What Come You Here to Do?

Photo by: Colin Frankland

Photo by: Colin Frankland

What come you here to do?

My Brothers, this is one of the great questions in all of Freemasonry!

As those of us in the fraternity know, it is actually one of the first questions we ask an Entered Apprentice Mason in his first catechism lecture.

The earliest ritual reference of which we have record is Prichard’s Masonry Dissected, published in 1730. I have read all the early ritual exposures and I can assure you this question and the subsequent answer given to it is not commonly found in the pre-Grand Lodge or early Premier Grand Lodge era ritual workings. In fact the answer appears in no other English ritual exposure from 1696 to 1769. In the single ritual text in which it does appear, the answer is given thus:

Not to do my own proper Will,
But to subdue my passion still;
The Rules of Masonry in hand to take,
And daily Progress therein make.

It is possible this particular catechism was used in early Operative Masonry because it is a didactic memory technique for learning. And this method of learning (using rhyme) dates centuries earlier than even the Regius Poem, (c. 1390),—purported to be the oldest didactic in Masonry. It may have also originated in 18th century continental Masonry, but again, there is no other reference to the question and its follow up answer in any other English ritual exposure from 1696 to 1769.

In a 1738 French translation of Prichard’s exposure, we find it once again. This time the question is worded What do you wish to do here?; and the answer given is; I do not inspire to follow my will, but rather to subdue my passions, while following the precepts of the Masons and making daily advancement in this Profession.

And then there is a 1745 French exposure entitled “The Broken Seal” where we find the questionWhat do you come to do here? With the answer; To conquer my passions, subdue my desires, and to make new progress in Masonry. 

It appears the consistent theme in each of these exposures is that the primary task of an Entered Apprentice is to subdue his passions and then, using the lessons of Masonry, to make progress in his life.

Now, the first thing almost every Mason will notice is that the answer given in the old catechisms is not the answer taught today in the ritual workings of our contemporary lodges. In fact, I would suggest that today’s answer has a much deeper meaning. It was developed during the early 19th century; when Masonry was a far more philosophical than moral undertaking. It commonly goes something like this: What come you here to do?

To learn to subdue my passions and improve myself in Masonry.

The interesting question is this: Are there any commas in this sentence? I think that there are. I think if the answer was actually written in most Masonic monitors, it would look like this:

To learn, to subdue my passions, and improve myself; in Masonry.

If I am right, then there was a new admonition added to the task of an Entered Apprentrice as the philosophical integrity of our Craft ritual expanded; namely—that he first learns.

And I think this changes everything!

To learn is to acquire knowledge; to acquire knowledge of a subject or skill as a result of study, of experience, or teaching; to receive instruction; to find out about, or discover; to be informed of, or learn about; to teach or inform a person of something.

We have to learn there is a moral imperative, for instance, before we can subdue our passions; we have to study Masonry before we can understand it. We have to discover there is an allegory before we can interpret it. We have to be informed of its history before we can comprehend its societal relevance. We have to detect its symbolic associations before we can grasp its spiritual nature. We have to contemplate its meanings before we can experience its insights. We have to be informed of its rules and laws before we can act within the due bounds of fraternity. We have to understand the meaning of manhood before we can grasp the unique power of fraternal association. 

We have to learn before we can improve ourselves. And we are taught as Entered Apprentices, we cannot improve ourselves without first subduing our passions--without releasing ourselves from our own ego so that we can feel the brotherhood of man. And we learn as Fellowcrafts that we have to overcome and go beyond the human senses, we have to transcend the logic of human education, we have to journey beyond the paradigms of human awareness, we have to surpass even inspiration and insight, go beyond all the powers and properties, the sciences and senses of man to erect our perfect ashlar; to get in touch with divine truth--which is metaphysical—it surpasses human understanding. Then, as Master Masons, we learn that we have to finally overcome ourselves before we can achieve peace and harmony within ourselves, and in our lives.

The bottom line of Masonic teaching is that, through the journey of our degrees, we learn that Divine truth can’t be understood by the human agencies of education, or dogma, or rationale thought, or by the evidence of the senses—it has to be perceived directly. And, my Brothers, it enters into us by the path of initiation.

All of this is pretty heady stuff. Men come into Masonry to learn to improve themselves. If they are coming here for any other reason, then we are failing to represent with honesty what our organizational purpose is. Men come to us to learn. The lodge is the receptacle, the personal space, the sacred environment that will either facilitate their learning, or prevent it.

To me, this brings up another question for all of us: Which kind of facilitator is our lodge?




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The Undivided Heart

The man walked confidently as he held close the hands of the Brothers selected to guide his way in darkness about the lodge. The ceremony was his first as a candidate for the mysteries of Masonry. It was a solemn rite, with words well spoken; a warm feeling, being at the center of such earnest attention.

It was a feeling which was not new to him. He had been in such a place before—not knowing the outcome; yet holding to a faith that all would end well.

He was a Senior DeMolay. It had been a couple of decades now, but he remembered a ceremony from his past which seemed familiar to the one this night. He was revisiting time. At 13, his best friend had invited him to join DeMolay. He had heard some of the other boys in school mention the name. He had no idea what it meant. But he wanted to belong; be a joiner, to be in organizations with his friends. So, on the selected evening, he donned a coat and tie, his friend’s father picked them up, and they journeyed to the lodge hall. It was situated above the grocery store. Strange. He had not noticed it before.

It would become a place which would change his life.

