Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Matter Of Character

“If you think about what you ought to do for other people, your character

 will take care of itself.” –Bro. Woodrow Wilson


Perhaps it is true that all institutions ultimately move away from their orthodoxy. Times change. People move through organizations; some affect them, some don’t. Over the long haul, it is hard to keep the original definition in focus.
I am sometimes amused at how hard we work at defining Freemasonry. Every Grand Jurisdiction has at least one brochure espousing what Freemasonry is and what Masons do. We attempt to tell the world what we are, and are not; what Masons believe; what we do in lodge, the kinds of charities we support, our importance in the world, why men should join us; and even how to join.  Every state and national Masonic organization I am acquainted with offers a number of printed materials about Masonry. Essentially all have websites.
Of course, we also suffer from our share of “not so informed” information about us; often distributed by non-masonic groups who delight in taking a published interest in us. This includes anti-masons, television evangelists, individuals who print hatred just because hatred sells; and weak fundamentalist sects with the wrong mission at heart.
I personally don’t mind any of this. Certainly, Grand Lodges should make as much available in the way of Masonic information and education as they can. It helps both our members and the larger public. The anti-masonic materials do little damage. We get attention, even when the information is bad. I hold to the premise that thoughtful people will generally give little credence to information which appears biased in its content. And I’ve never met a thoughtful anti-mason.
All of this really makes little difference anyway. What does make a real difference to everyone is that we hold to our orthodoxy. The creed of Masonry is moral action. Masonry to the world is the character of Masons. The character of Masons speaks more eloquently than all the books and pamphlets written about our fraternity.   
This means that in the community where Masons are seen as men of high integrity, the fraternity stands in high repute. In the community where Masons do not have the respect of the public, Masonry has little chance of being seen as an organization of men with a beautiful system of moral and ethical teaching.     
It is just that simple. The reputation of Freemasonry rests literally in the character of each Brother. It is in the power of every member to glorify or diminish the institution.
We must recognize that most people will never read a word about Masonry or know of its philanthropies. The public’s perception of the fraternity will never be well defined. The sole basis of judging it will be the character of the men who are known to be Masons.
People do not read books—people read men. Masonry is to them what they see in the temperament of Masons. While this places an awesome responsibility on every Mason in every community in the world; it is indeed the distinction of Masonry. It is its orthodoxy.
The sad fact is that one bad example can do us a lot of harm. When one of us is caught up in some public scandal, or unethical business dealing, or an immoral act, the public takes it for granted that Masonry, for all its beautiful system of morality, either condones such behavior, or is too weak to be of adequate influence by its teachings to prevent it.  
So it really is up to each of us. The bottom line is that the Mason who lives up to the teachings and obligations of Masonry will be a man above reproach—not only to his brethren; but among his neighbors, his family, his friends, his business partners, and his community. It would be wonderful to hear the merchant say, “I have been taken in by a good many scoundrels, but never have I had any trouble with a man who wore the square and compasses.” Or, to have the minister proclaim, “I know nothing of the religious or non-religious teachings of the Masonic fraternity, but I have never heard a Mason make a disparaging remark concerning the church.” Or to have the judge say, “Never in my experience as a judge have I had a case before me of two Masons going to law.” Or, to hear non-masons say, “I frequently attend social gatherings of Masons and while I don’t know anything about the inner side of Masonry, their exhibition of good mindedness and solid behavior impress me to think that their teachings must be good.”
In fact, I would be more than delighted if most people thought our most famous Masonic emblem, the letter G, stood for Gentleman. After all, every man who wears it is to be one.
You see, we are what other people say we are. The best argument for Masonry is a good man. Just as the best example of humanity is a good human being.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How Long Must I Haul These Ruffians Around With Me?

The degrees of Freemasonry are built on the clear understanding that men need to be engaged in a quest for self-improvement. But a lot of guys out there are not on board with the quest. They don’t know who they are or where they are going with their life. They are confused and often misguided by their primitive instincts. They are full of media defined ideas about masculinity, and their social conditioning has been based largely on physique, sex, wealth, and conquest. They may seem very successful in appearances. Yet, be wholly at sea in knowing what self-improvement means, where it comes from, and how one accesses it.  

