Masonic Lodge

Sacred Space in Freemasonry

BY: WOR. JASON E. MARSHALL

A version of this was published in the May 2015 Edition of Living Stones Magazine

We are taught as an Entered Apprentice that a Masonic Lodge is a symbolic copy of King Solomon’s Temple, and as a Brother progresses through the Blue Lodge degrees he gains access to increasingly sacred parts of the temple. In the Master Mason Degree we are also taught that a Tyled Lodge of Master Masons meets in the unfinished space, where once completed the divine presence of G*d would reside on the “mercy seat” atop the Ark of the Covenant. This Holy of Holies was so sacred to Jews, that only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and he could only enter on the holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

We should take note of the fact that the authors of our Masonic ritual chose to symbolically hold a meeting of a Lodge in the most sacred place imaginable to Jews, where only the holiest of men could enter, and only on a special occasion. This wasn’t chosen by accident, or as a mere addition to a storyline or a narrative. A Masonic Lodge meets in the unfinished holy of holies because a Tyled Lodge is a sacred space, and it should be reverentially treated as such during every meeting and every degree.  General levity, tomfoolery, or any unseemly or off-colored conduct perverts the purpose and sanctity of a Tyled Lodge. The time spent in a lodge is not supposed to be ordinary time; instead, it is meant to be sacred time that is set apart from the profane and material world. Also, the men who enter the sacred space of a Lodge are not supposed to be ordinary men, rather they are initiates that have been set apart from the profane.

This setting aside of special sacred spaces and time in order to conduct sacred rituals and conduct spiritual work is not unique to Freemasonry, because it is present in almost every spiritual and religious tradition.  The Romanian religious historian Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), developed a theory that has become known as “the myth of the eternal return”, which is also the name of his most well known book. According to Eliade spiritual traditions are based on, and depend upon, hierophanies, which are manifestations of the sacred into the material physical world. According to Eliade religions, myths, and spiritual traditions, require splitting the world into a sacred world (gods, ancestors, mythic beings/creatures, heaven) and the profane world (the material world in which we normally reside), and these two worlds are polar opposites. According to Eliade, “all the definitions given up till now of the religious phenomenon have one thing in common: each has its own way of showing that the sacred and the religious life are the opposite of the profane and secular life”.[1]

If the two sacred and profane worlds remained at a perpetual distance religion would be pointless, so there has to be a bridge between the sacred and the profane worlds that allows for a hierophany to take place. This bridge takes place in sacred places, where through the use of rituals the adherents return to a mythical age in order to commune with the sacred world, thus creating a hierophany. The sacred spaces that allow for the hierophany cannot be ordinary everyday places; instead, these special places must be set-aside (sanctified) for the particular spiritual purpose.

According to Eliade:

The architectonic symbolism of the Center may be formulated as follows:

1.   The Sacred Mountain – where heaven and earth meet – is situated at the center of the world.

2.   Every temple or palace – and, by extension, every sacred city or royal residence – is a sacred                   mountain, thus becoming a center

3.   Being an axis mundi, the sacred city or temple is regarded as the meeting point of heaven, earth,            and hell.[2]

Holy places such as churches, cathedrals, mosques, monasteries, and temples are quite literally the “center” of spiritual life, because they serve as the bridge between the sacred and profane worlds. According to Eliade, “The experience of sacred space makes possible the ‘founding of the world,’ where the sacred manifests itself in space; ‘the real unveils itself,’ the world comes into existence.”[3] The Masonic Lodge follows this sacred model, because the Masonic Lodge is where initiates are brought from the darkness of the profane world into the world of Light. Also, we are taught that the Masonic Lodge not only represents the layout of King Solomon’s Temple, but also encapsulates the entire world and universe:

A Masonic lodge is therefore to the instructed brethren a symbol of the world… and the world and the universe are made synonymous, when the lodge becomes, of course, a symbol of the universe. But in this case the definition of the symbol is extended, and to the ideas of length and breadth are added those of height and depth, and the lodge is said to assume the form of a double cube. The solid contents of the earth below and the expanse of the heavens above will then give the outlines of the cube, and the whole created universe will be included within the symbolic limits of a Freemason's lodge.”[4]

However, a sacred space alone is not enough for a hierophany to take place, because the rituals and time spent in the space must be of a sacred nature. According to Eliade, “…the reality and the enduringness of a construction are assured of by the transformation of profane spaces into a transcendent space (the center) but also by the transformation of concrete time into mythical times, ‘once upon a time’ … that is, when the ritual was performed for the first time by a god, an ancestor, or a hero.”[5]

