The Trestle Board

The Trestle Board

By Bro... Paul R. Clark


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


– Originally published in THE MASTER MASON – MAY 1926

Shakespeare and Freemasonry

Shakespeare and Freemasonry

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

~ BACON’S NATURAL HISTORY. 

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

~ WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY


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

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

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

THE PURPOSE OF FREEMASONRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARE THE TEACHINGS OF SHAKESPEARE AND FREEMASONRY IDENTICAL?

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

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

To show how such conclusions were reached naturally is… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHERE SHAKESPEARE AND FREEMASONRY MEET

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

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

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

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

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

THE MASONIC LANDMARKS

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

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

FREEMASONRY AND THE TEMPEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FREEMASONRY AND THE WINTER’S TALE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

How did Freemasonry shape President Theodore Roosevelt?

How did Freemasonry shape President Theodore Roosevelt?

The man, the myth, and the legend: Theodore Roosevelt was a larger than life figure whose beneficent impact on the rights of humanity has continued long after his earthly demise. Few figures in American history can match Roosevelt’s archetypal status as a hero, adventurer, statesman, and visionary.


The Early Years: Gaining Strength Through Adversity

Born in New York City in 1858, the boy, named Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was a frail and asthmatic child. Yet, sharing in his Father’s belief that willpower and strenuous living could overcome all infirmities, Teddy transformed himself with discipline and determination into a strong, courageous individual.

His tenacity and idealism would later assist him in weathering dark storms of difficulty, particularly on Valentine’s Day of 1884, when Theodore lost both his mother and wife within a span of a few hours. His mother, Mittie Roosevelt, died of typhoid fever at age forty-eight, in the same house as his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, who at age twenty-three, died following the birth of their daughter, Alice.

TR Rough Rider

Theodore expressed his deep grief with a single, poignant sentence in his journal: “the light has gone out of my life.”

Searching for a way to transcend his personal tragedy, Roosevelt moved forward by working on a Cattle Ranch in the Dakotas. Then he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy before attaining mythic war hero status for leading the Rough Riders’ charge of San Juan Hill in the Spanish–American War. (Image: Colonel Roosevelt of the Rough Riders, 1898).

Joining the soon-to-be President McKinley as his running mate, they won a landslide victory in 1900, based on a platform of peace, prosperity, and conservation.

Ascent to Power: Freemasonry and the U.S. Presidency

In 1901, Theodore followed in the steps of his hero, Brother George Washington, by knocking on the door of the Temple to become a Freemason. He was initiated on January 2nd in Matinecock Lodge No. 806 in Oyster Bay, New York.

VP TR Letter 3rd Degree

After taking office as Vice President of the United States in March of that year, Bro. Roosevelt was Passed on March 27th and Raised on April 24th. Only five months later, Brother Roosevelt became President of the United States at the age of 42, after the untimely death by assassination of McKinley in September of 1901. (Image: Letter written by U.S. Vice President Roosevelt before receiving the 3rd Degree).

As a progressive leader and political maverick, Brother Theodore instituted domestic policies, which uplifted the common people and removed the barriers to opportunity and prosperity. President Roosevelt titled his domestic program, The Square Deala subtle nod to his Masonic allegiance and education. As a demonstration of action echoing his espoused principles, he described his intentions:

“When I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.”

Roosevelt was an environmentalist who established national parks, forests, and monuments intended to preserve the nation’s natural resources. His successful diplomatic efforts ended the Russo-Japanese War and won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. Elected in 1904 to a full term, Roosevelt continued to promote progressive policies that promoted equality and justice for the common people.

Freemason_Theodore_Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt’s extensive list of achievements almost defies belief: Harvard University Honors Graduate, Youngest Elected Member of the New York State Assembly, Leader of an Amazon River Scientific Exploration, Famed Historian and Author, Spanish-American War Hero, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Governor of New York, President of the United States, as well as, famous Freemason.

During his Presidency, Brother Roosevelt combined his affinity for travel with his dedication to Masonry by visiting lodges across the nation and abroad. His words, written and spoken, reflected his Masonic ideals; he emphasized morality, duty, service, equality, charity, self-knowledge, justice, wisdom, merit, and ability.

