PHILIP J. HARRIS esq JP
Lodge St. John No. 280, Grand Lodge of Scotland
This is a presentation or paper on the path every Freemason should follow in his masonic journey. There is no terminus as it is a path of discovery. It is also, an opening introduction for those wishing to be Freemasons with an outline of the expectations before joining. It is said it makes good men better but I must emphasis’s that it does not change you. Years of involvement with the English Judiciary has convinced me of this. What the path can do is help you evolve into the best man or woman you can be. It is a philosophy of self-help and learning.
As advised by Rulers of my Grand Lodge the only masonic secrets are the handshakes, words and tokens of the degrees. For this reason, I have omitted them from the text. As far as possible I have not used jargon or the language of the original rituals or lectures. I hope the person, man or woman, will be encouraged to be a better Freemason. Or, if joining the Craft will be more comfortable of the experiences they will have on their path. I would hope to bring some emphasis back to the attention to the Scriptures, the Ritual, The True Three Grand Principles and the Catechism of the Craft Lectures. (www.webofhiram.org)
With thanks to the writings of W L Wilmshurst and my tutoring brethren who have help me thus far who will in this instance I am delighted to call my Brethren, Companions, Stones and Guides.
WHERE DO WE BEGIN TO THINK OF FREEMASONRY?
“In my heart”. To every man or woman entering the Craft of Freemasonry they must be prepared in their heart. To make that first step towards the fraternity a desire for knowledge, a wish to develop oneself and some courage is needed. This may be described as a calling and perhaps a vocation. It is up to the individual to decide which. Freemasonry is not a social club, a network or anything else. There is much of Social, dining, meetings and fellowship but essentially it is a Philosophical organisation of self-help and personal development. It should be a lifelong experience and will probably take up much of your attention the more you delve into its depth and allow the knowledge contained to lift you to that place of peace, love and harmony in self.
A further requirement is described as a belief in a superior being. Note that this being is not defined or described in any why. It is best to consider this as a belief in a principle of order and regularity controlling the whole existence and purpose of everything. The unmovable laws of nature are perhaps a sign of order and good management and we must consider the beginning of life and all things.
If you have a faith and practice this in a religion it is important that you continue in this. Freemasonry is not a substitute for religion nor is it professing any Deity other than you already recognise. Your faith is important and you will be supported in your own beliefs. Be encouraged, look to your holy book, which we describe as the Volume of Sacred Law (VSL) it contains much of what we will speak of in this paper.
Symbols will figure greatly in your Masonic Education and it would be wise to study these as they are explained in simple terms. There is always a deeper meaning and contain many secrets and messages to the traveller. Share with others regularly what you have found. Symbols will speak deep into each of us and will mean many different things to different people.
To amplify this, consider the truth of mathematics, the regularity of the ratio of the Golden Number 1.618 or more directly geometry that contains some wonderful truths for the demonstration of an eternal truth. There are more truths. You are welcome to research these, as truth is one of the Grand Principles of Freemasonry.
Here is a well-known Symbol. My personal preferred representation of the Square and Compasses. The G is it either for G-d or Geometry or does it just mark the Centre? You see, there are interpretations of symbols and each mean something different. They speak deep into our subconscious.
I am sure many members do not believe in a superior being of a personality or imagination. I am personally happy with this. As experience has shown me that professed Atheist can have a more moral and upright character than many “believers”. What they confessed was their truth in not believing but realising that they were ordered and subject to the natural law. Whilst Atheist are not permitted in regular Freemasonry some constitutions do.
Therefore, on entering a Masonic Temple you will be challenged on your beliefs and listen to a Masonic prayer. The invocation is the Great Architect of the Universe. A general term to cover all titles of the Deity we each look to. It is wise to be clear in your mind as to what you truly believe and are content to partake in such a challenge. Do you believe in an Orderly Universe and the truth of the regularity of the laws of nature that caused us to exist? Can you verbally acknowledge the truth of this in what we call a prayer? Are you keen to learn what we can teach and guide you through? If so, you are perhaps prepared in your heart. Think on these things and be clear. Freemasonry should be for a lifelong commitment. Be sure, clear and commit to contribute as you learn. If you find yourself in Masonry with no education, teaching or commitment to the ritual and the catechism, I suggest you move.
