“the design of the Masonic Institution, is to make its votaries wiser, better and consequently happier.” Masonic Ritual
"The true spirit and design of Freemasonry demand an education above and beyond the mere conferring of degrees."—M.W. Bro. John W. Vrooman, Past Grand Master of Masons in New York
The great comedian Alan Sherman once used a joke in his “Peter and the Commissar” which has stuck with me ever since the first time I heard it.
He said, “We all have heard the saying, which is true as well as witty, that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee.”
Now I actually think the camel is a superior beast. It is able to store up fluid and go for many days without food or water over pretty unfriendly terrain. Camels, if well treated, are more inquisitive, affectionate, and attention seeking. However, they are a little more "emotional" than horses and less consistent in their reactions. In other words, they are less predictable than horses. They also seem to need the company of other members of their own species more than horses. Camels also seem smarter than horses about getting themselves out of a precarious situation
However, we did not come here to debate the merits of Camels or horses tonight I am going to talk about Freemasonry. Where it came from and what was it designed to do.
A fragment of lower jaw recovered from a Serbian cave has now been dated as the oldest hominin ancestor found in this part of Europe. The fossil was dated to between 397,000 and 525,000 years old, a time when distinctly Neanderthal traits began to appear in Europe. These ancestors met in Lodges and were responsible for all of the ancient temples, pyramids and other buildings. They built Stonehenge using marvelous anti-magnetic sleds to move the largest stones -- right? If you believe all of that I have a bridge (now in Arizona) I can sell you. You can believe the first part of the paragraph. That is provable.
Modern man may have Neanderthal DNA - We have been around a very long time. However there were no Masonic Lodges at that time no matter what some may claim today.
My friend Jerry Marsengill once wrote that “Masonic myths and would-be historians who write their Masonic histories as they think they should be written started with the imaginative Dr. Anderson, who made a list of all the men throughout history whom he would have liked to identify as members of the Masonic fraternity, beginning with Adam and ending with the founding of the Grand Lodge in 1717.
In this history he lists such names as Euclid, Abraham, Moses. Charlemagne, etc. and presents a regular succession of Grand Masters from the beginning of the world down to his own time.” We have these types with us today. In fact I remember one talk at SP 678 that would fit into that grouping.
Humans first climbed out of forests and found other places to live. Some adapted caves as homes, either temporary or more permanent. Decorated caves show us that magical rites were performed in them to insure a good hunt so that there would be food on the table. These were probably the first “churches” or religious centers where humans petitioned the deity or deities as the case may be. A class of priests developed who were able to perform rites and ceremonies to invoke their gods. These caves became sacred sites. In more recent times we have rediscovered them, and we marvel at the artistic sophistication of early humans.”
There is a Masonic extended trowel lecture which speaks of how other creatures also were builders but it states that
“…in man there was a vital spark that the bird, the beaver,
the wasp or the spider never knew; inspiration, not instinct,
guided his budding soul, a divine discontent with his habitation
seized him; the hole in the rocks no longer satisfied his cravings
and he began to build out in God's glorious sunshine; feeble
were his efforts, few his tools and mean his creations, but he was
Crude shelters took the place of dank and dingy dens; a roof
sheltered him, the embryonic pillars supported the crossbars, and
as the years waxed and waned he built better and better until his
aspirations attained their highest form in the completion of the
magnificent cathedrals of Europe, the masterpieces of his mind
Someone, somewhere at some time came out of the cave, …. Someone, somewhere at sometime figured out a method for passing on …information from one generation to the next – each generation adding on to that knowledge and understanding,
Many of the ancient buildings were designed to facilitate the observation of the skies and the heavenly movements. From these observations grew knowledge of the geometric nature of the universe and the understanding of patterns, which they were then able to put to practical use in building the ancient wonders of the world and eventually the great cathedrals of Europe.
These great gothic cathedrals take some of their design from the branching of the trees in a forest. When you walk into one of them you are reminded by the great soaring arches of the branches that come together overhead as you walk in the forest. In fact in the recent royal wedding in Great Britain Catherine had actual trees on each side of the aisle. Their natural extension was the stone arches above.
The evolution of their design culminates in the magnificent Sagrada Família a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926).
Construction of Sagrada Família had commenced in1882, Described as the most complex building ever made. 'The most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages' - Entire families have given their time, talent and lives to its design and construction, It remains unfinished to this day.
In the same way Masons of the Middle Ages who built the Cathedrals of Europe also gave their time, talent and lives to the design and construction of the Cathedrals.
