ALAN B. TURTON
Worshipful Master, Internet Lodge, No. 9659, United Grand Lodge of England
PM, Hope of Kurrachee Lodge, No. 337, Grand Lodge of Scotland
Brethren, my little talk tonight will be examining the 1st Degree’s Allegories, Symbols and teachings through some hidden imports of our “Left Hand Pillar.
Masonry is a mystery story veiled in allegory and illustrated with symbols, part played out, part implied and hinted at and I would like to bring one of those parts to your attention. Our Left Hand Pillar is the symbol of strength within our first Degree and placed in the entrance porch of our Temple, King Solomon’s Temple. Masonic ritual as all good mystery stories and fairy tales conveys far more than at first meets the eye.
It’s a fascinating mystery hunt that benefits from our attention and inquiry. I hope here to inspire you all to a little digging into the rituals we all play out. Our Pillar is portrayed in the Book of Ruth, a short and rather moving story in the Old Testament and like our ritual the tale is also veiled in allegory and contains hidden imports. By understanding these we gain more insight into the relevance of our Pillar bringing light to the mysteries of the first Degree in Masonry. The relevance of our password and it’s relevance to the teaching’s of the 1st degree are all in a large part explained by the shortest book in the bible and the story goes like this.
THE BOOK of RUTH
Now Ruth a Moabite girl married into a family of Bethlehem Jews, who were in Moab due to a famine in their home land. The family consisted of Elimelech, wife Naomi and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Mahlon marrying Ruth, Chilion marrying Orpah another Moabite girl. Sadly after a short period of time along with their mother in law Naomi all were widowed. Naomi tries to persuade her daughters in law to return home not wishing to be a burden to them, but Ruth stays to support her mother in law, remaining totally loyal to her marital family, their religion and she returns with Naomi to Judea, to their family home of Bethlehem whilst Orpah decides to stay in Moab.
As the harvest comes round Ruth goes off to glean corn in the fields to support Naomi and to survive together over the coming winter months. (The poor had a right in law to glean corn which is the gathering up of wheat the reapers left whilst harvesting). She works long hard hours to gather enough for them both to survive the months ahead and avoids the attentions of the reapers who would make her work gleaning a little easier. Her loyalty and fidelity to Naomi along with her hard work and long hours are noted as was with her chastity in not engaging with the reapers and particularly her charity in supporting Naomi.
This effort, determination and perseverance, – gavel and chisel in our first three tools -, is noticed by the land owner who made inquiries with his overseers and was told she was hard working, of good character and worth.
He was told of her relationship with Naomi, her loyalty and her keeping faith with her adopted religion. He rewarded her with his protection and allowed her to glean with his hand maids, drink the water drawn by his men and invited her to eat at his table easing her burdens. When she returned home and told of what had happened, Naomi directed Ruth to return and lie at her benefactors feet, as a hand maid.
Ruth complies and he awakes to find her lying at the foot of his bed. Bemused and on asking her reason for being there, he is a little affronted by her answer. Ruth is told she is under no obligation to him and gives her six measures of barley saying she must not return to Naomi empty handed and He blessed Ruth “May God, who rewards the pious, also reward you”. Our landowner on further inquiry finds that Naomi is a distant relative and sets off to the town gates to meet with the elders and heads of the families to invite Naomi’s nearest kinsman to buy her land and redeem them both.
Her kinsman Goel is unable to redeem Naomi and Ruth due to his own family burdens and so our benefactor steps in before the elders of Bethlehem and in the presence of Naomi’s kinsmen, asking to redeem Naomi’s land and marry Ruth thus protecting and redeeming them both.
We gain insight into this benefactors honor and the expansiveness of his charity, from kin in the person of Naomi to community and to Ruth, a stranger and foreigner from Moab. His etymology records “Pious, Just, a Learned Judge and Great Redeemer”. Redemption is to protect, love and be merciful expressed in Hebrew as Hesed which is loving kindness with no expectation and within, but above and beyond the limits of law.
