Adapted by V.W .Bro. Norman McEvoy from a paper presented by Keith V. Godfrey Prince of Wales Lodge No. I00 (Grand Lodge of BC & Yukon) October 17, 2007
At a recent meeting of a Lodge here in B.C. Bro. Kent Henderson offered the following definition of Freemasonry as a “Moral. Ethical Education society” (his emphasis). To that I would add “spiritual”. Tonight I will try to explain why I think that Masonry has a major spiritual component. I will also discuss one interpretation of a part of Masonry as an “initiatory” order.
But first let me define what I understand as “education”. Much of what we think of when masonic education is mentioned is really masonic training – dealing with matters of “how”, “where”, and “when” things arc done, but less about “what” is being done and “why”.
We also tend to be very passive about our masonic education, expecting to be taught rather than to be prompted to learn. But Masonry is not like that and requires that each individual make his own efforts to advance his knowledge, wisdom and understanding. In this vein therefore I support the view of Plutarch who wrote (according to Julian Rees) – A student mind is a fire to be lit not a vessel to be filled. I will try to be the spark to ignite a little of your fire.
Over the course of modern freemasonry – defined here as from 1717 to the present – much ink and paper has been used up to try to understand and explain this enigmatic society of ours. But it is interesting to observe a change in the nature of publications on freemasonry over that time span. In the l8th century there was much written on the ethical, moral and spiritual aspects of the Craft. Authors such as Hutchinson and Preston published extensive works that were widely popular- Preston’s “Illustrations of Freemasonry” running to some 9 editions over some 20 years or so. In the 19 th century, the tradition continued with Pike’s “Morals and Dogma”, “Pillars of Wisdom”, and “Symbolism of the Craft Degrees of Freemasonry” and other authors like Oliver. The tradition of spiritual and moral writings by Freemasons for Freemasons (and others) continued into the early part of the 20th century with authors such as Waite, Claudy and Wilmshurst.
With the notable exception of Kirk McNulty, the later part of that century however saw a decline if not an elimination of such writings, being replaced with the more fanciful (if financially successful) writings of Knight and Lomas. What has happened?
Has the Craft found a new message or simply lost its way? I would suggest that the latter is more likely to be true. I would also argue that the spiritual, moral and ethical traditions of Freemasonry have always been paramount to the Craft.
Even charity, I would suggest has been largely misinterpreted by many Freemasons. I have seen books and papers that have suggested that in its early years, Freemasonry was largely a benevolent society set up to protect its members from ill fortune. Looking at the early membership, I find that hard to believe. Most if not all the members of the Craft in those early years of the first half of the century came from the wealthy middle and upper classes of society. (Remember Plot’s famous quotation in the Natural
History of Staffordshire.) These folks would have little need of financial “charity”. Yet the word figures prominently in our Ritual.
I believe that- like many words still used in our ritual – the meaning intended for “charity” was not simply and only financial assistance for the more needy in the group, but the more all-embracing modern translation of the word in St. Paul’s famous first letter to the Corinthians (verse 13) as “love”.
Consider 13.3 – “And though I bestow all my good to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not Charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (King James version.)
For me, nothing is clearer, what Freemasonry means by “charity” is nothing more or less than Love for all mankind, in all its variations and with all its faults and virtues. What could be more spiritual than that?!
But if Freemasonry has such an emphasis, how is that given voice in our ritual?
A detailed discussion of that topic would take much more time than we have available, so I will concentrate on a couple of areas that indicate for me the intention of Masonic ritual to provide a guide and assistance to members of the Craft that have the willingness and intellectual and emotional maturity to probe for the teachings.
I have spoken in this Lodge on several occasions that the ritual of the three degrees of Craft Freemasonry are essentially components in an initiatory system – but initiation into or to what?
It is generally accepted that when a brother has completed the three degrees he is able to commence a journey of self-discovery. The initiatory experience is intended to bridge the gap between a largely material paradigm of life to one that is based on a more spiritual dimension. Notice that I used the word “able” – I did not use any word that might indicate any requirement –
the journey of self-discovery remains absolutely voluntary.
The journey of self-discovery is one of learning one’s place in the universal drama and – in particular – one’s relationship to – and understanding of- the meaning of life.