“These builders were Masonry's progenitors, at first an operative
science, it reached it's fruition as such, mounted yet higher and
became a speculative art. (Its end aim the building of a perfect
character, the realization of the designs on the trestle board of
the Great Architect of the Universe.)”
There are two schools of thought as to the Origins of Freemasonry. One school - the “romantic” school points to many possible origins i.e. Solomon’s Temple, medieval Knights Templar, Rosicrucian, Essenes, and ancient Egyptians. The other school, the one that I subscribe to (unless I am engaging in flights of fancy about “Secret Princes of the Hidden Temple) is the “authentic school described in the extended trowel lecture quoted previously.
Historical evidence and research suggests the transition from operative Masons of Scotland (first) and (later) England to the speculative society we have today. It took a great many men to work together to build them and the apprentice system was designed to bring youngsters into the work and train them in the builder’s art. At the age of 14 or 15 a young man would be apprenticed to a Master who would be responsible for training him and working with him so that eventually he would be a Master. It was a system of education. Designed to train the next generation of builders and pass on the knowledge of the builder’s art. And designed to keep that knowledge only in the hands of those who were members of the craft. Initiation ceremonies and binding oaths were developed to transmit knowledge and keep it out of the hands of the profane - the uninitiated.
In the days of the operative Masons they met in a place called a lodge, which was a temporary structure near the operative mason’s building site. Here the Mason could rest and refresh himself from the day’s labor. Here also Entered Apprentice masons could become Fellows of the Craft and were given certain “secrets” enabling them to travel and work as “Free” Masons. At that time there were only two designations. The Entered Apprentice and the Fellow of the Craft. What we know of as the Master Mason degree was developed later. Masters were simply senior Fellow Crafts.
Wikipedia says that Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system
if you think about it the apprentice system was designed as a system of education. Not just the masons used it but children were apprenticed in all sorts of professions. They did not have a general education system as we do today where children would go to a school and learn a general education and at some point graduate wondering what they wanted to do in life.
The move to a Speculative Fraternity began in Scotland with the admission of non-masons into a lodge. “The starting point however, for the direct line to the modern fraternity lies in England.
As noted earlier Masons had some sort of ceremony or ritual to mark the initiation of new members of the craft. The English masons were different in that they included the history contained in the “Old Charges,” an emphasis on morality, identification of the mason craft with geometry, and the importance of Solomon’s Temple. All of these, combined with other ingredients, took place in the years around 1600. It is in this late Renaissance phase that modern freemasonry was created. And I maintain that it was designed for a purpose.
It was designed to create an institution that reflected the progressive spirit of the age, with ideals of brotherhood, equality, toleration and reason. It provided an institutional framework for almost any religious or political belief. The lodge system combined with secrecy, ideals of loyalty and secret modes of recognition created an ideal organizational framework into which the members could put their own values and could adapt for their own uses. The development of Masonry was designed as a place where men could meet together and bond in a way that provided for initiation - a place where a man is given the inner authority to own his own life, to own his own experience, to own his own responsibility.
My friend Robert Davis expresses it best when he says - “Freemasonry exists first and foremost to transform men. And that transformation takes place because one is initiated into a fellowship of men. It is within that fellowship that he is introduced to his own path to self-improvement—the journey that enables him to harmonize his individual need for fulfillment with a collective well-being. This pathway is nothing less than the road to mature masculinity.
The corporate task of freemasonry is to not only erect this path, but to make sure that its members are on it themselves; and those who come after them will also be on it.
The inherent role of any morally based male-only organization is to take on the virtues of manliness, to enhance and extend the male tradition; and to embrace that tradition irrespective of how formidable the demands any present society may place upon it.
Freemasonry’s strength lies in the fact that it offers the right model by which men can grow and achieve balance in their human and spiritual lives. It tenders a medium for collective dialogue in the ways of virtue and ethics. It offers the role of patriarchy to men—male role modeling, if you will—which guides younger men from a sort of boyish impetuosity to mature and manly judgment. It does this by leading them back to timeless, ethical, and spiritual traditions, which facilitate their own transformation and rebirth into manhood.
And it has done this for every generation of men for more than 400 years.”
Specialis Procer Lodge was designed as an example of what I feel a lodge should be. It was not designed merely to confer degrees. It was also designed so that the Brothers could grow in knowledge, could increase in wisdom and bond in fraternity.
There is no roughhouse or play in our initiation. Not for us the jocular yelling and screaming as the craftsmen look for the missing Hiram Abaft. No rough house in the degree but rather an attempt to make the meaning of the degree for the initiate the most profound experience he has ever had.