The first lesson learnt is to overcome fear and trust a guide or teacher. You are in darkness in the absence of light or even Masonic Light. “It is usual for a child to be afraid of the dark but what is worse is an adult afraid of the Light”. It does happen, with your heart open and trusting you may proceed.
This Masonic Light is knowledge unfettered by prejudice and superstition. The steps are to seek a Master to teach and guide. In humility and trust you will demonstrate your acknowledgement of a desire for knowledge and acceptance that you are without true wealth and value to your fellow man.
In terms of masonic philosophy, we enter the Craft Temple as irregular, in darkness, lost, out of discipline, in need and untutored. The first steps are considered symbolic of irregularity in the person but you are not long left in this sad position. Your journey begins towards the East, where the Master of the lodge sits. You are in search of a Master or in this case a Tutor or Guide. Introductions of sorts take place and you will find a “skilled artist Tutor” to lead you on the strait path.
The first lesson to learn is empathy, when your compassion for your fellow man and brethren present it put to the test. From this lesson you should perceive that this means much more than cash handouts. Such gifts are full of ego boosting public fanfare of certificates and medals. These are contrary to the VSL that you took your obligation on as in verses Matt 6:4. Realistically you will be required to succour the needs of all who come to you. To heal, teach, nurse, support emotionally, visit, aid, give the ‘gracious word’, help and above all show love. This is not onerous as you are expected only to do or give what is within your resources and not to the detriment of your family or work. Never fall into the trap of taking public applause for such as it should be done quietly and privately. Divested of all valuables you will first learn to feel with the needy not just sympathise.
You will be instructed how to strive to perfect yourself using your conscience in all you do and speak. By self-examination and review of what you could do, or be better at doing, you will chip off all those habits and careless words that cause offence or dispute. You will become more serviceable to your fellow man and be a better partner, son, brother and father.
You should study what we call the Liberal Arts and Sciences. As by knowledge we grow as an individual, we learn, review, challenge, inquire, seek alternatives and establish our own point of view. Ever we remember there may be no right or wrong answer but an opportunity to learn more in balanced and fair argument and discussion. As such your conversation will be more informed and you will have some authority in which to share a point with others. Excluding the subjects of religion and politics which should never be raised in Lodge.
You will welcome correction, should you move away from the upright behaviour expected of you. You will also maintain a meek and humble deportment with your brethren. As Master Masons they are there to assist. You should seek the good exemplified in others and ensure the encouragement of good citizenship. Be open to receive others who wish to learn from you with the same humility shown to you but your tutor.
Having overcome fear and learnt to trust, what greater trust is needed to consider the Universe, the ordering principles of everything, the beginning and the end. Fear should have become awe of the magnificence of creation. To some this would be the deity of their personal beliefs, to others the signature of order, harmony and continuance of all things. It is a big creation or existence so enjoy it.
We now learn of a winding path of life, that spiral staircase of experience and progress, darkness to light. No longer entering darkness we come into full light of day with our brethren.
Here is the difference between the words Strait and Straight. We are on a strait path that is not easy to find it turns and twists but none the less is progress towards our goal. The Straight path, one which is direct to the end, is not our way. For such a path is a diversion and can trap us in areas with no value and deceptive. We are to experience and learn of many things observed in the passage of life.
For a masonic example a spiral stair makes us look around, outwards to many views from the bottom to the top. There may be rooms of study or experience along the way but we have our destiny higher up and calling us from one experience to the next. We have but an allotted time on earth so we should fill and use our time in personal development whilst we can.