Nevertheless, for most men, life is seen as a journey. Men intuitively know there will be some kind of initiation in store for them on their way to manhood. They just don’t know where it will occur, what it will look like, or how the results will turn out for them.

Even in Freemasonry, where the quintessential initiation takes place in the Blue or Symbolic Lodge, it is important to grasp that this is only the beginning of one’s journey. It is there that we learn of the importance of our outward relationship with others and the institutions of our society. It is there that we are taught it takes a combination of intellect, experience, intuition, feeling, emotion and education to make real progress in life. And it is there that we discover our dual nature. We come face to face with our own worst enemy—our ego. We are given the opportunity to transcend our passions and prejudices and become true to who we are.

However, we are left to our own resources as to how we are supposed to proceed with this profound quest. We are still at sea with embracing the path of self-improvement. In the nomenclature of our private association of men, this is part of the meaning of the Lost Word. As Master Masons, we still have a mountain of self-discovery to climb. It is at this very point that every initiated man either becomes ready for the higher teachings of Freemasonry, or he remains content to enjoy his title as Master Mason and relish in the attitude that his association with good men will bring him improvement enough.   

To a large extent, the higher degrees of Masonry are engaged in completing this drama--completing the quest—completing the process of becoming a man. For example, the degrees or teachings of the Lodge of Perfection in the Scottish Rite (4° - 14°)  explore in depth the shadow side of our own existence—the unfinished business we have with ourselves--our ruffians within. We all have the arduous task of overcoming ourselves. And it will prove the hardest journey of our life.

At least one aspect of our ruffian nature is revealed in each of the 4th through 10th degrees. Bringing these to the surface facilitates our own awakening of consciousness. For instance, the 4° informs us that the mysteries of our own being are not easily revealed to us--our inadequate understanding of things; our ignorance and short sidedness; passions and prejudices; selfish motives and lazy approaches to learning. In the 5°, we are warned of our selfish interests, our idleness and non-committal approach to a genuine interest in others; our unearned privileges, and lack of concern for equity and fairness. In the 6°, our ruffians become our hasty judgments; our inability to separate perception from reality; our “me-first” attitudes; our prejudices and fears.     

You get the idea. Our life is like a stream of water running from the past to the present, having its roots in ignorance, idleness and intolerance. By revealing our failings and inadequacies, we are able to address these in the light of our new knowledge, and change ourselves for the better. As these stumbling blocks to personal affirmation are collectively projected across the many aspects of our society, the overall work of the Lodge of Perfection becomes a kind of knighthood aimed at eliminating ignorance, tyranny and fanaticism.

The bottom line is that the foremost goal of human life is the quest for spiritual enlightenment. Self-improvement is only achieved through higher, more refined levels of awareness brought about by concentrating one’s mind on one’s innermost self—our essential center of being. This cannot be achieved as long as ignorance, tyranny and fanaticism linger in our minds. But the solution requires a little explanation.

The problem of toleration is remarkably difficult for most everyone because it is so easy to feel good about being intolerant. The highest price we are called upon to pay for freedom is not in taxes to defend the country, nor even on the battlefield. The highest price we must pay for freedom is to allow others to be free.

Religious toleration means that we must allow others the same right to freedom of worship we demand for ourselves, even if we find their practices wrong or repugnant.

Intellectual toleration means that we must allow the free and full exploration of every idea, even if we think it wrong or dangerous.

Social toleration means that we must allow others to live lifestyles we may find strange or uncomfortable, whether in a commune or in a same sex relationship.

Of all the lessons a man or a woman must learn to be truly human, toleration may well be the hardest. 

Tyranny is another form of intolerance. Tyranny does not equate to authority, but with attitude. We don’t call the skilled and caring teacher who maintains order and discipline in his or her class a tyrant, nor the nation which offers protection to another nation while carefully not interfering with the nation so helped, nor the husband or wife who discharges the affair of the household with authority but also love and concern.

The essence of tyranny is selfishness. And if tyranny is selfish in the world of material things, fanaticism is selfishness in the world of ideas and beliefs. Fanaticism is the sort of selfishness that says “I am right. If you do not agree with me, you are wrong, and I have the right to hurt you.”