It is important to us that the winding stair and it pathway showing the Liberal Arts and Sciences be taken literally not figuratively. We expect our members to become students of Freemasonry and to study and share that study with us.
We have festive boards such as this one where papers are presented to increase our knowledge and as eating together is one of the most profound ways to build our brotherhood we eat together often, and not just cake and coffee but rather a fine meal accompanied by conversation and fellowship.
This lodge is unlike any other I have ever attended. It was designed that way. There is an Egregore present - In metaphysical terms; an egregore is the general character that binds a group entity. It may be viewed as the combination of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energies generated by people working together towards the same goal; being a by-product of our personal and collective creative processes. An egregore is that atmosphere or personality that develops among groups independent of any of its members. It is the feeling or impression you get when walking into a neighborhood that has an ambience distinct from others, or that you may experience visiting a club or association that has been around for a long time. It is a "collective group mind", an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people. It is with us when we meet. I can physically feel its presence....but perhaps I am a bit of a woooo woooo person.
As sure as I am sitting here giving this paper I am certain that the Masonic fraternity was designed for this to happen. We were not supposed to be islands alone in the stream but rather a part of a great collective that grows together and advances our own interests as well as the interests of all mankind.
Masonry advanced across our country with the advance of the flag. “Three forces for good...the little school, the little church and the little masonic lodge helped shape our nation. Tens of thousands of men became Masons. Lodge meetings were important to them and they would travel many miles to attend Lodge and sit with their brothers.
Men may be morally qualified to become Masons, and yet fail utterly to improve themselves in the art of Masonry. The failures are those who believe that the ultimate attainment of some degree of spiritual improvement is not worth the steady application that is required to achieve it. For some the collection of pins to wear on a lapel or on a ribbon around a neck is being a successful Mason. For others the gaining of long and important titles signifying that they wore a “big necklace” for a brief period makes them believe that they are Masons.
If there is a failure in our modern Freemasonry it is that we have lost sight of what the lodge was designed to do. It is not there for social advancement or fellowship and “good times” or demonstrating proficiency in a long memorized lecture, although those are all a part of what happens in a successful lodge. No its real purpose is something else. As Joseph Fort Newton says “it is a center of moral and spiritual power, and its power is used, not only to protect the widow and orphan, but also, and still more important, to remove the cause of their woe and need by making men just, gentle, and generous to all their fellow mortals.
Masonry was not made to divide men, but to unite them, leaving each man free to think his own thought and fashion his own system of ultimate truth. All its emphasis rests upon two extremely simple and profound principles—love of God and love of man. Therefore, all through the ages it has been, and is today, a meeting place of differing minds, and a prophecy of the final union of all reverent and devout souls.”
It is essentially necessary that our officers make a thorough study of Masonry in order to keep before the members the real purpose of the Institution. The initiation ceremonies must be done with solemnity and understanding of the symbolism behind every step that the candidate or Brother takes. The proper discharge of the duty of the Worshipful Master to see that the lodge is set to labor under good and wholesome instruction largely determines the success of a lodge. The success can never be computed in numbers, in degrees, or in proficiency in the ritualistic work.
Again Joseph Fort Newton, to my mind has written the best explanation of the design of Freemasonry when he says:
“God works for man through man and seldom, if at all, in any other way. He asks for our voices to speak His truth, for our hands to do His work here below—sweet voices and clean hands to make liberty and love prevail over injustice and hate. Not all of us can be learned or famous, but each of us can be loyal and true of heart, undefiled by evil, undaunted by error, faithful and helpful to our fellow souls. Life is a capacity for the highest things. Let us make it a pursuit of the highest—an eager, incessant quest of truth; a noble utility, a lofty honor, a wise freedom, a genuine service—that through us the Spirit of Masonry may grow and be glorified.
He asks, “When is a man a Mason?” and then answers - “When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage—which is the root of every virtue. When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellow man. When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins—knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds. When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself. When he loves flowers, can hunt the birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child. When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life. When star-crowned trees, and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters, subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead. When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response. When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be. When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin. When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope. When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellow man, with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song—glad to live, but not afraid to die! Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world.
If Freemasonry and a Masonic Lodge can help a man to become the Mason described by Newton then indeed it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was designed.
Light on Masonry - The History and Rituals of America’s Most Important Masonic Expose’ by Arturo de Hoyos
The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century, 1590 0 1710 by David Stevenson
Masonic Misinformation - Jerry Marsengill
The Builders - Joseph Fort Newton
Isaac Newton’s Freemasonry – The Alchemy of Science and Mysticism – Alain Bauer