Editor, Freemasonry Today Magazine, UGLE
As we take our first steps by moving from darkness into light, we are initiated into the first of the secrets and mysteries of our Craft. We end by symbolically entering a vaulted chamber to discover that mysterious word which hitherto has been hidden behind a substitute.
This journey, however symbolic and allegorical it might be, is nonetheless real: it can change a man, it can instil morality, compassion and understanding. And this is its aim.
However, it is easy to take this masonic journey simply as an intellectual exercise, to become competent at the rituals and to serve all the lodge offices and those beyond. But to regard it in this manner is to miss the point entirely: the Festive Board celebrates achievement not prestige.
For the journey of Freemasonry is, at its centre, a spiritual unfolding. As we pass through the various experiences of the degrees we gain insight, understanding and confidence about our position in the world, in our community and in the company of our masonic Brethren. Of course, we are only able to do so if we are encouraged to think deeply about what we are doing.
It is an individual journey: the candidate is the focus of the lodge as he progresses through the degrees. It is the candidate who confronts the challenges and to whom the questions are directed. It is the candidate who takes the obligation and who is placed upright before all the Brethren. It is the candidate who experiences the ‘death of our master’ and who recognises both the transitory nature of life and the inner source of spirit – that ‘vital and immortal principle’ which guides him if, as our ritual points out, he ‘continues to listen’.
The important point is that the candidate alone treads the path through the degrees and experiences the challenges and insights. To diminish this experience is to bring a danger to Freemasonry and a danger to the candidate.
The danger for Freemasonry is obvious: to initiate several candidates at once is to step onto that slippery slope which would change Freemasonry from an initiatory society into a ‘degree factory’.
Indeed, it is not unknown for some masonic jurisdictions overseas to initiate hundreds, even thousands, at one time.
In New York in 2003, for example, 2,100 men were initiated, passed and raised in a single day. What the candidates and the organisers thought they were doing is anybody’s guess. Could it be that the extra fees generated by such an influx proved too attractive to resist? Speaking personally, this is not a Freemasonry that I would care to join.
The second danger is to the candidate: that he might see the ceremony as merely a quaint intellectual exercise, a one-act play of little consequence to his life. Such a man has been short-changed; he has not been given the chance to experience for himself something of the spiritual depth of Freemasonry. Perhaps he will leave after a few years, uninspired and unmoved by the Craft.
Or worse, he may remain but spend his time frantically chasing jewels and promotions in order that he might use Fre emasonry not as a source of insight and self-improvement but of aggrandisement; such Freemasons harm our fraternity.
In order to help us touch the depths and explain our symbols we have our Orators; in order to be guided by those who have long been on the journey, we have our Mentors. Both are vital to the continued health and growth of our Craft – a fraternity which is especially important today with our world in such moral and economic turmoil.
That our Craft has developed out of a source of great wisdom is not in doubt: our three grand principles, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth make this abundantly clear.
All three are important but it is perhaps the last which is rather difficult to fully comprehend for Truth runs deep. For that reason it is impossible to define or limit.
Truth is not to be seen in a legal sense or expressed as some command which cannot be changed. Truth is greater than that.
It can usefully be termed ‘Integrity’, that is, as relating to the interconnection and harmony of all we see about us: it denotes the ocean of which we see only drops of spray in the wind.
In addition we can say that it concerns a balance, a completion, a wholeness. In short, it is one way of referring to matters spiritual. Of course, here language quickly becomes insufficient; we cannot talk about it, we can only experience it.
Truth is to be experienced, individually. And our ancient grand principles demand that we are given the chance.