As mentioned in a previous post (http://www.theblazingstart.blogspot.com/2012/09/i-am-happy-to-report-that-i-on-friday.html), the Masonic District of which I am a part raised a large number of Masons last year, and it seems likely that this district will make a large number of Masons in this year. Given this, I thought that I would share with them some of my thoughts concerning the things to which they should devote their attentions and yield the greatest profit. This is not meant to be an exhaustive tract on every point a newly made Brother ought to consider, but rather some general commentary on matters I deem important.
In addition to pragmatic questions whose answers are simple and of little relative consequence (When do I come to the Sign of Fidelity? What do I do when I hear three raps of the gavel? When should I give “Grand Honors?”), the New Mason will be confronted with concerns of greater moment (Should I take the Capitular Degrees? Should I accept the offer to perform some part in the next Degree? Should I become an officer in my Lodge?)
The first few Lodge meetings you attend might be accompanied perchance by anxiety; you might trouble yourself concerning when to sit and stand, when (if ever?) you may cross “the Master’s carpet”, and the like. The varied points of Masonic etiquette are, in my opinion, best learned by regular Lodge attendance; your own observations and the gentle fraternal corrections of experienced Brethren will very quickly educate you in this subject. Don’t fret.
It is quite possible that you might be asked to perform some part of the Lodge’s next Degree. As you probably know by the time you are reading this, the work delivered to you during your three Degrees was done from memory. The participants in the Degree likely put in a good deal of time and effort to learn the material that you received. I recommend that, if you wish to venture a bit into the pool that is your Lodge, you start here and perform a small part in the conferral of the next Degree. As in life, wherein some will learn more quickly and with less effort than others, so too with ritual work. Have no fear of asking for help in committing the work to memory (especially if your jurisdiction has entrusted the ritual to cipher). Many will be as willing to help as you are to learn. I bid you to not study your assigned work with the sole aim of memorizing it perfectly; be sure to understand the essence and import of what you will be delivering. None should say that precision is unimportant, and I do not say that now; but I urge that you earnestly seek to deliver ritual with sincerity. Unfeeling, letter-perfect ritual delivered as though you were an automaton will be recalled by its hearers more for its stark blandness than for its educational and catalytic effect.
Please heed this: if you agree to perform ritual work for a Degree, you have not only made a commitment to your Lodge that you will perform the expected work to the best of your ability, and at the stated time and place; you have also implicitly made a commitment to those candidates (or Brothers, as the case may be) receiving the Degree. Though an elementary concept, it bears mentioning for, unhappily, I have witnessed, sadly on more than one occasion, the unexpected absence on Degree night of a Brother (even Brothers) who committed to perform ritual work.
You may be asked by your Lodge to consider becoming an officer (colloquially known as “getting in the line” or “taking a chair.”) It might be that you are offered a position other than the most basic (that of Steward). This may depend upon the size of your Lodge and the number of Brothers harboring interest in officership (although interest in officership should not be the sole qualifier for appointment; fitness ought to be considered). Consider first if you are willing and able to meet the demands of the position before you accept the place or station. At the barest minimum, an officer should attend each meeting of his Lodge, health and business permitting. The ability to attend regularly, and also to commit to memory brief pieces of standard ritual work is required when occupying principal offices – those of Deacon and higher. The Wardens and Master (not only as the Lodge’s principal officers but also as dignitaries of the Lodge) should plan on venturing out beyond the confines of their Lodge’s monthly communication to visit other Lodges, particularly when those Lodges are conferring degrees.
Perhaps you have heard of (or have been solicited to join) a concordant body. There are a plethora of concordant bodies offering a plethora of rites and degrees. Broadly, the two veins are the York Rite and the Scottish Rite. There is abundant information about both of these paths available online, so I will not treat the Rites themselves in detail; good starting places are http://www.yorkrite.org/ and http://scottishrite.org/. You will hear that no Degree conferred in any concordant body is higher than that of Master Mason. This is wholly true. The “side Degrees” of the two Rites offer further explication of various concepts brought forth in the Three Degrees of Craft (“Blue” or “Symbolic” Lodge) Freemasonry. The question now becomes, “Should I take concordant Degrees?” Of course you should.
