Freemasonry

Masonic Ritual Is An Innovation

When the Worshipful Master is asked at his installation if he agrees that it is not in the power of man, or any body of men, to make innovations in the Body of Masonry, it is important to understand that this charge is intended for the preservation of the organizational structure of Freemasonry, and not its ritual ceremonies. More than one Grand Master or Custodian of the Work has attempted to apply this admonition to Masonic ritual itself. Yet a brief review of ritual development and its many forms across the landscape of Masonic jurisdictions will quickly show this question taken from the “Old Charges” has nothing to do with the ritualistic aspects of our fraternity. Our founders never intended that ritual ceremonies remain static. Prohibition to innovation does not apply to Masonic ritual as this is the single basis upon which all Light in Masonry is transmitted and revealed.

Even the insistence by the United Grand Lodge of England that “pure, ancient Freemasonry consists of three degrees only, including the Holy Royal Arch” is historically inaccurate. Grand Lodges have always been entitled to decide for themselves exactly of what their ritual consists.

The only “pure, ancient” Masonic ritual in the world is the ritual that existed in 1717 when the first Grand Lodge was formed. We know what that ritual was because it was widely published in three early Masonic manuscripts in the form of catechisms still extant from the period of 1696 to 1715, all of which came from Scotland. The amazing thing about these exposures is that they found their way to use and adoption by English Lodges. More significantly, we also find in them much of the foundation upon which all later Masonic ritual was erected--the method of placing the feet, mention of the “prentice” and “fellow-craft,” the five points of fellowship; the mention of the square, compasses and Bible in the same context; the porch of King Solomon’s Temple, the basic penal sign; the penalty—there is much to recognize here. It is beyond coincidence that we find these characteristics in common in all of these old catechisms.

And one other point is extraordinary in all these workings: Degrees are not mentioned. When the first Grand Lodge in the world was created, there was only the ceremony of making a Mason—an “Acceptance and the Master’s part.” In fact, we have no evidence of a three degree system, or a third degree, prior to Samuel Pritchard’s famous exposure entitled “Masonry Dissected,” published in 1730.

This makes the Master Mason degree in Masonry an innovation!

Serious historians agree that the third degree was introduced into Masonry around 1725. It became popular over the next two decades primarily because Masons adopted Pritchard’s exposure as an aide to the memory work. His unauthorized work essentially became the first Masonic Monitor; and would be the unofficial ritual book of Freemasons for decades. It is also the first mention we have of the Hiramic Legend.

No one knows where this story came from, but it is surmised that Desaguiliers may have been the author, being Grand Master in 1719 and Deputy Grand Master in 1722 and 1726. This was the period when the third degree was introduced into the ceremonies of the premier Grand Lodge. Logic suggests that Desaguliers and his Masonic friends in the Royal Society could have been responsible. Certainly, nothing could have been introduced without their approval. In fact, the Craft changed dramatically while Desaguliers was on the scene. The Grand Lodge went from an annual feast to an administrative body, complete with minutes and policy direction for lodges, including the structure of its degrees.

Desaguiliers, if he and his friends were indeed the authors of the third degree, turned Freemasonry into a new path. By 1730, the ceremony we know as the Royal Arch had been developed, which was the revival of an ancient Greek story dating to c. 400 AD. By 1735, the Rite of Perfection, consisting of 14 degrees, was introduced, setting a biblical chronology to the structure of Masonic ritual. Both the Royal Arch and Rite of Perfection, innovative as they were, were declared by members as “revivals” of ancient Masonry because they automatically imparted an artificial façade of age on the degree or order. After a few years, even Grand Lodge historians were writing that these added degrees were revivals of an older system. It became fashionable to believe there was nothing innovative to them at all!

Of course, all of the new degrees/orders were adopted on a single premise—what had been lost in the third degree had to be found. For this reason, all of them show an amazing similarity in structure—all show signs of emanating from the same source, with the same regularity of form. Even as additional degrees developed, they retained a “traditional” structure.

This similarity in structure is further evidence that our Masonic degrees, were, in fact, created in a wave of fashion. They all intimate there are great secrets to be found by the dedicated follower. And indeed, there are.