Masonic ritual is steeped in the mythical folklore surrounding the building of King Solomon’s Temple, and the rituals that we undertake transform the normal everyday material time into sacred spiritual time. The rituals transport the candidates and members back into a sacred (mythologized) time and place, and the candidates and members take on the roles of mythical figures. Also, in Masonic ritual phrases and gestures that would otherwise have little meaning or significance become the passwords and tokens that prove membership, and provide for the transmission of Light. According to Eliade:

 “We have distributed our collection of facts under several principal heading:

  1. facts which show us that, for archaic man, reality is a function of the imitation of a celestial archetype.
  2. facts which show us how reality is conferred through participation in the ‘symbolism of the center': cities, temples, houses become real by the fact of being assimilated to the ‘center of the world.’
  3. Finally, rituals and significant profane gestures which acquire the meaning attributed to them, and materialize that meaning, only because they deliberately repeat such and such acts posited ab origine by gods, heroes, or ancestors.”[6]

Our Masonic forefathers took care to make the Masonic experience a sacred and transformative experience. Although Masonic ritual as we now know it predates any theories by Eliade, our ritual follows the patterns and traditions of every spiritual and sacred tradition since time immemorial, and we must respect and follow the sacred formula in order for Light to manifest (to allow a hierophany to take place). We must remember that a tyled Lodge is a special place that is intentionally set apart from the outer profane and material world, so we must treat the Lodge room with the respect that it deserves. We must also remember that a Lodge meeting is a sacred time where our ancient rituals are performed and the craftsmen lay down the working tools of the material world in order pick up the Masonic working tools, so that we can be transported into the very place where Light resides and is transmitted.

Within our hallowed walls, our rituals turn profanes into initiates, and allow Masters to continue to hone their craft. The laudable pursuit of the craftsman is a journey, a quest, to discover and manifest Light, and this cannot be done passively; instead, it requires active engagement and purpose. When a lodge takes the time and energy to purposefully undertake the spiritual work of the fraternity, Freemasonry becomes much more than just a mere social club, it becomes a sacred endeavor that is truly transformational on the individual and collective level. This is the experience that many of us sought upon our first admission into the Lodge, and it is an experience that is attainable. It just requires work and intentional action. Brethren must purposefully join together for a sacred purpose, and we cannot be content with mere rote memorization and recital of Masonic ritual. Instead, the entire egregore, the collective conscious and purpose of the Lodge must be centered around manifesting and transmitting the sacred Light from the GAOTU into the sacred space of the Lodge, where it can be experienced by brethren. This experience of the sacred Light was essential to illuminating the pathway of our forefathers, and with proper stewardship and intention it will continue to illuminate the pathway of current and future craftsman.

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[1] Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1996. P. 1.

[2] Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return or, Cosmos and History, Princeton Univ. Press, 1991, P. 12.

[3] Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane : The Nature of Religion: The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987, P. 65-66.

[4] Mackey, Albert, The Symbolism of Freemasonry, The Masonic History Company,  P 104-105.

[5] Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, P. 20-21.

[6] Id at P. 5.

The Symbolic Teachings of a Mechanical Pocket Watch

By: Special Guest Contributor - Wor. Shawn Carrick

                                         (C) Michel Villeneuve - 1999

                                         (C) Michel Villeneuve - 1999

Masons are taught many different lessons throughout the three degrees of Masonry. Not only when we experienced them as a candidate, but also as we provide the degrees to the new Brothers and as we sit on the sideline. There are many items that are used to impress the lessons of Masonry upon our consciousness. One item that is not used to impress the lessons in our work but that I have embraced because of the lesson I believe it will teach, is the mechanical pocket watch.

Most recently a Brother shared his newly acquired Dudley Masonic pocket watch, and I started to think about all the movements and parts of a pocket watch which must occur together in unison for the dial to be able to provide the correct time.

The parts that compose the inner workings of the pocket watch are numerous, intricate, and dependent on each other. Looking at the diagram, we see that there is not just one or two gears, rather there are a number of gears, springs and other smaller parts working in unison. Each dependent on the other, no matter how large or small the part is. You may be asking what lesson might be taught to us from this simple and useful tool.

