Past Grand Master, Grand Lodge ALPINA of Switzerland
Honorary Grand Master ad vitam, NGLR;
Honorary Director, MASONIC FORUM Magazine
I am happy and honored to be able to bring my humble contribution on the value of rituality in Freemasonry, as it is certain that the essence of Masonic culture in its fundamental esoterical and initatory conception of man assigns to each of the symbolical Degrees a particular meaning that leaves its mark on the Rituals corresponding to each of them.
Their development is supported by certain significant phases that together lead to a “project”, warrantor of the essential and most authentic and originary characteristics of the Masonic Order. These are: Universality, Transcendency, Tollerance and Brotherhood. All of them, absolutely, in the moral exercise of Liberty, because only thus can it be justified that human beings, although different on grounds of religion, language and knowledge, can join Freemasonry.
On an even more intimate level, the candidate’s symbolic journey orbits around three moments of luminous knowledge: the moment of his approach to the three “flames” of Wisdom, Force and Beauty; the moment of the Solemn Promise; and finally the moment in which the Chain of Union is formed.
Beyond any simply intellectual logic, full and originary knowledge of Rituality in Freemasonry is a prerequisite for the development and improvement of free and virtuous men according to the precepts of their own reason and their own conscience.
In this way, in the symbolism and rituality of the initiatory path one can find the veiled teaching which could rationally seem to be lacking any meaning but which, beyond the symbolic teaching, serves as a contrast to any psychological automatism in every day life in order to open itself to a new dimension of our terrestrial essence in the context of a profound brotherly connection that spreads through all of humanity.
Especially on an emotional level, this rituality allows an opening towards the intuition of every symbolic meaning of the various and complex phases of our existence.
Rituality in Freemasonry, in its open and undetermined forms, expresses a universe that takes on a new configuration exactly in virtue of a human operation: a model, therefore, upon which to operate on reality, just as the Freemason par excellence should be.
Today, as always in times immemorial, ritual ceremonies connect aspects of profane life to the extra sensorial dimension in order to help us across the wall that has sadly formed between them as a consequence of modern man’s frantic way of life. In this case, the Rite or Rituality, even in its various forms, proposes itself as warrantor of human regeneration.
To give oneself, to conceed oneself to Rituality signifies making in a commitment in our life, it means drawing up and imposing a perspective upon onself. It signifies the will to build in the history that we live. It means transformation of the historical condition of Humanity.
With regards to this reality in all its scope I can say with all humility that it is still the daily practise of our reason and of our conscience that aims to clarify things in our life. Examples, words in the space of the mind, free from the burdens of life, certainly – but this too makes us partakers in the Construction of the Temple, because it is inspired from a principle of transcendence that is so utterly personal and interior that the Masonic Order itself requires it from us so that one can freely interpret the supremacy of the Grand Architect of the Universe.
And this is how the Mason becomes Master! Because the good willed man has the need for ideals.
In everyday life we repeat rituals and rites (such as the ritual of meals, celebrations etc.) and we unconsciously communicate through symbols, without even realising.
This is how the intimitate relations between rituals, rites and symbols spring forth.
Among the most famous and probably most ancient rites are the rites of passage:
birth: baptism, circumcision;
puberty: confirmation, bar mitzvah;
fertility: engagement, marriage;
death: extreme unction, burial, cremation;
These are all ceremonies meant to help overcome a crisis represented by a change of one’s own physiological or social characteristics. They play an important part in strengthening the social order and the cohesion of the group.
By respecting the rites and social codes specific to the group culture, each person actually manifests his or her desire to be fully accepted in the group.
The constants of the rite are as follows:
its practice is renewed identically in a context that remains the same.
What is the Masonic Ritual?
The Ritual is a strong transmission instrument.
The Ritual is a behaviour and communication code (gestures, words, movements, perspectives).
The Ritual also plays a role in mediating the exchange of opinions. It imposes the order of the interventions and codifies the speeches. It thus maintains the state of calm, the state of concentration, and mutual respect. Who can speak? When? How?
It helps master the body in order to liberate the intellect and the spirit.