Goel however has the import of the limit of law expressed in it’s minimum requirements. I will bring up this concept later in discussing charity. The name Ruth means friend. Each name has an import reflected in our first degree. I hope this inspires you to look beyond the veil in the journey we make. There are two more answer in this story which I’ll explain later.
OUR 1st. DEGREE. RITUAL
Our candidates enter our Lodge stripped of posessions, haltered, guarded and slipshod. We are asked if we enter freely and with no mercenary desire. We are asked if we have a worthy opinion of those we are before, a desire for knowledge and a wish to be of service to our fellow creatures and lastly if we will proceed with intent avoiding both fear and rashness and to abide by our customs. Moving on we took a solemn obligation followed by both qualifications and proofs in the Address we were instructed and tested on the virtue of Charity and lastly we were directed to compassion for our Brothers.
In the Charge delivered by WBro. Trevor last month we were taught about our loyalty to The Craft, our Religion, our Country, our neighbor and lastly to ourselves.
“To your neighbor, by acting with him on the square, by rendering him every kind office which justice or mercy may require, by relieving his necessities, soothing his afflictions, and doing to him as in similar cases you would wish he should do to you.”
Our land owner certainly conforms with the above in the kindness and mercy he showed to two strangers in soothing their afflictions and reliving their necessities. Also in the formal way he made his bargain. He was a senior member of his society, a Judge and humbly put himself before Naomi’s family and under the judgment of the elders of his community. His actions and demeanor have great resonance with the ritual and principals of our 1st degree.
Ruth also reinforces many of those lessons taking care of her mother in law, leaving her home land and journeying to a strange land with a different culture whilst destitute. She displays great character, independence, integrity and perseverance in caring for Naomi and avoiding the easy path offered by the reapers in the fields.
OUR LEFT HAND PILLAR
This pillar of course represents our land owner and redeemer in the Book of Ruth. His name is written upon every Freemasons mind through the catechism we all learn after Initiation. That name is B O A Z and with our Worshipful Masters permission I will pronounce that word BOAZ. Further to what we are taught in our ritual from his marriage to Ruth he begat Obed, Great Grandfather to Solomon as Boaz was to David and Obed fathered Jesse.
Interestingly David took his Father Jesse and mother to Moab for safety from King Saul whom David later succeeded creating the line of David and which even Queen Victoria considered herself a descendant of Jesse and of the Royal line of David. The tree of Jesse is represented in many churches and he is considered one of the four who died without sin.
Our eighteen cubit bronze left hand pillar filled with scrolls signifies strength bearing the etymology of Boaz, “He comes in strength”. Boaz not only bore the accolades of just, pious, redeemer and learned judge but stood as a Ruler in Israel in the time of the Judges as he came from before the time of Prince Rulers and Kings. Revered for his compassion, mercy and love he bears the honour in posterity being remembered as Great Judge.
And we learn from the Book of Ruth most kindly and generous.
Here I’d like to have a little look at Charity within the 1st deg. and establish it’s place within and set along side our ritual and it’s many symbols and allegories. For Brethren we are not a Charity but much more and I’ll start with a little history to help explain.
In the 12th century Maimonides is the first person known to write down thoughts on Charity. He is properly known as Moshe (Moses) Ben Maimon, a philosopher, physician and Rabbi. He was born in Cordoba, Spain in the Almor-avid Empire on Passover Eve, in 1135 or 1138, and died in Egypt on December 12, 1204, whence his body was taken to the lower Galilee and buried in Tiberias.
He worked in both Morocco and Egypt and his major work is a philosophical treatise titled “A Guide to the Perplexed”.
The conflict between religion, scientific and empirical inquiry is a question that we attempted to resolve in the 18th century Enlightenment, the time of the birth of speculative Freemasonry and still debated today. A Masonic quest if ever there was one.
His thoughts on ordered society and its resolutions read as though they came straight out of our ritual and these were the hot coffee shop topics for our Enlightenment Brethren.
Maimonides asked these and other questions and his quest through life you may consider sheds more than a little Masonic light.