It is ignorance that allows both tyranny and fanaticism to flourish, for only an informed populace can form the basis of freedom. Ignorance is the primary weapon of the tyrant and the fanatic. Both can give good reason why just a little bit of censorship is needed, or why we should control what people think or what they read because otherwise they may ask questions and lose the true faith. The fanatic always wants to benefit others. All he asks in return is your mind and soul.

We are admonished in the Scottish Rite to be always actively involved in the government of our country. Unjust taxes, government bureaucracies which are more concerned with self perpetuation than with service; creeping limitations on the freedom of the people –in the name of expediency, or of conformity, or the greater good--these things are not new. To truly be champions of the people, as Masonry calls on us to be, we must be concerned with every miscarriage of justice, every unreasonable limitation of liberty, every arbitrary act of court or state house or capital.

And our special concern has to be with those who do not have access to the courts, nor the ear of those in power, nor influence with city hall. Their very powerlessness creates a binding obligation on every good brother to promote human equity and impartiality.

Yes, it would be far easier, and far more comfortable, to just chill out. Most men do. But our duty is to be aflame. That is how we conquer the ruffians.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Six Major Themes of the Scottish Rite

We often get so wrapped up in the minutia of the lessons which are taught in the Scottish Rite Degrees that it is easy to overlook the over-riding themes which are presented in the Rite. Almost every Mason knows that the Degrees of Freemasonry represent the journey of a man’s life. For example, it is often said that the Entered Apprentice Degree represents the journey of youth; the passage a young man takes as he begins to consciously weigh the differences between right and wrong, ignorance and knowledge, good and evil, and starts to mold the character he will fashion for himself, using the influences of his life as his guide. He has, in a real sense, been initiated by the circumstances of his life; for good or bad. Freemasonry provides him a stable image for life building, and admonishes him to start over if his first attempt didn’t go so well.   

Likewise, we think of the passage of the Fellowcraft as one where the initiate takes stock of his progress in life; a kind of a review of what he knows, and doesn’t know, what has worked for him, and what still remains to be done. He makes an accounting of what he has learned from his experience, his upbringing, friends and acquaintances, education, culture, and community. If he is like most men, he reaches a point where he has studied just about everything in his life but himself. He becomes consciously aware that life is not just about outward appearances, tasks, money, and relationships. He feels a hunger for additional meaning. Masonry informs him that, to feel complete, he ultimately has to affirm himself. This requires a different kind of journey all together.

In Masonry, we think of this more intimate and deeply engaging step in the journey to manhood an important awakening for each man. In ritual terms, it is called “passing the outer door of the temple.”  As one of the oldest institutions serving men today, we also know this is a stage of the journey that four-fifths of the male population in the world will never choose to take.  Yet the consequences of not knowing oneself are staggering. One of the goals of Freemasonry is to help men take this most significant step forward with their own life. 

The journey to mature masculinity doesn’t stop for the rest of us just because some guys choose to exit the train.  For the man who sincerely sees Freemasonry as a transformative art, everything it suggests to, and instructs him from that point in his life where he consciously decides to work on himself, has to do with his awakening consciousness.

The Scottish Rite knows this aspect of a man’s journey well, as it is itself the product of the great movements in history which were all tied to the structure of consciousness. The point of awakening consciousness is precisely where the Scottish Rite joins each man’s journey. The experience of the aspirant through the degrees of the Rite is supposed to be his journey to a higher awareness. It is designed to carry him to a higher level of insight. It is a progressive system of awakening consciousness. Its power lies in its ability to integrate its lessons into the psyche of each individual, meeting him on the level of his own experience, and giving him an opportunity to be transformed by the path of his own life.  

For men, life needs to be seen as a journey. Freemasonry is built on the clear understanding that men need to be engaged in their own quest for self-improvement. The Scottish Rite facilitates this fundamental psychological need in men.

