A Matter of Character

“If you think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself.” –Bro. Woodrow Wilson

Perhaps it is true that all institutions ultimately move away from their orthodoxy. Times change. People move through organizations; some affect them, some don’t. Over the long haul, it is hard to keep the original definition in focus.

I am sometimes amused at how hard we work at defining Freemasonry. Every Grand Jurisdiction has at least one brochure espousing what Freemasonry is and what Masons do. We attempt to tell the world what we are, and are not; what Masons believe; what we do in lodge, the kinds of charities we support, our importance in the world, why men should join us; and even how to join.  Every state and national Masonic organization I am acquainted with offers a number of printed materials about Masonry. Essentially all have websites.

Of course, we also suffer from our share of “not so informed” information about us; often distributed by non-masonic groups who delight in taking a published interest in us. This includes anti-masons, television evangelists, individuals who print hatred just because hatred sells; and weak fundamentalist sects with the wrong mission at heart.

I personally don’t mind any of this. Certainly, Grand Lodges should make as much available in the way of Masonic information and education as they can. It helps both our members and the larger public. The anti-masonic materials do little damage. We get attention, even when the information is bad. I hold to the premise that thoughtful people will generally give little credence to information which appears biased in its content. And I’ve never met a thoughtful anti-mason.

All of this really makes little difference anyway. What does make a real difference to everyone is that we hold to our orthodoxy. The creed of Masonry is moral action. Masonry to the world is the character of Masons. The character of Masons speaks more eloquently than all the books and pamphlets written about our fraternity.   

This means that in the community where Masons are seen as men of high integrity, the fraternity stands in high repute. In the community where Masons do not have the respect of the public, Masonry has little chance of being seen as an organization of men with a beautiful system of moral and ethical teaching.     

It is just that simple. The reputation of Freemasonry rests literally in the character of each Brother. It is in the power of every member to glorify or diminish the institution.

We must recognize that most people will never read a word about Masonry or know of its philanthropies. The public’s perception of the fraternity will never be well defined. The sole basis of judging it will be the character of the men who are known to be Masons.

People do not read books—people read men. Masonry is to them what they see in the temperament of Masons. While this places an awesome responsibility on every Mason in every community in the world; it is indeed the distinction of Masonry. It is its orthodoxy.

The sad fact is that one bad example can do us a lot of harm. When one of us is caught up in some public scandal, or unethical business dealing, or an immoral act, the public takes it for granted that Masonry, for all its beautiful system of morality, either condones such behavior, or is too weak to be of adequate influence by its teachings to prevent it.  

So it really is up to each of us. The bottom line is that the Mason who lives up to the teachings and obligations of Masonry will be a man above reproach—not only to his brethren; but among his neighbors, his family, his friends, his business partners, and his community. It would be wonderful to hear the merchant say, “I have been taken in by a good many scoundrels, but never have I had any trouble with a man who wore the square and compasses.” Or, to have the minister proclaim, “I know nothing of the religious or non-religious teachings of the Masonic fraternity, but I have never heard a Mason make a disparaging remark concerning the church.” Or to have the judge say, “Never in my experience as a judge have I had a case before me of two Masons going to law.” Or, to hear non-masons say, “I frequently attend social gatherings of Masons and while I don’t know anything about the inner side of Masonry, their exhibition of good mindedness and solid behavior impress me to think that their teachings must be good.”

In fact, I would be more than delighted if most people thought our most famous Masonic emblem, the letter G, stood for Gentleman. After all, every man who wears it is to be one.

You see, we are what other people say we are. The best argument for Masonry is a good man. Just as the best example of humanity is a good human being.




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Sacred Space in Freemasonry


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 Meaning Behind the Myth of Hiram

By: Robert G. Davis, 33*, Grand Cross

Most Grand Jurisdictions have adopted what we as Masons know as the “Fundamental Principles” of Freemasonry. These have been republished many times, and represent what we often think of as the “Ancient Masonic Usages,” or foundational rules of our Fraternity.