As a stalwart (admittedly sometimes rabid) proponent of Masonic education and of grasping at every photon of Light that can be had, I can offer no other answer. I will, however, qualify my previous statement thusly: while I advocate receiving both the York Rite and Scottish Rite degrees, I feel that you ought to wait a while before doing so. I know that, if I were offering that statement in person, I would indeed be pressed for specifics – “How long should I wait?” There is no easy answer. One must admit that not all children walk at the same age, not all falcons soar to the same heights and not all fruit ripens at the same speed. While being mindful of the different rates at which we develop, consider also that the allegory and symbols of the three Craft Degrees afford a large and fertile field for study; a rigorous and expansive study of them can occupy a lifetime. It is also important to note that your pursuit of additional degrees and activity in concordant bodies does not attenuate your obligations to your Blue Lodge; be aware of the length of your cable tow.
It is surely no secret (and if it were, it is, owing to the above paragraph, a secret no longer) that I am an avid champion of Masonic education. I deeply believe that The Craft is ordered to the communication of grand and momentous truths concerning the psyche and the soul; it promulgates these esoteric ideas under its storied veil of allegory and via its symbols. You may find a very great emphasis placed upon fraternalism and charitable aims; while important, these are not the cardinal purpose of our Great Art. I urge you to avail yourself of the large body of Masonic literature that exists, and of course to converse with well-informed Brethren. I will not devote further space to the topic here, but will seek to stimulate your appetite by asking a question: Do you really believe that the magnificent rituals that you were so privileged to enjoy – rituals that are the survivors of centuries and make reference to symbols that have survived millenia – were put forth merely to teach elementary moral principles expressed metaphorically by a few stone masons’ tools?
I must urge upon you that you recall each obligation to which you acceded; strive to live out each point to the best of your ability. Note further that you were not only obligated to The Order, but to your Brethren as well. We are all joined each to the other, wherever dispersed, by preternatural ligatures, and we are equally joined to those who have gone our way before us and those who shall tread it hereafter. Call no man “Brother” unless you look upon him as equal to the man of that rank who was born of the same womb from which you issued. See additional comments of mine here: http://www.theblazingstart.blogspot.com/2012/08/on-brotherhood.html
In words that should be familiar to you, I will give it you strictly in charge that you conduct yourself as an upright man and a Mason, and that you be ever mindful to act as such in every station of your life. Each man that has made the decision to break himself away from the mass of men and approach the portals of The Craft, and has obligated himself at our Sacred Altar, is a representative not only of his Lodge but also of the larger organism of The Order itself. I say that it is positively damnable to impugn the good character of Freemasonry by any dishonorable act. Seek to be as morally spotless as the white lambskin with which you were invested. To be sure, this is not an easy task, but Freemasonry has never trumpeted any ease of fidelity to its principles, nor can any Great Work be well performed by hands that are soiled with ignominies.
Of Freemasons, I have written:
“Master Masons are Kings of earth, having abnegated the crude and the base, their feet having touched upon each stave of the ladder leading out of the pit into radiant Light. This raising up to glory, of which the Masonic raising is but a shade, is not accidental nor automatic by virtue of the ceremony. Rather, it is an act of Will – the product of reflection, study, meditation, perfect love, selflessness, and service to one’s fellow creatures. The road is long and the gate narrow, and few there are who find the path; but mark well: the True Master Mason has squared the circle and is man no longer…he has become Man.”
My words above describe the Master Mason; many have been raised to the nominal rank, but few and far between are those who remotely approach the canonical examplar of which I wrote. My exertions are ordered to attaining it. Freely I admit that I have a long journey ahead of me. As you embark upon what I wish is a fruitful Masonic career, I goad you all to strive for that lofty ideal, my Brethren…I ask for your company on this long road.