What is Freemasonry
Assembled and edited by VW. Bro. Norman McEvoy
Victoria Columbia No1
Grand Lodge of BC&Yukon (Canada)
After much deliberation, , I have come to the conclusion that there are a great number of things we SAY in our Rituals, and in and about Freemasonry, that seem to mean many different things to many different people, and in fact may even have been heard once or twice and never thought of again.
With this thought in mind I have decided to tackle many of these words and phrases and with your help, by way of feedback, try to cast some light as to what I think was the intent when written by our forefathers
This I intend to approach from both an Exoteric (outward & apparent) and Esoteric (inward & hidden) perspective
To begin. Very early in our Masonic lives, we are asked “What is Masonry” and we are instructed to state:-
“It is a System of Morality, Veiled in Allegory and Illustrated by Symbols”
Lovely words indeed, but what do they mean, and what is expected from all of us who call ourselves Freemasons???
Let me begin by tackling the word “Morality” which we can see comes from the word
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary gives the following definition,
(a) Of, or relating to principles of right and wrong in behaviour
(b) expressing or teaching a conception of right behaviour,
(c) conforming to a standard of right behaviour
(d) sanctioned by or operative on one’s conscience or ethical judgment.
This sounds very easy to understand, as from our family upbringing and personal everyday life experiences we have been taught the difference between right and wrong.
Right behaviour and conforming to what society perceives to be RIGHT behaviour is a little trickier, but generally speaking, as intelligent mature adults, we can be expected to act and behave in an appropriate manner in keeping with the circumstances.
Then we have the matter of operating within our own conscience and ethical judgment.
This tends to get in the way of doing something where we feel “the end justifies the means” But we know from the outset that our conscience is telling us otherwise.
But in the end, we as individuals and, specifically as Freemasons, have taken an obligation to live Moral lives, and as such “the greatest judge should be our personal selves”, always realizing that we are ever under the watchful eye of the G.A.O.T.U.
Now that we have dealt with Morality lets move on to Veiled in Allegory .
This I will again approach from both an Exoteric (outward & apparent) and Esoteric (inward & hidden) perspective
Let me begin by giving you the definition of the word “Allegory”
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary gives the following definition,
- the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence
- a symbolic representation.
In the “Freemason’s Guide and Compendium by Bernard E. Jones, he states.
“Allegory has much the same meaning as parable. We may call it a word-figure having two meanings, one literal and the other spiritual”.
So what does all this mean and why is it so important to us as human beings & Freemasons?
I recall a saying that states “ A picture is worth a thousand words” and if I follow that to be true then surely acting out a play conveys a much more vivid and memorable message than the reading of a book.
This becomes even more apparent if the story has not been written down or the audience does not have access to books or would be unable to read them even if they had them.
Now for what I consider to be my favourite allegory/parable from the Bible
It can be found in the Book of Luke Chapter 10 Verses 25-37 and presents the story of the Good Samaritan.
For me, it is interesting to note that the characters in this story have no names and are simply identified as coming from various stations in life or race of people.
I believe this to be incredibly significant as, as Freemasons, we learn that charity does not need a name, as the act is significant in and of itself.
The Allegory in this case “Love thy neighbour as thyself”
Other very familiar allegories are the stories told to small children in teaching them the difference between Right and Wrong, Truth and Lies and all other sorts of meaningful messages.
In Freemasonry, as we all know, Allegories are very heavily used in all Degrees, but most particularly in the Master Mason Degree.
Now for the message I wish to convey, it is this:
In telling a story to our child or grandchild, we take great pains to make sure the story is a good one, that it is conveying the correct message and the experience will be loving and memorable.
With that thought in mind, does it not make sense for all of us, when presenting ritual, to make that same effort in our own personal preparation
It is my opinion that it would make a huge difference for both the candidate and ourselves.
Lastly we are left with “Illustrated by Symbols”
This I intend to approach from both an Exoteric (outward & apparent) and Esoteric (inward & hidden) perspective and in doing so I am leaning very heavily on the “Freemasons’ Guide and Compendium” written by Bernard E.Jones.
On Symbolism: He writes;
“The first learning in the world, we are told, was chiefly in symbols, and the wisdom of the ancient peoples was largely symbolic. All religious systems, right back to the dawn of history, taught their devotees by means of symbols, as witness some of the symbols associated with the Christian religion, but known still earlier to the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks etc.
Symbols were a part of man’s most primitive religious ideas, often meaning something to the Initiate and nothing to anyone else. “In a symbol there is concealment but yet revelation” says Thomas Carlyle, “silence and speech acting together, the infinite blending with the finite.”
Symbolism has long been associated with religious personages. Scores or hundreds of saints have their own symbols–ranging from a pot of ointment for St. Mary Magdalene to a hive of bees for St Bernard; from shoemakers tools for St Crispin to a builders rule for St Thomas.
A dove with olive branch in its beak is the symbol for Noah. The Kingly figure standing under an arch is the symbol for King Solomon.
The Early Christians are believed to have used symbols—a fish, dove etc., engraved on their rings and seals—as a means of revealing their faith to fellow Christians without betraying themselves to their prosecutors.”
As Freemasons we are incredibly familiar with the use of Symbolism in the furnishings of our Lodge Rooms, in the conferring of our Degrees and in the jewelry that we wear on our persons.
Personally, I like the use of symbolism in my life,
The Gold Ring I wear on my left hand reminds me that I am married, (happily at that.)
The Celtic Cross I wear about my neck reminds me of my Irish heritage and the fact that I am a Christian.
The Masonic Ring I wear reminds me constantly of my Obligations.
I am quite certain that, without much searching, we can all identify with Symbolism in some very personal way.