He considered “Charity” whilst writing about and interpreting the Law, Judaic law. The word “Charity” having the same meaning as “Justice”. The giving of Alms is a requirement of most of the world’s major religions, principally Islam and Judaism but also includes the major religions of the Indian sub continent and the Far East. He wrote 14 volumes on Judaic Law which are still in use today and as part of the law, he produced a sort of Charity score board or index by which to consider the matter.
Starting with the least virtuous it reads as follows:-
1. Giving begrudgingly.
2. Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
3. Giving after being asked.
4. Giving before being asked.
5. Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity.
6. Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.
7. Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.
8. Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant.
History Over Brethren
So we Freemasons kick off at No. 7. Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity. This played out in our initiation ceremony, “I have nothing or freely would I give”
And “So far as his circumstances in life may fairly warrant”.
This takes us back to Ruth and her Kinsman Goel representing the limitations of the law in his actions. Now No. 8 Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant can take us the step beyond into philanthropy as it requires our interest, our time and our personal attention. So now we have Charity, Justice and beyond into Philanthropy. Our example of course is our land owner and his actions in going above and beyond the limits required by law but staying within it’s moral and ethical confines and principals.
We as Freemasons are committed to our civil society working and paying taxes that provide hospitals, schools, civil amenities and support for those without; fulfilling our legal obligation. We made a further commitment by entering our Lodge and Freemasonry extending the principals of this to our society and it’s good order.
We render Alms, but Brethren may I suggest we go much further in the Masonic and other charities we support, as that support also requires our commitment, our time and interest. It is therefore not just alms and I know within Freemasonry and without in your personal time you all commit actively furthering the society of which you are part in many altruistic ways.
From our charge “Let Prudence direct you, Temperance chasten you, Fortitude support you, and Justice be the guide of all your actions. Be especially careful to maintain, in their fullest splendor, those truly Masonic ornaments which have already been amply illustrated: Benevolence and Charity”.
This expresses Justice or Charity in both moral and ethical senses but Benevolence and the following from our Charge takes us beyond.
“To your neighbour, by acting with him on the square, by rendering him every kind office which justice or mercy may require, by relieving his necessities, soothing his afflictions, and doing to him as in similar cases you would wish he should do to you.”
Our land owner Boaz, his Hesed or Loving kindness and Maimonides’ No 8 Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant definitely takes us beyond into philanthropy.
The first and most important starting point to all this is the etiquette we learn in Masonry both in the Lodge and after breaking bread together. It is the charity of thought and dialogue we share within our Lodges and gatherings that is the most fundamental form of charity and benevolence, sitting squarely, on our founding principals, “Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth”.
If we can manage to practice outside our Lodges all those lessons inculcated within it we can change our world and the worlds of all those around us.
To put this in order I will start at the end because the revelation of your initiation into Freemasonry does not become apparent till after. As a consequence of, and after your ceremony of initiation we dined and you broke bread with your new brothers we the all formed a circle linking hands forming a chain and a beautiful piece of dialogue was delivered explaining the significance of your evening.
I’m going to quote one or two pieces from that dialogue relevant to our being “SLIP SHOD” and the close of this talk, take a look at it’s origins and Masonic custom.
Our chain. First: your welcome.
“Thus Brother Initiate, you are received with open arms into Freemasonry, into this, the St Philip’s Lodge, your mother Lodge, and into our hearts in this circle of brotherly love. You will observe that each brother’s arms cross the breast of the brother next to him on either side, emblematically to shield the repository of his secrets, should the need arise, from the attacks of the insidious”
Second: the expansiveness of our principals
“Notice also that our hands reach beyond our immediate neighbours signifying that Masonry does not stop at helping our Brethren only but stretches out the hand of friendship to the uninstructed and popular world to do good to all mankind”
Third: our foundation
The swaying motion implies that the chain is being strained and tested but remains firm and unbroken, symbolising that so long as Masonry remains true to those grand principles on which it is founded – Brotherly Love – Relief and Truth – it can never be broken.