I believe that the pocket watch is emblematical of the Masonic Lodge, each part of the pocket watch contained within the walls of its case representing the membership of the Lodge. Just as the pocket watch has the numerous, different and unique parts working together, so a Lodge has its numerous members each one unique and different from each other yet working together to improve each other. This view is not to say that everyone has to be actively engaged in the lodge, as are the gears and springs of a pocket watch.

Rather, remember that the gears and springs are just two parts of the watch. In addition to the housing of the pocket watch, another part of the watch that we can relate back to the Lodge is the different plates that support the gears and springs. These plates are also emblematical of the members of the Lodge that are not actively involved with the workings of the Lodge at every meeting and event but are active in the background not always completely seen but providing the needed support and encouragement for the lodge and the membership to be able to function successfully.

There is also another teaching provided by the Pocket Watches inner parts. When the springs and gears of the pocket watch fail to work together in unison with the support of the plates, the pocket watch may begin to function less reliable as time passes on.  In the Lodge, when the members are not working together in unison the Lodge may similarly suffer and unlike a pocket watch with all its parts unable to leave from within its case, the same is not true of Lodge members in relation to the Lodge.

A successful Lodge is one that is able to reach its goals with each member of the Lodge working together in unison, combining those that are active and those that are being supportive, like that of a properly working pocket watch to ensure that the work is completed. I hope you will look at this tool and let it impact your consciousness as you consider how your Lodge is or is not similar to that of a proper working mechanical pocket watch.

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Wor. Shawn Carrick is Past Master of Red Wing Lodge No. 8 in Red Wing, MN, a member and Past Master of Montgomery Lodge #258 in St. Paul, MN, Scribe for Overseers Chapter No. 103 in Hastings and he is currently District 26 Representative for the Grand Lodge of Minnesota.

Wor. Carrick began his Masonic journey in 2006 thanks to a co-worker and the experience has taught him how to improving himself by the teachings of the Masonic degrees and Masonic writings that he has read. He believes that education in the Lodge is one of the most important aspects for a Brother to work on and to share in their Lodge’s as they travel and become even better men. 

Wor. Carrick lives in Red Wing, Minnesota with his wife and 2 sons.

If you would like to contribute to The Laudable Pursuit, please send articles or ideas to: Editor@TheLaudablePursuit.com

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The View from the Master's Chair

By: Wor. Jason E. Marshall

(Published in the January 2014 edition of Living Stones Magazine)

In 2014 I was truly blessed and honored to have served as the 5th Worshipful Master of Lodge Veritas No. 556, in Norman, Oklahoma. I, like almost every current or past master that I’ve ever spoken to, had mixed emotions about the position after my installation. On one hand, there was a sense of satisfaction, in that I felt as if I had accomplished a goal, or finally reached a summit that I had been working towards, especially given the fact that I had been a blue lodge officer for the entirety of my Masonic career. I began the chairs at my mother lodge, before leaving my mother lodge to focus exclusively on Lodge Veritas when it was created in 2009. There was also a sense of urgency given that unless I served a second term, I only had one year to accomplish the agenda and goals that I had been putting together for the previous three years. Finally, there was also a since of isolation, given that in a very real way the Worshipful Master is on an island in the east, and all eyes symbolically and literally look to him for direction. Above all though, there was a feeling of duty and responsibility that I owed to not only my lodge, but the fraternity as a whole.

My first meeting as Worshipful Master was surreal in many ways. First, my lodge performs a fairly unique entrance (at least for my state), where the entire lodge and visitors enter the lodge together by performing clockwise circumambulations. There are several reasons for this, which include: ceremonially cleansing the sacred space, establishing a sense of group intention regarding the work at hand (Egregore), and on a practical level it is convenient to have all of the brethren come in at the same time in order to make sure that all cellphones are off, everyone is properly clothed, everyone is actually ready to start, signal an end to casual conversations, etc. During our circumambulations all members and guests make the first circumambulation together, then the non-officers and guests fall off after passing the Tyler's doors, then non-dais officers fall off on the second circumambulation, and then finally during the third full circumambulation the dais officers (J.W., S.W., and W.M.) take their stations. During our circumambulations the Worshipful Master is always part of the group, that is until the S.W. takes his position in the west, which then leaves the Worshipful Master to finish the journey eastward to his seat all alone. It was a very surreal feeling to be the person who not only travels the furthest in the circumambulations, but it was poignant that the journey is completed alone.