At the same time that degrees and orders were growing by leaps and bounds in both the York Rite and Scottish Rite traditions, Masonic ritualists in the craft lodges continued to add to the language of the first three degrees, adding substance to their form. During the second half of the 18th Century, an extraordinary growth in intellectual meat was added to the bones of the old “pure and ancient” concept of the few simple catechisms of 1717. In fact, ritual development and expansion continued to be fashionable as a means of educating the craft until well into the 1820’s.

We had, in effect, created a school of education which thrived for nearly a century until Grand Lodges, primarily in America, determined there should be only one ritual; one set of words—that which was adopted by them—and everything else didn’t count. The American Grand Lodges established yet another innovation in Masonry—that ritual was fixed in time—their time. They had decided for themselves that pure and ancient Masonry was their Masonry alone. Masonic ritual became a fixed and stagnant thing.

This 19th century innovation may have marked the beginning of the decline in Masonry. It was during this era that Grand Lodges collectively decided there was nothing more to be learned in Masonic ritual. Our words were frozen in time.

I’m now wondering if it is time to create yet another innovation in Masonry; that of educating Masons that ritual use should be a dynamic process, just as learning is dynamic. Of course, we don’t need to adopt more words. But consider how instructive it would be if ritual diversity could be introduced as an added tool for instruction; if alternative ritual systems already adopted in other Jurisdictions across the world could be exemplified at the will of the lodge and sanctioned by Grand Lodge. Imagine how exciting and invigorating it would be if we had ten or twelve different ritual workings available to us in every Grand Jurisdiction!

Perhaps it is time to make Masonry fashionable again, both through the variety of its ritual form and the development of its intellectual form; where lectures, essays, and dialogue are shared regularly in lodge—all focused on enlightening the mind. Maybe the most instructive and informative papers could become a part of the printed monitors of Masonry; not to be memorized, but to be sanctioned and published for the benefit of those who want access to more knowledge in the ways of Masonry--those who know that More Light in Masonry is not the propriety of Grand Lodge, but rather, the individual and his brothers on their collective quest of a lifetime—a seeking for that which has been lost in the words; and their meanings.

In exercises such as these, would we not once again be practicing “pure and ancient” Masonry? It might just be another innovation worthy of our ancient craft.

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Brotherhood in the 21st Century

By Guest Contributor: Bro. Byron J. Collier

Photo Credit: Tiffany Roberts Photography- Lodge Veritas  No. 556 Officer Installation

Photo Credit: Tiffany Roberts Photography- Lodge Veritas
No. 556 Officer Installation

As Freemasons we pride ourselves on the antiquity and history of the Craft, but will our ceremonies and ritual in and of themselves be enough to satisfy future generations? The future will demand a better understanding of what it really means to be a Mason through better knowing ourselves and practicing those principles we have all vowed to uphold in our oaths or obligations. I further believe that the silent example of men with integrity who display the moral and social virtues of good men, and who do the right thing for righteousness sake, will prevail and fill the societal gaps created in this new age.

In order for our fraternity to not only survive, but thrive, we must make the welcoming of new members and retention of existing brethren an important part of what we do in Lodge. The experiences of an Entered Apprentice’s and Fellowcraft’s first few months, and a new Master Mason’s first years will determine how they view Freemasonry for the rest of their lives. This is why commitment to mentoring and the sustaining of fellowship is relevant, now more than ever. I believe our Lodges should strive for better masons rather than more Masons.

There’s an old story about a man who was considering offering himself as a candidate to Freemasonry. He selected one of the two Lodges in his local area. After he was made a Freemason a friend asked why he had selected his particular Lodge. His reply was that after interviews with officers from the two Lodges, his selection was easy because one Lodge was very interested in him as a candidate while the other was interested in him as a brother. Which do you think he chose?

Although we make our meetings more interesting by social events and Masonic education, the driving force that brings Masons together is our fellowship when we meet; whether at Lodge meetings or by chance encounters on the street. It does not take very long for a new Mason to realize that he can expect to form new friendships for the rest of his life. However, one of the major dangers comes when the “newness” of the Masonic experience begins to wear off. When a man's attendance becomes irregular or he stops coming to Lodge it suggests that: 1) his priorities have changed, 2) he is becoming overwhelmed with Lodge duties, or 3) something has changed in his life. In order to find out what has changed for the brother, we must be willing and able to engage in open and frank dialogue.