Here are the six major themes a Scottish Rite Mason encounters on his journey to an awakening consciousness:

The Perfect Elu Tradition

 A brother becomes an Elu in the first degree of Masonry when he receives the Apprentice’s prayer. Hands are laid upon his head and he is anointed as one of the “elected” or “elite” entering the Brotherhood of Man. He has been selected by his peers because they see his potential to rise among the best to become the small elite of enlightened minds. But even though he is chosen, he may not become enlightened. God has made men with different intellectual and spiritual motivations and capacities. The Elu Principle avows that, from the ranks of men who desire to improve themselves in Masonry, some will take on the pursuits and occupations of the initiate’s life. These will become the Perfect Elus, the continuators of Creation who will receive the highest levels of knowledge and insight. These will become the gifted and enlightened men.   

 Royal Arch, or Sacred Vault Tradition

 One of the great mysteries of life is that no man can know the principle of his own life. No single element of life has an intrinsic, essential reality of its own. The power and action of will, movement, of thought, memory and dreams are all mysteries. Yet we have a natural impulse to seek the unknown, to seek God in the mystery of our own being. The Royal Arch Tradition maintains that a man must gain access to the knowledge of the Divine truth only by seeking ever deeper within his inmost self, his soul. In Masonry, the crypt or vault is an inward symbol reminding us that it is the internal and not the external qualifications that make a Mason. A man’s soul is his spiritual dimension of the universe, the inmost part of his being where alone he may feel and realize the nature of God and find peace within himself. .

 Rose Croix Tradition

 Among the easiest of emblems to interpret, the rose and cross is one of the great combination symbols of Freemasonry, second perhaps only to the square and compasses. To the Christian Mason, the cross refers to Jesus Christ. But in a broader sense, it symbolizes self-sacrifice for the sake and redemption of mankind. The rose, being among the most beautiful of flowers, symbolizes perfection, and represents hope in a new awakening, renewal, a resurrection of life. The two together (Rose Croix) symbolize faith and hope in immortality won through sorrow and sacrifice. The Rose Croix Tradition informs us that the world is what it is, and we should focus on how to deal with it so that good and the law of love may prevail. This requires a constant fight within our self, and in society. Faith in God and mankind is Wisdom; hope in the victory of good over evil gives Strength, and charity towards all living creatures through respect of life, tolerance and selflessness is Beauty.    

Ancient Mysteries Tradition

The Ancient Mysteries tradition is one of those timeless checks and balances which remind us that our concept of Deity must be felt within because it cannot be wholly conceived intellectually. A society’s concept of God and the universe changes over time with its scientific development. The objective of the Mysteries was to cause a change in the initiate’s condition of mind wherein he could feel the common core, or universal truth, in all religious traditions. The methodology Masonry employs to treat topics that cannot be known or explained is to mystically inspire a feeling about these higher principles through the use and expression of symbolic images, emblems, and hieroglyphs. This was the way of the Mysteries. Rather than a prescribed routine of creed, the Mysteries invited their initiates to seek, feel, compare and judge in order to awaken the mind and develop its creativity. The Ancient Mysteries Tradition affirms that the gap often created by the insufficiency of popular religions and dogmas can be filled by reason and virtue.

Knighthood Tradition

Every man needs to possess at least some knightly energy. Being a knight is one of the essential archetypes of manhood. Freemasonry draws on the Knighthood tradition which dates back to the Crusades. Knights were expected to be the most gallant and virtuous of men. Such men dedicated themselves to the defense of right in the world. Their basic ideals were family unity, moral education, courage, honor and courtesy. A Mason is first and foremost a moralist, a philosopher, a symbolist and spiritualist; but he is also a soldier of honor, loyalty, duty and truth; actively engaged in the warfare of life. The Knighthood Tradition declares that the fight for the very best virtues against ignorance, tyranny and fanaticism is a constant engagement. Life is a battle for good and to fight that battle heroically and well is the great purpose of man’s existence. We all progress upward toward perfection through the same life struggle. Our goal is to live up to the promise of the Elus. This is the essence of true Masonic Knighthood.