In an address to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Bro. Theodore explained his reasons for joining the Fraternity:

“One of the things that attracted me so greatly to Masonry, that I hailed the chance of becoming a Mason, was that it really did act up to what we, as a government and as a people, are pledged to — of treating each man on his merits as a man.”

Equal Before the Law: Roosevelt’s Feminism

In addition to his other accolades, Roosevelt was a woman’s rights advocate, historian and writer, gifted orator, dedicated conservationist, skilled diplomat, avid outdoors-man, hunter, and mountain climber. Could he also be considered a Feminist? 

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Roosevelt’s belief in the principle of equality transcended gender promoting equal rights for women in employment, opportunity, and equal pay. In his essay, “Practicability of Giving Men and Women Equal Rights,” he argued:

“Viewed in the abstract, I think there can be no question that women should have equal rights with men…. I contend that, even as the world now is, it is not only feasible but advisable to make women equal to men before the law.”

PamphletFrontPageProgressivePartyPlatform1912

Brother Roosevelt later wrote that “women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man, it should be paid as highly.” Moreover, in his 1912 Presidential Campaign, Roosevelt took a revolutionary step for the rights of women in equal pay, labor protections, and universal suffrage.

Do these actions and beliefs qualify Roosevelt as a Feminist? By today’s definition and standard, I think it would be a stretch to call him as such, although he did advocate for equal pay for equal work.

However, considering Feminism during his era which is now described as the “first wave” of the larger movement, I would argue that Roosevelt’s stated beliefs and advancement of policies for equal treatment under the law (i.e., equal employment opportunity, equal pay, and equal voting rights) would qualify him as a Feminist. In fact, Bro. Roosevelt was the first major party candidate in U.S. history to campaign in favor of women’s suffrage, which brought the issue to national stage for the first time in 1912. 

Unafraid of Death: Brother Theodore’s Life of Service

Feminist or not, Theodore Roosevelt remained a faithful servant to Humanity till his death. In 1919, he died in his sleep and passed, at only 60 years old, to the Eternal Grand Lodge. Yet, his service and dedication to humanity continue on as examples of Masonic principles brought to life through action – immortal and true.  

“Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure.” Brother Theodore Roosevelt


Note: As always, this article does not reflect the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is solely the opinion of the author. 

The Freemason’s Words: Can the Secrets be Googled?

The Freemason’s Words: Can the Secrets be Googled?

In a discussion with a few masonic friends recently, someone asked the question:  Why are oral traditions fading away? One could dispute the premise. Still, I think the brother was onto something.  Are oral traditions still relevant? Are they slowly being replaced with technology?

In its plainest form, an oral tradition is information passed down through the generations by word of mouth that is not written.  Examples might be legends, stories, proverbs, riddles and so on. Certain modes of recognition, including masonic words and passwords are considered part of the oral tradition in Freemasonry.

Where did masonic customs originate?  The tradition becomes more understandable if we look back before the 1600’s. At that time, masonic lodges were stonemasons’ guilds of builders whose “secrets” concerned how to construct buildings. The hidden modes of1Modes of Recognition recognition, whether they were certain passwords or handshakes, were a way to identify an impostor passing himself off as the real thing. The “operative” masons were artisans that were the best at their craft. 

For reasons that are still not entirely clear, lodges evolved from “operative” to “speculative” builders. The “speculative” masons were different in that they became more interested in arcane studies. Their secrets were no longer building trade secrets but based on moral and philosophical concepts. When Masonry identified itself as a speculative craft, it placed the meanings of its allegories and symbols within a realm that is more esoteric.

Some say that these more esoteric secrets were inspired from ancient traditions – such as  Rosicrucianism, Gnosticism, or Hermeticism – however the theory is hotly debated. An opposite view is that the passwords in freemasonry are not meaningful at all.  They are not particularly earth-shattering, nor are they exactly secret. I have heard many times recently – “just google them.”

