organic, inorganic, and all matter within the known universe. Is it any wonder that the Freemason creed is to study the hidden mysteries of nature and science? Hidden, it seems, is the operative word. No pun intended, I assure you.
Yet, I think Freemasons may rarely study either. Many are content to execute ritual with good friends, and for many, that is the whole of Freemasonry. Some are involved in activities outside themselves, such as service to their Order and to other non-profit organizations, which are necessary activities. New Masons may observe and listen; yet, there are steps to real study that need to be followed to find understanding. This study and exploration continues well beyond the Third Degree. This is not meant as a condemnation of those good works; it is but a passionate appeal to seek for more.
A Freemason’s study entails curiosity, reading, experimenting, testing, theorizing, and play. It requires creativity and intuition to explore that creativity, looking for new ways to be in and of nature. It involves art, engineering, science, and math. It involves all the liberal arts. There is so much depth the foundational principles of Freemasonry and we only have to delve further to decant vast pools of mystery where we can drink direct understanding.
Indeed, most humans rarely look beyond their own bodies, and sometimes not even then, to study nature and science. We are accustomed to people telling us what to see, hear, and do. This is not to say their input is incorrect or malicious. It is their opinion based on evidence to their eyes. It is based on their own perception of the universe. Every perception, including our own, is only a shadow of perhaps all there is, and we need to remember that when listening and observing. The ideas we come up with from observing how nature works, by the vehicle of science, is a far better path towards wisdom. This is why ancient philosophers are so fascinating. It the not-so-distant past of humanity, a mere two thousand years, we were focused on the union of these two methods – observing nature and theorizing on its state – to understand life. Philosophers would not have separated the two ideas; nature taught, philosophers sought to understand, test, and validate their findings.
They were a curious lot, and for hundreds of years helped humanity steer itself toward a union between itself and the rest of the universe. They were often wrong; yet, even today we find them often right. Democritus, “Father of the Atom,” understood that “the world is made of up of granular particles.” Today, his work has informed Einstein as well as many modern quantum physicists. We recognize that the world is made up of grains, atoms, and their constituents are also granular.
These great thinkers are not limited to just the well-known philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. In fact, I do not believe we can truly understand these three unless we take steps to understand their predecessors and successors. Zeno of Citium, in 300 B.C.E. taught that universal reason, logic, is the foundation of all goodness in life and that living a life of reason was humanity’s purpose. Epicurus, with his principles of pleasure and happiness informed Lucretius’ work On the Nature of Things, which has also informed many modern scientists. Three hundred years earlier, Anaximander, a student of Thales of Miletus, became what we now believe to be the “first” philosopher, as Thales’ writings have ceased to survive.
“Anaximander invented the idea of models, drew the first map of the world in Greece, and is said to have been the first to write a book of prose. He traveled extensively and was highly regarded by his contemporaries. Among his major contributions to philosophical thought was his claim that the ‘basic stuff’ of the universe was the apeiron, the infinite and boundless, a philosophical and theological claim which is still debated among scholars today and which, some argue, provided Plato with the basis for his cosmology.”1
The past informs the future and sometimes, it informs the far future if we pay attention. Carlo Rovelli, in “Reality is Not What it Seems,” states: “It is only in interactions that nature draws the world.” Or, “The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events.” Rovelli sees the world as Anaximander did, as an eternal flow between events; these events may be the life of a human being or a rock, not as fleeting as that of the quantum processes of creation.
In Lucretius’ discussion about the existence and composition of space, he poses what we now know as the Javelin Argument:
“For whatever bounds it, that thing must itself be bounded likewise; and to this bounding thing there must be a bound again, and so on for ever and ever throughout all immensity. Suppose, however, for a moment, all existing space to be bounded, and that a man runs forward to the uttermost borders, and stands upon the last verge of things, and then hurls forward a winged javelin,— suppose you that the dart, when hurled by the vivid force, shall take its way to the point the darter aimed at, or that something will take its stand in the path of its flight, and arrest it? For one or other of these things must happen. There is a dilemma here that you never can escape from… Lastly, before our eyes one thing is seen to bound another; air is as a wall between the hills, and mountains between tracts of air, land bounds the sea, and again sea bounds all lands; yet the universe in truth there is nothing to limit outside.”2
We now theorize that with Loop Quantum Gravity, a form of quantum theory about how the universe is constructed at the quantum level, spacetime is a network that creates itself, as the universe is expanding. While we may believe there is an edge to the universe, it is at the quantum level unbounded in that it has a constant creation. According to Claudia de Rham, theoretical physicist at Imperial College, “General relativity yields the predictions of black holes and the Big Bang at the origin of our universe. Yet the “singularities” in these places, mysterious points where the curvature of space-time seems to become infinite, act as flags that signal the breakdown of general relativity.”
Courtesy of NASA
Additionally, Juan Maldacena, a quantum gravity theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, has said, “In quantum gravity, space-time itself behaves in novel ways. Instead of the creation of particles, we have the creation of universes.”
If the foundation stones of Freemasonry are these ancient philosophers, it behooves us to understand them so we have a foundation to understand the nature of humanity in order to perfect it. In fact, we require their knowledge to understand the nature of all things, so that we may remember whence we came and that of which we are made. To understand a thing is to know it. Can we understand ourselves if we do not understand nature? We do not stand apart. We are the universe in all things. As NASA has said,
“The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts or gravitational wave events. Elements like phosphorus and copper are present in our bodies in only small amounts but are essential to the functioning of all known life,”
and have come from exploding white dwarfs and massive stars.3
To the Freemason, then, there are ever things to explore and understand. In fact, we might even say that we are co-creators in the universe, as it constantly growing and developing. The breadth, depth, and width of our “Lodge” is on the move, and we have the past and the future to explore. Spacetime is inconstant, creative, and evolving, and there is a wonderful eternal now from which to draw our study of nature and science. Perhaps that is a subject for another time. Again.