 Secret Tradition

There is no essential secret in Freemasonry since it is, above all, an aptitude and a state of mind. It is a virtual secret to the uninitiated much like literacy is to an illiterate. Secrecy in Masonry is synonymous with mystery. A mystery is a reality which has not yet been fully understood. The major goal of our lives, as Masters of the Royal Secret, is to unravel the mysteries of our own life. The Secret Tradition represents the quest for equilibrium in the universe, the harmony and unity of the whole, and its application to our personal lives. This is the ultimate quest of mankind, and teaches us above all else to reverence ourselves as divine immortal souls and to respect others as such, since we all share the same divine nature, intelligence and ordeals. This requires LOVE, which is the true word of a Master Mason, the Royal Secret and Holy Doctrine of the every true brotherhood.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

An Apologia on the Traditions of Freemasonry

Freemasonry is entirely built around traditions. Its intellectual inspiration was born from the determination of Isaac Newton and his friends to create an area of freedom in an England torn apart by civil and religious war. Ever since there have been lodges in Scotland, men have passed between the pillars of King Solomon’s Temple, that epitome of soul-searching reflection, to nurture a harmonious distinction between tradition and modernity. Freemasonry perceives the harmony of opposites as the secret of life and the world.  

The Mason’s Temple is a volume of freedom of expression, reflection, education, and progress; it is not a cube. It is a consecrated space enabling each one who meets therein to be truly free, to meet on the level without regard for rank in society or partisan concerns. A Masonic Temple is not a secret place, only a protected one. Freemasonry is an initiatory society offering men a working method which will enable each initiate to make his way toward moral and intellectual perfection. In the lodge, men from every walk of life, of all ages, every social category and every spiritual and philosophical conviction find a basis for reflection through a common language and a common culture in an authentically fraternal relationship. Freemasons are united by their initiation and they come together in a common ideal of freedom, equality, social justice, non-denominationalism and peace. There is thus a sacred space within every Masonic Temple, but for its members, it represents only a transcendence of the human condition. Freemasonry was founded first to emancipate consciences; not concern itself with the saving of souls.

To establish its fundamental values and provide a guarantee of equality to all, Freemasonry has adopted the tools of the operative masons as symbols to remind members of their freely consented obligations. Aprons, gloves, collars and jewels are not just raiment’s of clothing, but a reminder of a common commitment to work together for the progress of humanity, a common respect for rules which cannot sully the purity of the institution’s intentions, or the equality of all members within the lodge.

It is not the trappings of the fraternity that make the light. It is not the apron that makes the Mason. It is his individual commitment and obligation to listen, work and share with his brothers a common quest for spiritual and personal growth by integrating into his being the moral and ethical principles which comprise an enlightened heart and mind. The vocation of Masonry is spiritual, its demand humanist, and its heritage toleration, the rights of man, and the independence of people everywhere.    

The rituals and traditions of Freemasonry tend toward universalism rather than occultism. The aprons, lodge furnishings, decorations and regalia of the fraternity are not there to keep the uninitiated at a distance, but to bear witness to the Masonic movement’s attachment to its history and symbolism. They are a permanent and ubiquitous reminder to every brother of the purpose of his commitment. Even though Freemasonry may have evolved with time, and the years and centuries may have invited change within the organization, its object has remained immutable: to reveal men in their fullness, that fullness in knowing how to search the realms of spirituality and philosophy within the archetypes of maleness to find and embrace the mature masculine soul.

It may be seen by the outsider as a discreet and often poorly articulated institution, but Freemasonry has left a deep mark on the western world and its history. It is at once a philosophic, philanthropic and progressive institution working for the intellectual and social betterment of mankind through the practice of virtue, tolerance, and benevolence in every dimension of manhood. It was wholly founded on fraternity and its aim is to unite men despite their differences.

The vast network of Masonic symbolism teaches that Freemasonry is also a society aimed at helping man rise above his ordinary condition so that he may be better prepared for building a more humane and enlightened society. Whether in the sacred conclaves of the Masonic temple, or represented in the decorations of a Mason’s regalia, the ornaments of fraternity collectively recite the symbolic alphabet of a universal language that transcends all ethnic and cultural differences among men. It is a language which remains lost to nine-tenths of the world’s population. The unique and specific nature of Freemasonry’s approach and frame of thought represents its collective consciousness.