Now that is a truly immense task, and many never start the journey and few ever complete it.
But the essence of the journey has to be spiritual – learning how to come into an understanding of the divine spark within. That was the task set for themselves by the European alchemical masters of the 15th and 16th centuries.
People like John Dee, Paracelsus and Bruno Giordano, whose writings were more obscure even than our ritual! Their essential mantra was “as above, so below”.
Where does our Masonic ritual lead us in this search? The groundwork is laid in the first degree where the emphasis is on the un-importance of material things – indeed the implication is that one cannot make progress without recognizing the limitations of the trappings of a modern materialistic society.
In the second degree in particular guidance is given to make education in the seven liberal arts and sciences a matter of intense study. Those seven liberal arts and sciences were the centre of advanced learning in the middle ages and were grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.
For Freemasons the most important of these was geometry – which of course is an essential tool, together with arithmetic and astronomy in the study of nature. And grammar and rhetoric are essential to be able to communicate the results of our study of nature.
It is often said that there are two ways in which the divine can be seen directly in this life – music and nature. Our early brethren knew the importance of music and played it frequently in their Lodges.
Tonight I asked the Worshipful Master to allow me to play, as an introduction to this talk, a short excerpt from Mozart’s Requiem. Mozart was a sublime composer and his music contains great
spirituality- and we all know that he was an enthusiastic Mason and composed expensively expressly for Lodge. We could do a lot worse than making a practice of having music playing in the background as we prepare to open Lodge.
One indication that our meetings have a strong spiritual component is in the very nature of the way we open Lodge. The Worshipful master says at the end of the opening in the first degree: “The Lodge being truly formed, before I declare it open, let us invoke the assistance of the Great Architect of the Universe in all our undertakings. ”
What has been done during the opening is the formation of a container in which initiation can take place, and before it is declared ready for use, the assistance of the Divine is requested.
Our egos are developed at an early age as a protection to allow us to operate in this highly competitive and materialistic world and as such the ego is very defensive against any threat to its power and existence.
But virtually all spiritual traditions teach that the ego must be brought under control and lose much of its power if any real progress in spiritual development is to be made. By humbling and taking away the trappings of the ego, our ritual gives us the message that we must learn to sublimate the ego to the needs and control of the Self. Indeed to some extent at least the ego must die.
I recently rented a video called as I remember Peaceful Warrior.
The plot is straightforward – a young gymnast has great pretensions of going to the top of the gymnast’s world – and he is good enough. He meets a teacher (played by Nick Nolte) and starts to question his motives and his journey.
He has a serious motorcycle accident that seriously injures him and brings into question his future as a gymnast. He falls into depression and contemplates ending his life and goes up to a building with a wide parapet high above the ground. There he meets an image of himself, as he once was, doing handsprings and other tricks on the narrow ledge without any fear of falling.
As they struggle together his image – which is his ego – starts to fall off the ledge and is held by the crippled gymnast. During the struggle he looks at his image and says you have got to die and lets go of his ego, which plunges to the ground below.
After recovering from his injury and starting to practice again, he persuades Nolte to take him to a special place. Nolte takes him on a long hike through the mountains with the gymnast asking,
“When are we going to get to this special place?”
Eventually they arrive at a place the gymnast asks what there is about this place and Nolte picks up an ordinary piece of rock. Our hero then realizes that the message is that it is the journey that is important, not the destination.
That the achievement of a gold medal is not as important as the journey of self-discovery required in the training and the sheer enjoyment of performing as well as one can.
The masonic ritual mirrors these two messages – control of the ego (even its death) is essential, and the masonic journey is to be enjoyed – wherever it may lead, and our lives should be used to the best of our talents for the improvement of life here.
This paper was shared with me just a few days ago and in that it supports my personal opinion of Freemasonry I have decided to share same with fellow Freemasons in an attempt to fill some holes that may exist as to who and what we are and what it is we are trying to accomplish.
Personally, I believe each one of us is on our own personal journey and the route we commit ourselves to is a totally personal matter and based on our own personal experience.
We must also recognize that, should more information be shared with us, are perfectly entitled to alter our route and move forward once again.
I firmly believe that this paper has a wonderful message to share and commend the writer on his efforts.
Have a wonderful Day & God Bless