Masonic Education

An Allegory for the Esoterically Inclined Mason


Let’s use our imaginations a little, and hopefully to worthy ends.  First, let’s envision two Masons, Brother Bookman and Brother Wright, both of whom are intelligent, goodhearted, and beloved members of the Craft.  They are alike in many ways, yet significantly different when it comes to sports.

Brother Bookman is quite the sports aficionado, but he has never actually played any sports and isn’t personally athletic at all. Nonetheless, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of every major professional and collegiate sport, their histories and major figures, as well as the training methods, techniques, tactics, and strategies of each game. With all that information in his brain, people often seek him out whenever they have questions about sports.

Brother Wright, on the other hand, only has a somewhat average knowledge of the history and current events of sports, and often has little to contribute when talk turns in those directions. Even so, he did actually play football, basketball, and baseball as a kid. As an adult he has kept a more or less daily fitness routine and has played on church softball and basketball teams.

With these two imaginary brothers in mind, and supposing all other things about them are basically equal, let’s consider these questions:

1.      Which of these two brothers would you expect to be in better physical health?

2.      If you were going to begin a personal physical fitness regimen, would you be more likely to approach Brother Bookman or Brother Wright as a workout mentor and partner?

3.      If you were going to put together a lodge softball team or fitness program, which brother would you more likely recruit as the leader?

4.      If you had to choose, would you rather be more like Brother Bookman or more like Brother Wright?

Now consider this entire exercise as an analogy, where sports represent esoteric subjects, athleticism represents contemplative practice, and physical fitness represents psychospiritual wellbeing.  What does this suggest to you about any interests you might have in Masonic esotericism?




For more information on Bro. Chuck Dunning: CLICK HERE

Chuck Dunning has authored: Contemplative Masonry: Basic Applications of Mindfulness, Meditation, and Imagery for the Craft

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There's Work to Be Done

 HDRtist HDR -

By: Guest Contributor - Wor. David Tennison

In his book ‘But I Digress’ Dr. Jim Tresner responded to a Brother claiming that Jim was a ‘Masonic Expert’.  Jim stated that he was not a Masonic Expert.  In fact, he said, there is no such thing as a Masonic expert.  Then he took it back.  He said that there is one Masonic expert: You.  You are the expert.  Since masonry is an individual journey, you determine what it means to you.  This is what the Working Tools of the Entered Apprentice Degree mean to me.

The Working Tools of the Ritual may be mystical pictures of ineffable ideas, but to me they are foremost actual tools of wood and metal, without which no man can long continue to be a man.  They are used symbolically in the Ritual to represent all tools everywhere.  Tools belong to work and therefore belong to man in his capacity as a worker.  Tools are therefore not extraneous to man, detachable, accidental, or incidental, as if he could lay them down or take them up when he might fancy, but belong to what he is, and the tools in his hand belong as much to him as the teeth in his head.  Nowhere in nature is there a way for a pair of shoes to be made, or a suit of clothes to grow out of the back of a sheep, or for bread to bake itself.  It requires work, and therefore it requires tools.

The respect for labor itself and sympathy for the working classes are purely Masonic.  Masonry has made the working man and his associates the heroes of her principal legend, and the companion of kings.  Work should not be regarded as a curse but a blessing. To be able to work, to create something, whether it is a poem, a piston or a pot roast is a priceless privilege in which God allows us to participate in His creative nature.  All work is noble.  And every man has work to do in himself, upon his own soul and intellect.

The Entered Apprentice Degree is possibly my favorite degree.  A new world opened before me and the old world was left behind.  Groping in darkness as an Entered Apprentice, I was shown light, but only partially, in stages or degrees.  At every turn I was instructed. Dr. Mackey suggests that initiates into the old Schools of Mystery or Knowledge are not permitted to enter the inter-sanctum or shown the secrets until they had been purified, usually by water or fire.  He suggests that the Rule, Gavel and Apron are symbols of that purification.

I think that it is significant that I received the Working Tools of this Degree after I was given my Apron.  I was told, among other things, to “let its pure and spotless surface be to you an ever present reminder of a ‘purity of life and rectitude of conduct,’ a never ending argument for nobler deeds, for higher thoughts and purer actions.”  This signifies to me, that I am given a job, then given the tools.

The Twenty-four Inch Gauge is well explained in the ritual, but the significance of one point is sometimes overlooked. The Entered Apprentice is taught that he should rightly divide his time.  Time is a precious commodity.  There is no time to be wasted. There is no time to be idle. There is no time for waiting.