Here we learn of Centre. That balance described as the point in the circle. Being aware of the dangers of being too far in one direction. Consider the circle with 360 degrees. We will consider but four. Take the compass as an example. In the Spiritual East we can be so heavenly minded to be of no earthy use to fellow man. In the rational and physical West we can be bound by intransience, firm in conviction and unable to learn more than we see beyond our own little world. The bright light of the knowledge of the noon day Sun in the South can be our place of great learning but we are then on the straight path and distracted from the wider world of experience. Or we might like to dwell in the darkest recess of the North, live in perpetual ignorance and experience little and know nothing. Our path is the winding road of learning and experience.
Here is where our Centre, we may call the Divine Centre, or place of balance is. We are aware of self, others, a Divine Centre, a place of perfect balance and order in our lives. It is fundamental in Freemasonry. It is the place where you are. The Temple about you is only a metaphor for your whole being. The Officers and members about you are your component parts. This is something you should think on and try to understand yourself by self-examination and contemplation. Your Tutor should guide you in this and no doubt you will eventually understand the principles of our Craft working on you.
Able to call in from the rational, the spiritual and knowledge sources available to us whilst being aware of ignorance and want. Being nowhere but in that place of peace and harmony continuously exists is an ideal we will strive for on the strait path.
Our place here is now to look at “the more hidden mysteries of nature and science”. Again, do not fear as this enquiring mind that leads us to calculus, algebra, space flight and nuclear fusion. Beyond which we have the deeper levels of understanding the world, its people, symbols and the principles that keep us sound in mind and body.
We take further instruction on a regulated life of being fair, moderate, be upright in all dealings and ensure clarity with no hidden agenda’s or seeking to build ego. Ego is that obstacle to love of all mankind, lacking a gracious heart and tongue that would encourage the student of the craft. Ego is no place in our life, selflessness is our way and considering ourselves as the equal of all without prejudice, bias or distain. The love that is Divine is to be cultivated and we must learn the meaning of meekness. Meekness is not weakness. It is being known as resourceful with the sword at your side sheathed and ready but seldom needed. Our three grand principles are Brotherly love, Relief and Truth.
THE DARKNESS OF DEATH
Here we learn that what you have gathered in life is transient. All can be lost. Our inevitable destiny. Facing up to, what is often man’s greatest fear is a triumph if we can overcome it. Learning how to die and give up everything.
If we have applied ourselves to the tools given to us in our journey so far. We will have gathered some insight into ourselves and perhaps obtained some peace in our minds about this awful truth. For it is better “to live respected and die regretted” than to leave chaos, unhappiness and strife.
Each of us will want some hope of a future or perhaps only that we have left the world a better place for having lived in it. Hope as signed in the morning sky by that bright and morning star in the end of this night-time of darkness. Our work was not in vain but in order and had value.
To each of us we must hold on to faith in hope of there being more for us but without earthy gains. They will lie with your bones. The old rhyme says as much; – The rich and the poor when born are both alike, but the rich among the poor would be but for wealth and education”. “But when they’re dead and beneath the sod, with 100 years to back it, no man on earth could tell the bones that wore the workman’s jacket”. The great leveller of pride, ego and self. How can we enter this carrying the guilt of our life?
Look now back at the universal principles of nature and science, eternal truth such as mathematics, geometry and the liberal arts and sciences. These are the signatures of the Divine Centre the promise of more to come. “That vital and immortal principle within you”.
Take time to study self. What is good and can be improved, what is wrong and can be corrected, A man, husband, son, brother, citizen and friend; are you up to being all these things well? If the path so far has not touched you and you are here and confused or sorrowful. Return to the beginning and start over by review and application of what was given to you in the challenges, instructions and the tools of your trade. Whist you still have breath let everything within you receive instruction and make good that which you missed so far.
Once satisfied of your progress, you have an instruction. “To travel West, in search of that which was lost”. It can take many forms, the unbeliever, the ignorant, the selfish, the denier of truth, the seeker, the one prepared in their heart, the lost and the needy. Whatever you find bring it to light. It might just be what you were sent to seek and bring relief.