And lastly: our blessing
In Masonry we usually refer to Almighty God as the G.A.O.T.U., and so tonight we pray that the G.A. in his unbounded wisdom and goodness will be pleased to grant you many years of health and happiness in Freemasonry, with wisdom and strength to serve Him as you ought, and to discharge your duties to your fellow creatures to your own complete satisfaction.
Basically you were warmly welcomed, reminded of our principals, their foundation and given our blessing. So how was this Slip Shod slipper deal sealed?
First in Ruth by Boaz at the gates of Bethlehem with the Elders and Naomi’s Kinsman Goel settling the estate of Eli-melech, Naomi’s late husband on Naomi’s behalf and taking in Ruth as his wife.
Secondly, Masonically entering our Mother Lodge for the first time.
And now to close we’ll take a look at it’s origins and Masonic custom.
A little background to what I am to tell you, first from Masonic Historian J.S.M. Ward and second from a friend the late Reverend Neville Barker Cryer. Ward states that in ancient Greece and Egypt a shoe was removed in times of danger and war. He also explains that Persius removed a shoe in the purification ritual of removing the Gorgons head recorded depicted on a vase. Nearer to home and in Skye only as far back as 1772 the groom at a wedding unties one shoe to make the bargain.
In Masonry it is a pledge of fidelity as in the book of Ruth where Boaz removes his shoe passing it to the Elders and they to Naomi’s kinsman Goel as a sign of sincerity in sealing the bargain of Redemption taking Naomi and Ruth into his care, into his family and Naomi’s Daughter in Law, Ruth as his wife.
In Scottish Ritual two verses from Ruth are read to the candidate and then a dialogue is presented to the candidate which we in the North of England have sadly lost in the passing of time. Much closer to home, on the web site of the Province of East Lancashire, Especially for Entered Apprentices and forming part of their Masonic Education Scheme, a paper “Preparing the Candidate for Initiation” written by a friend of mine, the late Rev Neville Barker Cryer. Neville was a regular speaker at our Sheffield Masonic Study Circle and I’ll leave you with some of his words and I quote: “The story goes that when Boaz wanted to make Ruth part of his family he made his way to the gate of the town where the heads of the families met. There he took off one of his slippers and handed it to the head of the family of Naomi in which Ruth had become a member. When the head of the family accepted the slipper it meant that he approved of the person named leaving his family and joining that of the person whose slipper it was. So Ruth became the wife of Boaz, or probably one of his wives. A slipper given was the sign of joining another family. That is what is now to happen to the candidate. The lodge hands over a slipper and the candidate by accepting it agrees to become the member of this new family of the lodge.
The slipper also means something else as some early rituals show. The question was once asked, “What is that which you are wearing?” The answer was, ”An old shoe of my mother’s” and the meaning of that exchange was that the candidate was recognizing that from the start of his Masonic career he was indebted to his new Mother Lodge for something needed in his Initiation. He is at once reminded of the bond that is being formed between him and his new Masonic family”.
Neville, his warm words and love of Masonry are sadly missed.
When we were initiated we made a few promises amongst which we made a commitment to make a daily advancement in Masonry and use the Volume of the Sacred Law as our guide. I hope my little talk has fulfilled that daily advancement and Ruth has brought a little light. But above all, returned you all, to that peculiar moment when you yourself, poor and penniless, Slip Shod and in want of Light were admitted into this the St. Philips Lodge, your Mother Lodge and in an old slipper your Mother gave you.
Brethren, thank you for your kind attention.
VWBro. Rev. Neville Barker Cryer PGChap -Preparing the Candidate for Initiation
St. Philips Lodge 7116 Ritual book (Sheffield Ritual
J. S. M. WARD. AN EXAMINATION OF THE MASONIC RITUAL
KJV Bible Book of Ruth
http://bible.gen.nz/ruth/ruth.htm Dr Tim Bulkeley, 2004.
The political culture of Judaism By Martin Sicker P99 – 105
Leo Jung Rabbi author & philosopher 19th century
(Paper delivered to St. Philips Lodge, 12.03.2015)