The implication is plain; I should be always ready to use my tools. Recall the words of Flavius to the workman in Julius Caesar, "Where is thy leather apron and thy rule? What does thou with thy best apparel on?" Freemasonry is not only for the lodge room but for life. Not to take the Twenty-four Inch Gauge into the world is to miss the practical application of Masonic labor and Masonic charity.

The origin of the word ‘gavel’ is unknown.  Dr. Albert Mackey proposed that it came from the German word for gable and when you look at it you can see that it resembles the gable end of a roof.  It is actually two tools: a hammer for crushing stone and a chisel for cutting stone.  The ridge of the chisel is parallel to the handle enabling the stone cutter to get into corners, align his strikes with existing marks and direct the chips of rock away for him.  It is a finishing tool that turns a rough stone into a finished stone.  Stone masons of old had the skill to fit stones so precisely that mortar was not needed.

As an Entered Apprentice, I am reminded of my “rough and imperfect” state and of the need to gain understanding of my imperfections and control of my passions. It is through honest reflection and work that I form the foundation and build my personal temple.

The famous sculptor and ardent Freemason, Gutzon Borglum, asked how he carved stone into beautiful statues, once said, "It is very simple. I merely knock away with hammer and chisel the stone I do not need and the statue is there – it was there all the time."

In the Great Light we read: "The kingdom of heaven is within you."  We are also taught that man is made in the image of God.  As Brother Borglum has so beautifully said, images are made by a process of taking away.  The perfection is already within.  All that is required is to remove the roughness, the imperfect, "divesting our minds and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life" to show forth the perfect man and Mason within.  Thus the gavel becomes also a symbol for discovery.

Remember that it is a ‘common’ gavel. It is not the Master’s gavel.  It is not a badge of authority.  It is the gavel we hold ‘in common‘, tools of the mind which we all have.  I am to use mine only on me, to perfect a simple life.

The Common Gavel is an instrument of power, force and change.  But that force must be focused or it can result in destruction.  That is where the other tool of the Entered Apprentice comes in.  The 24 Inch Gage also represents Intellect.  It is used to measure and lay out his work, directing the change.

A vice is a practice, behavior, or habit generally considered immoral, depraved or degrading in the associated society.  In more minor usage it can refer to a fault, a negative character trait, defect or a bad or unhealthy habit.  All cultures and religions recognize vices as human failings.  The poet Dante Alighieri listed the following seven deadly vices in his work Inferno, associating them structurally as flaws in the soul’s inherent capacity for goodness as made in the Divine Image yet perverted by the Fall:  They are 1. Pride or vanity   2. Envy or jealousy   3. Wrath or anger   4. Sloth or laziness   5. Avarice or greed   6. Gluttony and   7. Lust

These ‘corruptions of the soul’ as Dante would put it, are a part of me and I suppose all of us.  They can appear without warning.  They seem to have a mind of their own and they can consume me.  And at times, I have been known to embrace them and take guilty pleasure in the damage they inflect.  Such is the attraction of vice.  They have ruined many great men.

But, if I am to be a mason, not just in name only; if I am initiated into manhood; if I am to learn to subdue my passions and improve myself, then I must recognize them and decide to remove them.  I must keep my common Gavel with me at all times.

I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer: God grand me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.  My Common Gavel gives me the courage to reconsider the way I react to the world around me.

I interpret superfluities of the mind and conscience as thoughts and feelings that are harmful to focus and purpose.  To me, they are like distracting noise.  Thoughts and feelings like worry, dread and anxiety.  To progress in our gentle craft, I must concentrate.  It requires honest reflection in order to attain a higher consciousness.  Only through thought and study can I hope to come to a fuller understanding of myself and the cosmos.  The common gavel keeps me focused. 

By learning to use these tools, I am then able to better use the tools in later degrees.  To better fit as a living stone for the Builder’s use. 

I recently heard a Brother state that the purpose of Masonry is to help a man answer this question, ‘Who am I…really?’  That is a good question.  It is my goal to answer that question.  A goal worthy of my finest efforts.




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David Tennison 32˚ KCCH is Worshipful Master of Guildhall Lodge #553 and Senior Warden of Guthrie Lodge #35, and is very active in the Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, and York Rite Bodies, serving on degree teams of each.  He is the current Almoner and Past Venerable Master of the Guthrie Valley AASR.  In addition, David is a member of the Temple Knights, providing security in the temple, a tour guide and assisting the office with various duties during Scottish Rite reunions.

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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