While often misunderstood, Masonic secrecy is in no manner meant to hide something. It is simply the secrecy that accompanies any spiritual or personal approach respecting the intimacy of an initiatory quest. It is a guarantee to every initiate of personal individual freedom to seek out and discover that which is the noblest and purist within his mind and soul.   

Freemasons are without doubt men of tradition and, because they are men of tradition, they are men of progress. They do not hope for a nostalgic return to some past era, but for the tradition of transcendence and evolution of which every man in every time is capable. The hope of every Freemason is that tomorrow will be better than yesterday and today. That is the progress of the ages.

When fraternal men work together for their own perfection, they do so to participate fully in the life and progress of their time, and the progress of humanity.
The existence of an active traditional Freemasonry in a democratic society is the best guarantee and assurance of genuine spiritual and civic freedom.

Monday, October 24, 2011

May Brotherly Love Prevail, and Every Moral and Social Virtue Cement Us

Every Mason will recognize the above declaration as the epilogue of the closing prayer given at almost every lodge meeting. It was penned by William Preston in 1772.

It is an admonition for toleration.

Frederico Mayor, in an address dedicating the Beit-Hashoah Museum for Tolerance in Los Angeles in 1993 said; “…our ability to value each and every person is the ethical basis for peace, security and intercultural dialogue.” Albert Pike stated it even more poignantly in the tenth degree by declaring that without toleration “we are mere hollow images of true Masons, mere sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.” The fact is that a peaceful future depends on everyday acts of kindness and respect. It is a lesson every Freemason knows well.

Among all the teachings Masonry imparts to its members, none is more important than championing the ideal of toleration in all things. In the book of lectures for the symbolic lodge, we read; “By the exercise of Brotherly Love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family; the high and low, the rich and poor; who, as created by one Almighty Parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support and protect each other. On this principle, Masonry unites men of every country, sect and opinion, and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.”

The history of much of the world is a saga of deep ethnic divisions, regional conflicts, religious zealotry, and economic hostilities among peoples. Intolerance, jealousy and greed have fragmented almost every country in the world. There was a time when people came to America seeking asylum from such human suffering and strife. The altruistic nature of democracy has made the United States a multi-cultural society. Now the same divisions that have caused so much suffering and loss in the rest of the world are becoming manifest in the freest country on earth. We are becoming a nation filled with mistrust and animosity.

The natural reaction to diversity is to isolate ourselves in our own culture. It’s a kind of “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. It is easy to believe that we can’t get hurt if we stay within our own group. We can’t get into trouble if we don’t participate. But with people now migrating to America in record numbers, everyone who has perceived themselves as 20th century American-born citizens are rapidly becoming a minority. This perception is strong across every culture. National unity will never be possible if we feel threatened by every group outside our own. It’s time all of us made a little sacrifice and effort toward a greater cause.

Since (as the saying goes) you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it seems the only chance we have of achieving and maintaining a sense of national unity at home is to develop a healthy learning environment among our children that will give them a full cross-cultural understanding. And such understanding will not just happen. To communicate and learn from one culture to another takes entire families out of their comfort zone. To achieve a reconciliation of idealistic, ethnic, religious and cultural differences between the old ways and the new will require an extraordinary feat of will and learning. In most cases, toleration itself will have to be learned and practiced.

But it is a role I believe was made for the Scottish Rite. If the Rite is indeed a great power, it is so because influence is power; and will is power. The teachings of the Rite answer these kinds of questions: What kind of society might we have if we were to achieve a culture of peace? How much would such a culture manifest itself in our family lives, communities, state and national politics and international relations? What relationship exists between tolerance and peace? Can human rights be realized without a social commitment to tolerance? Is there a significant relationship between human rights and democracy? What are our own personal and community concerns about the issue of tolerance? How do our concerns relate to tolerance on a global scale? How can we contribute to promoting a tolerant world?

If our own history is a guide, Freemasonry gains civic and social relevance when it stands up for what it stands for. There can be much value in sharing our values with the cross-cultural world in which we live. Perhaps it is a mission of the Scottish Rite to take the lead in diagnosing the kinds of intolerance which hinders the world; and then pledge, individually and corporately, to do whatever is necessary in educating the next generation of adults that tolerance is indeed the most reasonable means to peace in the world. 