To get to the point of honest and open conversation with our Masonic Brethren we must be closer. We must make a concerted effort to elicit the views and feelings of all members, not just a few. Therefore, if the formality of a lodge meeting impedes input from some members we must recognize that and solicit their opinions at less formal meetings or by one-on-one discussions. It is important that every Brother feel that he is not left out, that the Lodge welcomes his views, and that "has had his say."

One of the more common pitfalls that we must be careful to avoid, is just associating with our perceived like-minded Masons, for we can create what appears to be "cliques." I say perceived because sometimes we don't spend enough time to fully understand all of our brethren. They may be like-minded more than we realize!

Finally and most importantly, we must practice openness and tolerance. Openness to feel free to discuss delicate issues, human issues that are important to making and keeping good relationships. Because we are all different, each of us comes from different backgrounds and each of us think and act differently; therefore, we must get to know one another sufficiently so that we can converse on a level that will promote friendship and at the same time avoid discord. We must also assume an attitude that is completely tolerant of the views and ideas of our fellow Brethren. We may feel that their idea or point of view is wrong, but we must recognize that they have their own reasons for their expressions, and it is not our lot to judge them for that. As people we all say and do things that later we wish we could take back. Well, we can openly try to take them back by being honest with ourselves and try to right those wrongs and to quickly and easily forgive those transgressions by others. I daresay we all know brethren of the Craft who for one reason or another are in some level of emotional dispute with other Masons. Are these disputes really important in the grand scheme of things? I truly believe that good honest discussion would make most disputes non-existent. We each must learn to seek out and accept admonitions and whispers of good counsel from others, and at the very least have some accordance by "agreeing to disagree."

I ask you to consider and to practice that openness, tolerance and to express a genuine interest in your fellow Freemason, the man you call Brother.

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BYRON J. COLLIER has over 20 years experience working in the financial services industry. As Founder of Artemis Capital Group, LLC,   Byron has served as its President and Managing Member since 2003. He was a Vice President of Investment Banking with Chicago Investment Group, LLC and held management positions within Global Custody at Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc., (JP Morgan), and Consumer Lending at United Jersey Bank (Bank of America). Byron received his baccalaureate degree from Howard University, Washington DC, and continued with graduate studies in International Business and Commercial Finance at New York University, New York, NY.

Byron served on the Business Advisory Board of Datameg Corporation (OTCBB: DTMG) and is actively involved with local community services including his church as Superintendent of Sunday School for the Ebenezer Baptist Church in New Brunswick, NJ. His interest in world history and cultures has led him to extensively study religions, philosophies, and esoteric traditions, which ultimately led him to the Masonic Fraternity.

Byron was raised to Light this past June and is a member of Jerusalem Lodge No. 26, in Plainfield, New Jersey. As a true lover of knowledge, Byron seeks to discover the meaning and Light that is present within the diaspora that is mankind and, applying this Light to his own spiritual path, help others in their journeys.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE LAUDABLE PURSUIT, PLEASE SEND ARTICLES OR IDEAS TO:  EDITOR@THELAUDABLEPURSUIT.COM

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Getting to the Big Picture

I attend a lot of Masonic meetings throughout the country; have personally got to know hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men. For decades, I have watched men go about the daily activities of being Masons, whether in their conduct of lodge business, performing degrees, participating in statewide and national conferences, giving community service, or just hanging out together as men. I pay particular attention to how Masons do things together and relate to each other in their conversations. I observe these things because we claim, as Masons, that we are supposed somehow to be different than the rest of the world of men.

The theory is that, through our unique experiences of joining, we have a different insight about the inner nature of things. We have been transformed as human beings.

It’s hard to explain to someone on the outside what it actually means when we say we have been transformed—that Masonry is a transformative art. In what ways are we actually changed by our experience of becoming, or being, Masons? Sometimes it is easier to answer these kinds of questions with other questions.

What would it be like to live your life as a work of art? To think of your life as a masterpiece in progress. To build your own temple which is your life. That is what our building image is all about in Masonry. How would you shade it, mold it, shape it into whatever it is that you think would be an absolute ideal for your contribution while you are here on this planet? What should be the unfolding of your humanity? What is it you would really like to have said about yourself? Whose life would you look at and say; “that is what I would like to have said about me. That is the right example for me.”

I suppose these are just other ways of asking the age-old questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? But these are the central questions in Masonry.