In talking with brethren, I have jokingly called this last stage of the Master’s circumambulation the “checkered mile”, given that our lodge room has checkered tile; however, upon reflection I’m not so sure that was just a joke. Looking back on my Masonic career I’ve accomplished a lot of things, some with the aid of others, and some on my own where I have had to travel a solitary path. I am pleased to say that I have done a lot of things right, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve also made mistakes, and I still carry the emotional scars from several big mistakes. Therefore, the checkered pavement, and the last checkered mile that I walked towards my station in the East really reflected the usual symbolism that the checkered pavement represents the foundational level of Masonic work and the good and evil (Light and Dark) elements of life. In the journey towards M.L. we are each traveling Eastward, and along that path there will be ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies; however, we each have the choice to decide whether the checkered pavement will make us bitter, or if we will use it to make us better. We will also face times in our journey, where we must push forward on our journey alone, if even for a short period of time.

Upon taking my seat, I was struck by the dramatic view of the altar which was dimly lit by the candlelight of the lodge room, and framed by the smoke rising from the pot of incense in front of it. While I had a similar view in the west, there was a very different feeling viewing it from the oriental chair. I think the difference in feeling was in large part due to the Master’s position of being the spiritual heart of the Lodge, as well as the center of manifested power within the lodge. As a Senior Warden, I had to react to the will of the Worshipful Master, while as the Worshipful Master the other officers, and brethren as a whole, had to react to my will and pleasure. I don’t say this in an egomaniacal way, because there is a great deal of responsibility that comes with the power instilled in a Worshipful Master. The Worshipful Master’s position represents the sun, Light, wisdom, and King Solomon himself. Therefore, the Master is not only in charge of the organizational aspects of the lodge, but he is the transmitter and facilitator of Light within the lodge, and as such he has a tremendous responsibility.

The power of the Worshipful Master isn’t absolute, because he must still rely on the other officers to perform the work of the lodge. First, the power to open and close the lodge flows from the Master to the Senior Warden, who then communicates the Master’s order (Transmits the power) to the Junior Warden, who then transmits the order to the craft. This is similar to how the Tree of Life works in the Kabbalistic tradition. Each Kabbalistic world contains ten sephirot, which are arraigned in the familiar Kabbalistic Tree of Life pattern. The Tree of Life acts like a circuit board of spiritual energy. The power begins at the top sephirot Keter, which then flows from one sephirot to another until finally ending in the lowest sephirot Malkuth, which then manifests its energy into the world in which it resides. The sephirot act like switches and relays on an electric circuit board that react in specific ways as energy moves through them. In the same way, the duties of officers and members manifest as the orders (power) of the Master travels through the lodge.

In order for there to be an orderly lodge, the pillars of wisdom, strength and beauty must also be present, and once again the Master must rely on others for these to manifest. The Worshipful Master represents the pillar of wisdom, yet he must still rely on the Senior Warden (strength) and the Junior Warden (beauty). Basically, when you have wisdom to contrive and strength to support, then you will have beauty to adorn, and if even one of the pillars is absent, incomplete, or disharmonious, the other three will surely fail. Therefore, the Master must take care to ensure harmony and unity of purpose among all of the officers and brethren, especially between himself and the Wardens.

Finally, after the closing charges, my lodge meets at the altar for a chain of union, which is followed by our lodge song, and then finally we circumambulate counter-clockwise out of the lodge room to close the sacred space. The chain of union is a reminder for me of the bonds that unite us into a sacred band of brothers, this bond can be strong or weak, depending on the commitment and work that formed and maintains those bonds.

The counter-clockwise circumambulation that I led out of the lodge room was a reminder for me that as the Worshipful Master I was the representative of the lodge 24/7 during my tenure, even if I was outside of the tyled lodge. Therefore, anything that I did, whether good or ill, would reflect back on the Lodge. I think this was the most important and unnerving thing as Master, because while running the meeting was relatively simple, and with planning relatively drama free, it was a bit unnerving to realize that my every action inside or outside of a tyled lodge was a reflection of my lodge as a whole. Accordingly if I took an unpopular stance my entire lodge, whether they liked it or agreed with it, would be ostensibly taking the same stance. Therefore, as Master I had to take special care to utilize and reflect the teachings of our fraternity in all aspects of my life, so that I not only reflected positively on my lodge, but the fraternity as a whole, which has blessed my life in so many ways, and which granted me the opportunity to lead my beloved Lodge.

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Thank you for reading The Laudable Pursuit!

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