It seems like such a worthy mission—to stand on what we stand for.

Monday, March 14, 2011

On Perception and Realilty

I don’t know how many of you have seen the recent movie, starring Leonardo DeCaprio, titled Inception. I did. And the symbolism blew me away. It’s about a man who specializes in entering other people’s dreams to steal information. He’s the best in the world at this science. In his last big job, he is given a new twist to his abilities. Instead of going inside someone else’s dream to take information, he is hired by a wealthy man to enter into the dreams of the son of a dying competitor in order to plant an idea inside the heir’s unconscious that will break up his father’s empire and later make decisions which will benefit the heir’s wealthy rival. When an idea is implanted into another individual’s unconscious, that process is called Inception.

The viewer spends a lot of time between dreams and reality in the movie. The makers of the film made it difficult for us to know when we are viewing a dream and when we are viewing reality. They allow us to think we have it straight, but then leave us with a nagging sense of doubt that we may have it wrong. How, then, do we tell what is real and what is not? What is the difference between reality and perception? This question becomes the real essence of the movie.

It explores the harsh notion that, not only can an individual get things wrong; an entire society can get things wrong. We need only to look at the inequality which brought about the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s to see how large group psychology can be in error. It wasn’t until 1954 that blacks were paid the same as whites. It was not until 1977 that psychiatrists finally got around to declaring homosexuality was not a disorder. It was not until 1984 that widows were given rights to their husband’s pensions.

Closer to home in our own fraternal society, we all know there are good and well-meaning Christians who still cite Albert Pike as once claiming Freemasons are all worshipers of Satan. Never mind that this claim was actually made by a notorious atheist and pornographer named Leo Taxil in 1894, three years after Pike died.

The point is that group consensus often gets things wrong, and it can take a long time to fix things. So how do we know what is real and what is not real? Fortunately, the journey of Masonry helps us respond to this difficult inquiry. In the progressive path of our degrees, we learn some remarkable things about perception. Here is how our process works.

We start off learning the world around us by direct touch and taste; by what we see and hear; what we perceive and smell. In the process of learning, we run into a lot of walls. Our journey is not always forward and direct, but oft times torturous and winding. As we grow intellectually, we have to overcome our subjective reaction to things. At some point we begin comparing notes, we discuss our perceptions with others, and we attempt to come to a consensus of what is real and what is not; not always realizing that we are only comparing our own subjectivity with that of others. This is where we often decide what is right thinking and wrong thinking in our culture. Yet, realizing that our world view is not the same as the world view of those who are raised half way around the world, we have no other way of declaring what is morally right or wrong except by consensus agreement.

But then, if we don’t question our inner nature; that is, if we don’t investigate how we personally feel deep inside our own soul about all the group consensus we encounter, we will never become objective unto ourselves. We will never learn to think for ourselves. We will never know there are times when the world must go on without us. And that this realization is actually an affirmation of one’s self. The assumptions that are born out of our experience are not always born out by our experience. We can and do make mistakes about what is reality and what is not. Philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, the sciences; all are inspired to enable each individual to distinguish for himself between what is real and what is not.

I found the movie, Inception, to be about love, betrayal, possessiveness, having to cut loose from a willfully death-bound person or relationship. It’s a story about life and how confusing life can be without affirmation. I think the bottom line message is that if we never get inside ourselves, overcome our subjective impulses, get to know who we are, and become comfortable in our own skin, then life is a like living in a dream. It is a poverty stricken limbo—all buildings, all city, all streets—and no changing vistas of reality.

We must never forget that, for everyone, perception is reality. But it never hurts to test the reality of our perceptions. I believe that is the nature of the Masonic journey. It calls us at all times to reflect on where we are with our perceptions of things.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Meaning Behind the Myth of Hiram

Most Grand Jurisdictions have adopted what we as Masons know as the “Fundamental Principles” of Freemasonry. These have been republished many times, and represent what we often think of as the “Ancient Masonic Usages,” or foundational rules of our Fraternity.