Most people, at some point in their life, wonder what constitutes real success in life. Is it the creation of wealth, property, or assets? Is it to be popular, or to serve others, or to have abundant amounts of free time? Is it to be blessed with a loving family, close friends, and lasting relationships? I imagine all of these things have to do with our perceptions of success. Certainly, they all “feel” like success to me. But Masonry suggests we take a slightly different approach to how we think about success. It’s all very personal. If it could be described with words in a "first-person" context, it might read something like this:

As a Mason, I wish to consciously create a sense of what I am here for. How I’m going to live my life that I have, doing it in service to others, affirming a sense of spirituality about myself; and maintaining a sense of compassion and caring and love and decency for others that I meet. Treating conflicts and difficulties that come my way not as something I have to conquer or overcome, but as opportunities to see how I, as a human being, may transcend these things. And, in the practice of living, not to use hatred or anger and bitterness in beating someone down in order to get where I want to be. 

That's a pretty good start toward living a respected life. If we focus our thoughts and actions in a direction that enables us to feel at peace with ourselves and the world, it would be difficult to argue we have not been successful. Freemasonry facilitates how we look at and respond to life to achieve such success. For example, it teaches us how we go about making our life unfold as the universe unfolds, with a real sense of perfection, harmony, and peace without abdicating our usual role in life. We learn that such balance is indeed possible and attainable. I should think such an ideal would have wide appeal. I know it appeals to thoughtful Masons because it is a recipe for success.

In fact, I think it is a lesson that’s been told for centuries. It’s an attitude of knowing that we truly are spiritual beings, even while having a human experience. And we make the quality of that experience available through our thoughts—our mind—through our divine connection.

Freemasonry does not concern itself much with the labels of society, politics, or religion; rather we talk about kindness, and love, and forgiveness, and gentleness of spirit. Our teachings admonish us to understand that we are all connected in a divine way, so the real goal is to determine what it takes for us to get to the big picture—what does it take for us to change so we can always feel harmony and balance in our life?

The answer, of course, is different for everybody. But that’s not the point. The path to the big picture may be different for everyone, but the understanding has to be that the big picture is there and its availability is there for everyone.

We call this big picture Masonic Light, which simply means the awakened life.

Freemasonry transforms men through the process of its initiatory experience, by the repeated liturgy of its ritual, and by its many associations with the ideals of manhood. It enables us to get in touch with that part of our psyche which allows us to become transformed--to get in touch with our mind, to experience the metaphysical--to truly practice the big picture and know in our heart and soul there is more to life than what our body experiences. There is something underneath life that gives it purpose; that works, and has a lesson for each of us. It reveals to us that every experience is a teacher. Everyone we meet is a teacher. We are all students of life. And even when our life is in turmoil, there is an underlying law that will bring us harmony. There is order, even in chaos.

My observations of Masons everywhere lead me to suggest we all tend to have the same sense of reverence with everyone else in the fraternity. Maybe this happens because our ritual experience enables us to become more acceptable to love. We understand we are one and the same as brothers. We begin to treat our fellows with the same respect that we want for ourselves. We recognize they are, in the overall scheme of things, a mirror of us.

We come to realize that what people think about expands. And we always have a choice. We can concentrate on the negative, let our passions rule, be judgmental of others, feel hate. And we can be assured these negative feelings will expand in our own minds, and to our circles of friends. Or, we can be brothers, feel brotherhood, take our duties and obligations seriously, and convert what we feel to others. It is a great truth that the collective consciousness begins with each one of us.

As Masons, then, what we believe and think about as Masons expands. If we want to make men better, we must believe that that will really happen when men become Masons. If we want to bring brotherhood to the world, we have to believe that brotherly love will be experienced and understood by everyone who enters the fraternity. If we want to make the world a better place, we have to believe that we can make a difference in it with our own life. If we want people to know that Freemasonry has great value today, we have to believe that it is relevant in our own hearts, and can be as real in theirs.

The Sufis said; “If you don’t have a temple in your heart, you will never have your heart in a temple.”

Freemasonry is about having a temple in your heart.

So our message to the world is really very simple. If we but keep our character, our morals, our ethics, and our reputation as fraternal men as pure as our Masonic teachings would have them, then we can’t help but be successful. It is nothing less than our journey into the unknown to discover our relationship to the big picture—our own awakened life.

That is a pilgrimage worth making. Because it is right—and right expands.

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