Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What Come You Here To Do?

My Brothers, this is one of the great questions in all of Freemasonry!

As those of us in the fraternity know, it is actually one of the first questions we ask an Entered Apprentice Mason in his first catechism lecture.

The earliest ritual reference of which we have record is Prichard’s Masonry Dissected, published in 1730. I have read all the early ritual exposures and I can assure you this question and the subsequent answer given to it is not commonly found in the pre-Grand Lodge or early Premier Grand Lodge era ritual workings. In fact the answer appears in no other English ritual exposure from 1696 to 1769. In the single ritual text in which it does appear, the answer is given thus:

Not to do my own proper Will,
But to subdue my passion still;
The Rules of Masonry in hand to take,
And daily Progress therein make.

It is possible this particular catechism was used in early Operative Masonry because it is a didactic memory technique for learning. And this method of learning (using rhyme) dates centuries earlier than even the Regius Poem, (c. 1390),—purported to be the oldest didactic in Masonry. It may have also originated in 18th century continental Masonry, but again, there is no other reference to the question and its follow up answer in any other English ritual exposure from 1696 to 1769.

In a 1738 French translation of Prichard’s exposure, we find it once again. This time the question is worded What do you wish to do here?; and the answer given is; I do not inspire to follow my will, but rather to subdue my passions, while following the precepts of the Masons and making daily advancement in this Profession.

And then there is a 1745 French exposure entitled “The Broken Seal” where we find the question What do you come to do here? With the answer; To conquer my passions, subdue my desires, and to make new progress in Masonry.

It appears the consistent theme in each of these exposures is that the primary task of an Entered Apprentice is to subdue his passions and then, using the lessons of Masonry, to make progress in his life.

Now, the first thing almost every Mason will notice is that the answer given in the old catechisms is not the answer taught today in the ritual workings of our contemporary lodges. In fact, I would suggest that today’s answer has a much deeper meaning. It was developed during the early 19th century; when Masonry was a far more philosophical than moral undertaking. It commonly goes something like this: What come you here to do?

To learn to subdue my passions and improve myself in Masonry.

The interesting question is this: Are there any commas in this sentence? I think that there are. I think if the answer was actually written in most Masonic monitors, it would look like this:

To learn, to subdue my passions, and improve myself; in Masonry.

If I am right, then there was a new admonition added to the task of an Entered Apprentrice as the philosophical integrity of our Craft ritual expanded; namely—that he first learns.

And I think this changes everything!

To learn is to acquire knowledge; to acquire knowledge of a subject or skill as a result of study, of experience, or teaching; to receive instruction; to find out about, or discover; to be informed of, or learn about; to teach or inform a person of something.

We have to learn there is a moral imperative, for instance, before we can subdue our passions; we have to study Masonry before we can understand it. We have to discover there is an allegory before we can interpret it. We have to be informed of its history before we can comprehend its societal relevance. We have to detect its symbolic associations before we can grasp its spiritual nature. We have to contemplate its meanings before we can experience its insights. We have to be informed of its rules and laws before we can act within the due bounds of fraternity. We have to understand the meaning of manhood before we can grasp the unique power of fraternal association.

We have to learn before we can improve ourselves. And we are taught as Entered Apprentices, we cannot improve ourselves without first subduing our passions--without releasing ourselves from our own ego so that we can feel the brotherhood of man. And we learn as Fellowcrafts that we have to overcome and go beyond the human senses, we have to transcend the logic of human education, we have to journey beyond the paradigms of human awareness, we have to surpass even inspiration and insight, go beyond all the powers and properties, the sciences and senses of man to erect our perfect ashlar; to get in touch with divine truth--which is metaphysical—it surpasses human understanding. Then, as Master Masons, we learn that we have to finally overcome ourselves before we can achieve peace and harmony within ourselves, and in our lives.