One of these principles is that Freemasonry must be organized into symbolic degrees, and these degrees must encompass a legend of a temple tragedy. This is a curious statement because it immediately informs us of two things about our Order: (1) that its ritual ceremonies are intended to communicate something to us which was never meant to be real; and, (2) this something is overtly aimed at a tragedy, which implies we are engaged in a dark side of the human experience.

We all know there is nothing factual about the central legend of our degrees—the story of Hiram. It is a myth. The events which unfold in our drama never actually happened.

But without further explanation, this can represent a problem for 21st century men because we live in a world of information. If something is not real, then it has little value to us. And if something we thought was real turns out not to be that way, then it has even less value because we not only no longer believe in it, we also no longer trust it. This is one of the central paradoxes of politics and religion in our time.

Then, in Masonic ritual, we compound this problem of what is not real by adding a tragedy to it. On the surface, one might argue that most men see enough of the shadow side of things in their own life experience. Why should we expect a man to embrace an organization which not only focuses on that which is not real, but then brazenly delivers to him yet another tragedy of life in his experience as a Mason? The answer is that the original authors of Masonic ritual assumed every initiate already knew what a myth was and what it was designed to teach before he was initiated. This means that today, when we become Freemasons, we, too, are already to have a certain adeptship with the world of myth when we enter the fraternity. But most of us don’t. Thus, it wouldn’t hurt if the Masonic educators in our own time would spend a little time helping our new men make this 400 year leap in context while they are experiencing our ritual settings for the first time.

Here’s what we need to know about ritual and myth.

The function of ritual is to give form to human life in a way that transcends all generations and all time. The role of ritual is to imprint into each man’s psyche the same imprintings of the society in which he grows up. Whether experienced in church, a synagogue, a mosque; a legislative hall, or judicial chamber; or even in the rituals played out in a family, the purpose is always the same. The rituals are the means of such imprinting.

Ritualized procedures also depersonalize the protagonists in our life; lift them out of themselves so that their conduct now is not their own but of the species, the society, the caste, or the profession. Hence, for example, the rituals of the investiture of judges, or of officers of state; those so installed are to function in their roles, not as private individuals but as agents of collective principles and laws. Without ritualized rules which reconcile confrontation, no society could exist. The mere shattering of the ritual form is, for humans, a disaster. Ritual is the structuring form of all civilization. We all need to know the rules of the game. This is the justification for the use of ritual in Freemasonry.

Likewise, the myths of our tradition are the mental supports of our Rite; our Rite is the physical enactment of the myth.

Now, the interesting thing about myths is that the teachers in them change over time but the message remains the same. In the earliest period, man’s teachers were the animals and plants illustrating the powers and patterns of nature. Later on, they became the seven heavenly spheres, where the cosmic order became the model of a good society on earth. Of course, we have long since de-mythologized these through our sciences.

The center of mystery is now man himself. It is a curious characteristic of our species that we live and model our lives through acts of make-believe. In fact, we have lived in a man’s world since the Greek tragedies. And this is where the Hiramic legend comes in. In the ritual myths of Freemasonry, the two great tragic emotions of the Greeks--pity and terror--is laid out. With pity, we unite whatever is grave and constant in human suffering with the sufferer. With terror, we unite whatever is grave and constant in human suffering with the secret cause.

And the secret cause of all suffering is, of course, mortality itself. It is the pre-condition of life. It cannot be denied if life is to be affirmed. Yet, along with the affirmation of this precondition, there is pity for the human sufferer, who is actually a counterpart of oneself. Our myth empowers us to reconcile our own mortality so that we may overcome ourselves and the fear of our own end.

The story of Hiram Abif and the three Ruffians plays out the great mythic image of pity and terror as expressed by the Greek Tragedies. The human sufferer is wiped out by our ceremonies, yet everything is done to point out the value of the sufferer. The terrorists who cause the suffering also suffer the same grave and constant reality of life.

This is the secret. In the process, the virtues and vices, the ignorance and knowledge, the darkness and the light of all humanity is rediscovered within each man, and these characteristics collectively emerge as the essential character of the latent hero in all of us. It is the Lost Word, that is, it is all the potentialities of life, found; but revealed only to the initiate who understands the form and substance of the journey he makes for himself.