One of these principles is that Freemasonry must be organized into symbolic degrees, and these degrees must encompass a legend of a temple tragedy. This is a curious statement because it immediately informs us of two things about our Order: (1) that its ritual ceremonies are intended to communicate something to us which was never meant to be real; and, (2) this something is overtly aimed at a tragedy, which implies we are engaged in a dark side of the human experience.
We all know there is nothing factual about the central legend of our degrees—the story of Hiram. It is a myth. The events which unfold in our drama never actually happened.

But without further explanation, this can represent a problem for 21st century men because we live in a world of information. If something is not real, then it has little value to us. And if something we thought was real turns out not to be that way, then it has even less value because we not only no longer believe in it, we also no longer trust it. This is one of the central paradoxes of politics and religion in our time.

Then, in Masonic ritual, we compound this problem of what is not real by adding a tragedy to it. On the surface, one might argue that most men see enough of the shadow side of things in their own life experience. Why should we expect a man to embrace an organization which not only focuses on that which is not real, but then brazenly delivers to him yet another tragedy of life in his experience as a Mason? The answer is that the original authors of Masonic ritual assumed every initiate already knew what a myth was and what it was designed to teach before he was initiated. This means that today, when we become Freemasons, we, too, are already to have a certain adeptship with the world of myth when we enter the fraternity. But most of us don’t. Thus, it wouldn’t hurt if the Masonic educators in our own time would spend a little time helping our new men make this 400 year leap in context while they are experiencing our ritual settings for the first time.

Here’s what we need to know about ritual and myth.

The function of ritual is to give form to human life in a way that transcends all generations and all time. The role of ritual is to imprint into each man’s psyche the same imprintings of the society in which he grows up. Whether experienced in church, a synagogue, a mosque; a legislative hall, or judicial chamber; or even in the rituals played out in a family, the purpose is always the same. The rituals are the means of such imprinting.

Ritualized procedures also depersonalize the protagonists in our life; lift them out of themselves so that their conduct now is not their own but of the species, the society, the caste, or the profession. Hence, for example, the rituals of the investiture of judges, or of officers of state; those so installed are to function in their roles, not as private individuals but as agents of collective principles and laws. Without ritualized rules which reconcile confrontation, no society could exist. The mere shattering of the ritual form is, for humans, a disaster. Ritual is the structuring form of all civilization. We all need to know the rules of the game. This is the justification for the use of ritual in Freemasonry.

Likewise, the myths of our tradition are the mental supports of our Rite; our Rite is the physical enactment of the myth.

Now, the interesting thing about myths is that the teachers in them change over time but the message remains the same. In the earliest period, man’s teachers were the animals and plants illustrating the powers and patterns of nature. Later on, they became the seven heavenly spheres, where the cosmic order became the model of a good society on earth. Of course, we have long since de-mythologized these through our sciences.

The center of mystery is now man himself. It is a curious characteristic of our species that we live and model our lives through acts of make-believe. In fact, we have lived in a man’s world since the Greek tragedies. And this is where the Hiramic legend comes in. In the ritual myths of Freemasonry, the two great tragic emotions of the Greeks--pity and terror--is laid out. With pity, we unite whatever is grave and constant in human suffering with the sufferer. With terror, we unite whatever is grave and constant in human suffering with the secret cause.
And the secret cause of all suffering is, of course, mortality itself. It is the pre-condition of life. It cannot be denied if life is to be affirmed. Yet, along with the affirmation of this precondition, there is pity for the human sufferer, who is actually a counterpart of oneself. Our myth empowers us to reconcile our own mortality so that we may overcome ourselves and the fear of our own end.

The story of H.A. and the three Ruffians plays out the great mythic image of pity and terror as expressed by the Greek Tragedies. The human sufferer is wiped out by our ceremonies, yet everything is done to point out the value of the sufferer. The terrorists who cause the suffering also suffer the same grave and constant reality of life.

This is the secret. In the process, the virtues and vices, the ignorance and knowledge, the darkness and the light of all humanity is rediscovered within each man, and these characteristics collectively emerge as the essential character of the latent hero in all of us. It is the Lost Word, that is, it is all the potentialities of life, found; but revealed only to the initiate who understands the form and substance of the journey he makes for himself.

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