This current debate begs the question. When it comes to a mason’s words, are they a meaningless carry-over from former times? Or to the contrary, do they have some An_encyclopaedia_of_freemasonry_and_its_kindred_sciences_-_comprising_the_whole_range_of_arts,_sciences_and_literature_as_connected_with_the_institution_(1887)_(14762810774)deeper significance for masons today?

Definitions by Albert G. Mackey

Usually when I have a question or questions that I have been wondering about, I must confess I use any resource available, including the internet to research that topic and related topics. At the same time, I am very careful. There are many things that I will read “everyone knows” that are simply untrue. It is amazing how many things fit this category.

Often when confronted with some sort of puzzle in masonic research I go to Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. In this case, he lays out some very interesting distinctions between the various kinds of masonic words.

Mackey gives several different definitions – 

  1. Recognition Word: Identifies one brother to another as a means of recognition.
  2. Lost Word: Relates to the mythical history of a venerated lost word in which a temporary word was substituted.
  3. Sacred Word: Applies to the unique word of each degree, to indicate its peculiarly sacred character.
  4. Significant Word: Used as a word that is equivalent to a sign in each degree of the craft.
  5. True Word: Indicates a symbol of Divine Truth.

As you can easily see, he illustrates a hierarchy of words.  Some words, like recognition words, are more matter of fact, the ones that can be transmitted mouth to ear.  But other words, like the True Word are more mysterious. The True Word, he says, is the most philosophic and sublime.

The Word becomes the symbol of Divine Truth, the loss of which and the search for it constitute the whole system of Speculative Freemasonry.  ~ Bro. Albert Mackey 

Is it possible, then, that the real secrets of Masonry cannot be heard by the ear or uttered in words? If this is true, where are the secrets hidden?8097861684_b0d6213661_z

When faced with deep philosophical questions it’s sometimes nice to look at old allegories for wisdom. Here’s one of my favorites.

Man’s Divinity: Where to Hide the Stolen Jewel?

There was a time in the history of the race when the gods stole from man his divinity, and meeting in a high conclave, sought to decide where to hide that which they had stolen.

One god suggested that they hide it on another planet, for there man could not find it, but another god arose and said that man was innately a great traveler and they had no guarantee that, eventually, he might not find his way there. 

“Let us,” he said, “hide it in the depths of the sea, at the bottom of the ocean for there it will be safe.” 

But again, a dissenting voice was heart, and it was pointed out that man was great natural investigator, and that he might someday succeed in penetrating to the deepest depths, as well, as the greatest heights.

(As you might suspect, the problematic discussion ends with one member of the conclave suggesting as the final hiding place the following location…)

“Let us hide the stolen jewel of man’s divinity within himself, for there he will never look for it.”* 


The Secrets of True Masonry

Sometimes when we think of The Craft, we only think of meetings, dues, minutes, and rituals, etc. True Masonry, however, is a system of enlightenment. It is a quest for the hidden within us, the precious jewel. The Lodge is a bastion of virtue. Add to this the desire to live the high principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. Then add the passion for creativity to make the “builder’s art” truly artistic through the Arts and Sciences.

BEHOLD!  You have found the true secrets of Masonry.


Like all the things most worth knowing, no one can know it for another, and no one can 330px-Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatourknow it alone. It is known only in fellowship – by the touch of life upon life, hand to hand, breast to breast, spirit upon spirit.

The secrets are a way for Masons to bond with another. It’s something we all share together. Each person knows “The Word” according to his own quest and capacity.

Humanity has always been filled with curiosity about things unknown or unseen.  I like to think that oral traditions have not disappeared. Their settings may change, but their power and use remain.

Can the secrets be Googled? Sure, you may find some interesting facts about the Craft. In the end, however, the best hiding places for the mason’s mysteries are where we least expect them.

The attentive ear receives the sound from the instructive tongue, and the mysteries of Freemasonry are safely lodged in the repository of faithful breasts. ~ Masonic Monitor


*Note: The ancient allegory can be referenced in Foster Bailey’s Spirit of Masonry.

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