It turned out, DeMolay was unlike any other organization or club he had joined in school. It was special. There was something in the words, even then, that seemed deeper, more lofty, even intimate. He was told it was an initiation. That made it seem all the more eccentric--and important. DeMolay was more than just a club. He had joined an Order! He remembered being told it was international. He suddenly belonged to something larger than his school; his town; he belonged to the world.

Now older, kneeling at the same altar where he had once knelt, his heart was in his throat. He was profoundly moved by the deja vu of the moment. He was once again being initiated.

His experience as a DeMolay had prepared him for this. The familiarity was more than incidental. He felt a connection to something he had once loved; something that had given him stability, and provided a place for centering during some not-so-easy adolescent years. In fact, DeMolay had had a remarkable impact on his life. His early successes had given him confidence, taught him how to be a team player; how to speak, how to lead. In many ways, it helped mold him for manhood. More than anything else, DeMolay had taught him how to be responsible. He remembered feeling a strong bond to the brotherhood then. He sensed this old feeling rising in him again.

And it would be the third time he had experienced it.

In college, he joined a social fraternity. Again, there was a ceremony. Once more, he had been initiated. It, too, had been a solemn thing. Listening to the words now, and flashing back to his college initiation, there was an old familiarity. Had he been here before? Or, perhaps this fraternity called Freemasonry had been with him all along! Could it be that Freemasonry was the source of all the initiations in his life? Is it possible that his feeling of belonging, his identity with a group, his love of fellow association might all be connected with initiation? Does one become enrolled into a group because of its ceremonies? Does a man better define himself by the rituals of his life?

Suddenly, the spoken words became more reverent, more sacred—more personal. He slowly repeated his obligations to his brothers; remembering from his own past the responsibility and accountability required of brotherhood. It would now be up to him to make his shared experience with his fellow Masons a special thing; just as his past fraternal attachments had proven so special.

He was brought to light, as they say—a light which illuminated more than just the room. It radiated across the past initiations of his life. He could see clearly now, could feel the bonding of brotherhood; that kindred friendship with certain others in his community and the world made special by well spoken words in secret association together. Such light penetrates a man’s heart as if it were an ancient sephiroth; filling the bowl of mankind with love and affection.

It is a singular thing for a man to drink in the meaning of fraternity; be invested with the badge of innocence and taught the duties of brotherhood. These were lessons he already knew—lessons started long ago--of which he was now certain had made him a better man.

For him, to be a Freemason was not a new beginning. It was an affirmation; the continuation of a fellow feeling which had always been there—an undivided heart which yearned only for friendship, brotherly affection, and a higher understanding of what is important in being a man.

Such an understanding which comes only to just and upright men.




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Let There Be Light

By: Jason K. McDonald

*October 2015 TLP Community Contest Winner*

I didn’t feel anxious until lights went out under the door.

It was the night I was initiated an Entered Apprentice. I had looked
forward to it for months. What did I feel walking into the lodge that
night? Excitement? Yes. Dear friends and near-strangers shook my hand,
smiling as they asked, “Are you nervous?” No. I couldn’t get started fast
enough. “No reason to be nervous. No reason to be afraid.” Why would I be
afraid? “Just remember everything will be okay.”

They escorted me into a small room and told me to sit. Soft music played
from somewhere around me. And was that incense? A small candle in the
corner, another on a shelf, and the light under the door, were all that
illuminated the room. They told me to reflect on what was about to happen.
They told me it would help me spiritually prepare.

What was I going to find? Why was I doing this? I had tried answering that
for my wife. For people at work. For myself. I *knew* it mattered. I *knew*
I was there for more than just curiosity. But every time I tried putting
the yearning I felt into words I found that everything slipped away. I
thought I understood why I was doing this . . . when you didn’t ask me
about it. But forced out of the hidden recess of my consciousness, my
reasons fled.

And then the light went out under the door. From the lodge room I could
hear talking. I couldn’t make anything out, just voices rising and falling.
The crack of a gavel. And I felt nervous. How did they know I would?

The door opened. They asked me questions. They slipped a mask over my eyes.
No, that wasn’t nervous before. This was nervous.

I can’t describe what happened next as *slow*. No, it was as if I didn’t
realize how frenetic my life had become until this ritual shifted time back
into its proper track. Why did circling the room feel so comfortable? Oh,
the tension was gone. I slipped into an almost-familiar pattern. My whole
body exhaled. I knelt at the alter. I was asked what I most desired.


Oh. There was my answer. The reason I was doing this. The substance of what
I hoped to find. Why did I try so hard to explain it to others? Light. How
could I say more? All the words that escaped my grasp were concentrated
those five letters. But I cannot see how I will ever exhaust their meaning
before I die.

It was over. It was wonderful. But it was also remarkably ordinary.
Ordinarily remarkable? No. No need to be clever. It was light. My spirit,
which had been standing one-half step outside my body for years, was
finally, firmly planted back where it belonged.

What was it I felt then? Contentment? Serenity? Tranquility?

Was that all?

What else was there? Why would I want more?


Brother Jason McDonald is an active Master Mason in Damascus Lodge #10, Provo, UT. A student of the esoteric aspects of the craft, one of his primary interests is how Masonry is an expression of the human creative spirit.

Professionally, Brother McDonald holds a PhD in instructional design and currently is the director of digital publishing at a regional publishing house in the western United States. He is a passionate researcher and writer, and a lover of wisdom in all its forms.







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