In the Ritual, every word has a precise meaning and teaching attached to it. Each and every one of us appropriates the Ritual at his own pace: firstly one and accepts it (maybe) without understanding, then one understands the “how” and finally one understands the “why”.
This is how form and discipline are imposed, but the spirit must remain free. As an instrument of free thought, the Mason Ritual differs in this regard from religious rituals. The Rituals are forms in which meaning is constructed: they are aimed at liberating the minds and allowing for creative thought.
What does the Ritual generate?
The Ritual causes a break from the uninitiated world;
The Ritual invites to continue the work beyond that which was commenced in the Temple.
The Ritual is important, but it is not sacred. In order to live the Ritual well one must first understand it; it must, therefore, be thought upon, lived and assimilated by everyone.
…and what about the Symbols?
The Rites and Symbols are an inseparable duo:
the Symbol appeared in a moment when the majority of human beings did not know how to read or write;
the Symbol is first and foremost a fount for ideas;
the Symbol puts our senses on alert;
it allows the transition from that which is visible (for example, the square) to the invisibile (rectitude);
the Symbol invites us to discover a reality beyond the appearances, beyond the most obvious meanings.
It is, therefore, e mediator between the physical world and the world of thought.
The Symbol grants access to a less rational part of our being, thus expanding our field of consciousness.
Symbolism appears as a language that all perceive according to: their own understanding, their own cultural context, their own capacity for logical reasoning and their own state of inner awareness.
Lastly, it speaks to all according to their sensibility…
With it many faces:
it is indefinitely evocative;
it is an open window;
it is a “mille feuille” of meaning.
The practice of Symbolism is:
ignores ideologic or religious movements;
it is free from preconceptions;
it does not allow for resting in multiple certainties.
Symbolism is there to make us think, to allows us to think freely.
Symbols do not cancel objective reality, they add another dimension to it.
They are supporters of reflection, instruments for “elevating” consciousness.
All of this only seems to be complex. Each of us will have his own way of appropriating, in his own rhythm and in complete freedom, the Rituals and Symbols, in contact with other Brothers, enriched by their closeness.
The uninitiated mind could formulate various questions at this point:
1. Rituals as codes of “common good manners”: the idea that there can be rules is easily understandable.
2. Rituals as messengers: why not say and explain the message you want to communicate? Simply because Freemasonry is not a school of thought, but rather a schools where one learns to think. Freemasonry is not a teaching, but a reawakening. It is a path of freedom without dogmas.
The Ritual, obviously, is not the objective, but the way that one must take in order to reach the objective.
Neither the traffic rules, nor the street signs tell you where to go!
In the text of a Ritual it is not the literal meaning that counts, but rather the profound meaning, which the candidate experiences in his own heart.
3. Same question about Symbols: why not just say what you mean and replace the Symbols with words? For the same reasons previously stated, but also because “what is essential is invisible to the naked eye and impossible to put into words”.
While “knowledge” cand be transmitted through words and formulae, built through rational demonstration and experimentation, consciousness is instrinsically non-transmissable, incommunicable.
The way in which Symbols talk to us teaches us a lot. It is an essential moment of introspection, an essential step for any Freemason on the path to improvement.
It is exactly through Symbols that we gradually draw closer to the plane of knowledge, unconsciously and little by little, on the path that we have chosen of our own spontaneous will.
Anyone who manages to appropriate Symbolism can understand a lot more about anything, can exppress himself directly through words because, like we just said, the Symbol is the only way to communicate all that is impossible to express through reason.
Symbolism is a language that allows for transcendence – transcending ourselves.
It is a language that allows all, regardless of their education, to obtain a certain amount of learning and even to attain knowledge.
This is how a Freemason becomes a true Master! The man of goodwill, the Master himself, is a person that passionately follows his ideals and feels the compelling need to pass them on to his fellow men, Brothers and uninitiated alike.
In order to complete this project, the best way he can obtain the necessary force, steadiness and, not least, serenity is, without the shadow of a doubt, that which he has received inside himself from the Rites he has experienced in Freemasonry.
(Speech delivered at BRENNO BERTONI Lodge, Lugano, 30/09/2019)