The bottom line of Masonic teaching is that, through the journey of our degrees, we learn that Divine truth can’t be understood by the human agencies of education, or dogma, or rationale thought, or by the evidence of the senses—it has to be perceived directly. And, my Brothers, it enters into us by the path of initiation.

All of this is pretty heady stuff. Men come into Masonry to learn to improve themselves. If they are coming here for any other reason, then we are failing to represent with honesty what our organizational purpose is. Men come to us to learn. The lodge is the receptacle, the personal space, the sacred environment that will either facilitate their learning, or prevent it.

To me, this brings up another question for all of us: Which kind of facilitator is our lodge?


Jay Simser said...

As always, you made me think. Thank you.

Ahimon said...


Don't mean to pick a fight ... but.

First, you really ought to think twice about writing down esoteric work.

The funny thing about this particular blog entry is that your preferred rendition shows up in the Red Book in two places. First, in the back with all the categorical lectures on page 122. Second, on page 40 and the end of the EA degree.

But ... it doesn't show up on page 7, in the EA opening.

Of course, we're well aware who edited the Red Book -- perhaps he was trying to make a quick little change that he thought made the ritual so much better? You make a pretty nice argument here for it, so what's the harm, right? The two of you being fast friends and all, I can see how something so gentle and subtle like this can happen.

Just one longtime friend from NW Oklahoma doing a favor for his longtime friend from NW Oklahoma.

Except that the fellow who edited the Red Book didn't know ritual well enough to go and add the comma to the opening, too. I assume he'd either forgotten (or never knew to begin with) that we go through this diddy to open a lodge of EAs.

Wonder what's in the "book that does not exist"? Betcha there's no comma.

Team Ahimon Rezon

Robert G. Davis said...

Hi Dan!

Thanks for your comment. My post was not meant to imply that any one ritual exposure is the most correct. The idea was to get men to think about how they interpret for themselves the language they hear. Obviously, I believe one would gain the most from this particular piece of ritual if he chose to include the commas. Certainly, I believe the context of Masonry's teachings, as well as our path to self improvement, favors the order suggested in breaking the paragraph into sections, i.e., by first being in a frame of mind to learn; then to develop an understanding that real learning is an inner process not tied to one's ego or personality; and, finally, to grasp that one can indeed improve himself through the study of Masonry. Your mileage may differ, but this is how I think we can best profit from this particular admonition given so early in our Masonic journey.

As for ritual exposures, there are so many available these days that a fellow can literally choose the one he wishes to reference. To write any ritual segment doesn't mean it is the ritual of his own jurisdiction. So long as we are writing about ritual from ritual already exposed by others, it is hardly a matter of conscience.

As for the red book, or cypher key, I have no idea. I have never used it.

Good to hear from you. Glad you follow my blogs!


Ahimon said...


What a perfect answer about the Red Book. Haven't used it. Gotta love it. (Guess that's why you're a pro.)

Also, your salutation's wrong. I wish I were as good a guy as he is, but I'm not. You overestimate me.

(Perpahs the NW Oklahoma comment was a distraction? I was referring to you and Jim.)

Anyway, glad you've got a good attitude about this stuff. Hang in there.

Team Ahimon Rezon

Robert G. Davis said... mistake. You sound just like a Dan I have known a long while. But I'm particularly relieved to hear that you aren't him. LOL

For the record, I think what you are doing in your blog is unMasonic; but I will defend your right to express your point of view. It's just that you are getting very close to libel, so be careful with your words. The net is being thrown.

Your passion to disagree with Br. Tresner must be weighed against your interest in continuing your membership in the fraternity. I, of course, would choose the fraternity. Regardless of how much I may dislike any particular brother in it, no man is worth me losing what the fraternity has done, and continues to do, for my life. I'm not one to fuss about how much others know or don't know; or to debate any brother's point of view about Masonic teachings. All ritual is allegorical; which gives each one of us much latitude in interpretation.

It is enough for me just to keep working on myself. That's how I use Masonry. For me, that work is hard enough. :)