The Illumination of the Craft
Wor. Bro. W. H. Topley, P.M., P.Z., P.P.G.St.B., (R.A.), Sussex.
It is the glory of the Lord to conceal a thing, but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.
— Proverbs, Chap. 25. V. 2.
Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful in a few things.
— Matthew, Chap. 25. V. 21.
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
— John, Chap. 8. V. 32.
As I stand before you this afternoon (13th April, 1946), it is with a feeling that we as Masons have arrived at a tide in the affairs of men, which, if taken at the flood, may lead on to fortune. With at least the formal restoration of peace on earth, a world wide organisation has been established, the declared intention of which is goodwill towards men. And it is not too much to say that the discovery, for good or ill, of a means of releasing some portion of the fearful energies contained within an atom of physical matter has transformed the whole situation confronting mankind. For believe me Brethren, nothing in the field of human endeavour will ever be quite the same again.
You will remember the words Tennyson puts into the mouth of King Arthur, as he lay dying amid the ruins of his Kingdom:- "The old order changes giving place to new and God fulfils Himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world." I, with adult memories of the years before the year 1914, when the great tribulation in which we are still engulfed, fell upon the world, have seen the breaking down of much that seemed to me gracious and of good report in the little world I knew, and it may well be that the ruthless exuberance of reforming zeal will sweep other things I might wish to see retained. Yet I have faith enough to believe that the ancient prophecy is constantly in process of fulfilment, when the old men dream dreams of battle-fields gone by, and the young men see visions of new and arduous ways in which to build on old foundations, after clearing away the rubbish of former systems, by no means without beauty and merit in themselves, but which have served their purpose and had their day. I say "Old Foundations" because they were laid for humanity before the world burst forth from chaos and created nature had its birth, and no others can support the superstructures of man's brightest dreams. What are these foundations? Perhaps their clearest and simplest expression is to be found in the Grand Principles on which our Order is founded. Only let these be accepted as having Divine sanction and eternal consequences, and let the generality of men endeavour to live in the light of them, and the dream of unity in diversity would come true; men and nations building their several Temples according to the pattern of the Faith their hearts love best, while acknowledging a common foundation in brotherly love, relief, and truth as it is given to each to see it.
How well I remember the beginnings of the old League of Nations and the Meetings we held about it. Some of us seemed to see the Pentecostal fires descending on those early assemblies — and perhaps we did. The plans were admirable, but too many tried to build upon the shifting sands of national self interest and the footings collapsed under the hands of the builders. Today, in spite of discouragements, it is I think permissible to hope that the Delegates to the new United Nations Organisation may prove wiser than their predecessors. But if not, we, or those who come after us, or maybe we coming after our personal selves, must clear away the rubbish and start afresh. Yet, lest the mind be overwhelmed in contemplation of the vast majestic sweep of Cosmic unfoldment, and we are tempted to feel that our own little strivings are of no account, let us remember for our comfort that to each of us has been assigned a particular task, however small, in the building of the Mystical Temple of Humanity: a task no one else can perform exactly as we can. For each human soul is a unique creation. It has been said that God makes a man and casts the mould away. One day, those who have steadily persevered will hear the voice of the Master saying — Come ye, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry for souls, and thirsty for the love of men, and ye fed Me and gave Me to drink. Pondering thus I cannot but feel that the events and portents of these times add point and urgency to the plea I am about to put before you, for I believe we as Masons, if we are worthy of our calling, have a great part to play in influencing the shape of things to come.
Today, all Institutions are being called into question, and I entertain a private conviction that Freemasonry as an organised Institution after nearly two and a half centuries of cloistered seclusion, is about to be put on trial before the bar of humanity. You see, speaking in general terms, Masons have professed so much to each other in their private assemblies, and have done so little to put their professions into practise in the outer world, and in their daily lives. Perhaps one reason for this is that so few Brethren really understand what they are corporately implying as they gather in Lodge or Chapter time after time, year after year. Let us therefore just in case I happen to be right about this, prepare first ourselves and then our Brethren in Freemasonry, that we may have a good defence should the hour of trial come upon us. And let us, who are privileged to be Members of this Study Circle, try in every way open to us, to further the true object of our Institution, which is to spread the light of its mysteries among the Members of the Order.
My theme is really an amplification of what is advocated in the "Progressive Reflections" issued by the Circle, and I should like to quote two extracts from Part One of these Reflections:-
While these 'Personal words' and addresses are offered for the contemplation of Members of the Craft in general, they are intended in particular for the use of Installed Masters, and it is hoped that they will be found helpful to them in the discharge of their paramount duty of 'employing and instructing the Brethren in Freemasonry.'
There is nothing to prevent the delivery of the official rite being supplemented by unofficial words of explanation, and if these are carefully chosen will serve to lend the official rite additional impressiveness, give it a more intimate and personal bearing, and awaken in him who undergoes it a more deep and real sense of becoming incorporated into living truth, and into a Brotherhood to whom that truth is no mere sentiment, but a profound reality.
Some time ago when in conversation with a knowledgeable friend, not himself a Mason but who knew I was, he remarked — apropos of nothing in particular — "Isn't it a fact that Freemasonry only dates back to 1717?" I replied on the spur of the moment that it would be as true to say that Christianity began at the Reformation. The parallel is perhaps not exact but maybe it will serve. As regards the Christian Faith, Origen and other early fathers of the Church have said in effect that Christianity has always been in the world, but was not known by that name until Christ came. As regards Freemasonry, some old chronicler using a lovely phrase, affirms that God imparted the secrets of Masonry to Adam in his sylvan Lodge in Paradise, not meaning any earthly eden. Later writers of what I will call the literalist school of Masonic enquiry — I will not say interpretation — forgetting that ours is a system veiled in allegory, have much derided this affirmation as an extravagant fantasy, yet it enshrines a deep transcendental truth — for who shall set a period to the adventure of the spirit of man, or assess in terms of mortal dereliction the unfolding of an immortal quest?