THE GREAT CHALLENGES
Many of you on this strait path will not have the following opportunity to review your progress near the end of your journey. You are advised to see the “Excellent Master” degree or “pass the veils” with the following in mind. It will show you how to look back and evaluate your truth. Here is an outline of these challenges facing you before you pass on with faith, hope and love of all.
Having been asked at the end of the Craft degrees to study “that most interesting of all human studies”, that is yourself. You may feel or believe you are ready to advance and become a Right Worshipful Master or even a Ruler in the Craft. If that is correct you will know much and appreciated the deeper meaning of Freemasonry over pomp, pride, assumed privilege and ego. So, you will become the servant of the Master Mason and continue on the path. But consider the following as a review of your achievements:
You will have rid yourself of evil doing and wrongdoing, you will have not spoken against a brother or formed bad opinion in others by lies and half-truth. You will have held by the points of fellowship to the letter and not shamed yourself by walking out of lodge or away from a brother and believed yourself to be of pure mind and heart. You will have worked hard to sustain the ancient principles and observances of Freemasonry to the utmost of your ability.
But you are not worthy to say this as the truth is you still hold the capability of evil and wrongdoing in your hand. Throwing away the stick is for you to pick up. That stick that is still the serpent of evil in your hand. Symbolically demonstrating you are not perfected or worthy. We are but human and subject to human frailty. We must remember we are never to be perfect but we can be better.
Do you consider yourself free of transgression, trespass, rebellion and selfishness? Well put your hand on your heart and see if it comes away pure as snow. It might be white but it is white with leprosy a sure symbol of sinfulness and trespass.
Here you learn that you carry this with you like evil whilst you still live. Here you will realise that truthfully you are no better than the worst offender or criminal. You are only human. But you are on the strait path.
Are you capable of evil still although you have rejected and even thrown it away?
Are you free of rebellion, transgression and trespass against the state, others, or your brethren?
Are you capable of progressing to a better existence having shed the trappings of materialism and mammon? Are you pouring forgiveness out on those who have trespassed against you? As you cannot forgive yourself, you can forgive others who are not party to your privileges in ancient free and accepted masonry. In forgiving others, by pouring the water of cleansing over them you will find forgiveness of yourself. To find the following: –
You are now returned to the White apron you were initiated in “the badge of innocence and bond of Friendship”.
Who will free you from this impurity? Well go back to the beginning whilst you still can and review your entire masonic career. If you accept these truth’s, you cannot find forgiveness but you can forgive those who trespassed against you. Take up the water of forgiveness and pour it out on others. If you are mason enough to do that, you will find forgiveness and acceptance.
You now find, you are where you started faced with the White Apron of lamb skin, “more ancient than Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, and more honourable that Star, Garter or any Order in existence it is a Badge of innocence and a bond of friendship”. You are at another beginning.
What lies beyond is up to you. It would be impossible to describe to an uninitiated person what follows. Suffice to say in harmony with your G-d, a realisation of your mortality and Love that surpasses all understanding.
LOOKING FOR A TUTOR OR LODGE
If you heed my advice and review your masonic career you will learn so much more and achieve that place no man can give you. Or if you are not a Freemason you may wish to seek with a lodge. I wish to point you to a lodge that practices Tutoring, or has an education structure, discussion groups, open dialogue or freedom of expression without criticism. It is for you to find it, as no one can make you a Freemason but yourself. To help you, consider the following:
• A structure of Tutoring not mentoring but positive learning from a skilled Master Mason.
• Opportunity to ask questions and get answers that satisfy your enquiry.
• A programme of learning the ritual, visitations, lodges of instruction, recommended reading.
• No emphasis on Charity but a realistic view of Empathy and abiding by the scriptural teaching of no fanfares of Charity and it being in Secret.
• A definition of Freemasonry like; “a philosophical Order for self-improvement to enable us to be better members of society, families and workplace ensuring the world is a better place for us having lived in it for a time”.
• Avoid any definition of Masonry as a Charity.
• See that the Three Grand Principles are in evidence: Brotherly love, Relief and Truth.
• Above all do not be rushed to chose or be pushed into membership. Find what is right for you.