The emergence of certain epochs in the affairs of men can be placed in their historical perspective as actual historical events, but they do but mark the culmination of what has gone before in the realm of unrecorded things. The spiritual evolution of the human race defies historical analysis. I am thinking specially of epochs of particular interest to us as Masons. We have it on the authority of Brother James Anderson, in his Constitutions of 1738 that on the 24th of June, 1717, certain Brethren from four London Lodges, met within a stone's throw of where the home of Freemasonry now rears its stately head, and constituted themselves the Grand Lodge of England. Thus Speculative Masonry as a manifested and organized Institution came into being. But what influences and personalities inspired, and were behind those quite undistinguished Brethren who builded so much better than they knew? — For what then came into manifest existence derives from something as old as the mind of man itself. Such an enquiry is beyond the scope of this paper but is undertaken in our Transaction No. 4, entitled "Freemasonry, how, whence, and whither." The union of the two rival Grand Lodges of England in the year 1813 is by no means without significance for us, but may perhaps be regarded as a stage, in terms of an harmonious accommodation, in the development of Speculative Masonry.
I now want to refer to the emergence of another epoch-making Masonic event. On the 16th December, 1927, the Lodge of Living Stones No. 4957, was consecrated, and came into manifested existence. Humanly speaking it owes its formation to that great writer and teacher known to us in the flesh as Walter Leslie Wilmshurst, now passed to the Grand Lodge above, but, as some of us believe, still guiding and inspiring those who are called to carry on the work he so splendidly inaugurated. He was the first Master of the Lodge of Living Stones, and its conception is foreshadowed in that wonderful book of his, "The Masonic Initiation." A book which with its companion volume "The Meaning of Masonry" should be the constant companion of every earnest Masonic student. It is true to say that he was the founder of a recognised School for the mystical interpretation of Masonic Doctrine, and that the Lodge of Living Stones is his memorial, erected for the express purpose of perpetuating and propagating his teachings, as enshrined in his books and papers, and in the private instruction imparted to those privileged thus to learn from him, and one knows that this oral tradition is not without witnesses amongst us. I have a feeling that the need for circumspection was very present in the minds of Brother Wilmshurst and those associated with him in this great work of setting up a predominately mystical Lodge of Freemasons. But be that as it may, the Lodge of Living Stones, in conformity with its rules and regulations, ministers rather to the chosen few. If I may venture to say so, it is more like a Masonic University for the training of prospective Professors and Teachers than a Masonic School of Instruction for the education of pupils in the Craft. The need for something more; something in the nature of a School of Instruction for the Brethren at large in the true meaning and purpose of Masonry made itself felt, and has been satisfied in what I should like to call a flowering from the Lodge of Living Stone. Need I add that I refer to our Dormer Masonic Study Circle, which draws its inspiration from the same source as, and is in fraternal association with, the Lodge from which it did in a manner spring.
Our Circle, however, operates over a wider field, and I make bold to claim that in its own chosen sphere it is unique in the annals of organised Speculative Freemasonry. Not unmindful of the fact that there is much in its teachings that may not, indeed, cannot be imparted indiscriminately, and without due preparation on the part of the hearer or reader, it welcomes to its Membership and privileges all Master Masons of proved sincerity of purpose. This Membership is world-wide, and ever increasing, and although nothing can adequately take the place of that impact of mind upon mind which prevails at our Meetings, the Transactions issued periodically to all Members, are, within the limits imposed upon the printed word, of incalculable value to the seeker after truth; and further, we possess a quite remarkable and extensive library of books and papers dealing with the deeper implications of our Masonic Art, made easily accessible by the issue of a library list.
I have called your attention, Brethren of the Dormer, to what you already know, in support of my contention that the time is ripe for pioneering in the field of Masonic instruction, and that our Circle is not only the appropriate, but the only body of its kind in existence, capable of sponsoring effectively, the activities I have in mind, through the instrumentality of its Members, acting individually in their several spheres of influence. Effectively, by virtue of the ideals and aspirations, which in a peculiar manner bind the Brethren of the Dormer together, imparting to each a strength of purpose (and, may I add, courage — for courage will be required), which, in isolation, they could not in the same manner possess. At our Circle Meetings, where much is said which never appears in our Transactions, I feel very conscious of the slenderness of my Masonic knowledge, and spiritual awareness, and am reminded of the saying of the Christian Master to His intimate friends and disciples — "I have many things to tell you but ye cannot bear them now" — and I know that I must possess my soul in patience, and be careful not rashly to rush forward. Yet when privately pondering some simple Masonic theme, my thoughts turn to those many — grievously many — Brethren for whom, what interests us so much is a closed book. Doubtless they admire the commendable sentiments expressed in the surface meanings of Masonic Ritual, but they are not concerned to see or to seek its deeper implications; and there comes to my mind the parable of the wedding feast — Go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in that my house may be full. I am thinking, of course, of the Masonic "highways and hedges" — of those Brethren who are in Masonry, but not of it. Yet I think we may assume that by the very nature of their tenure Masons as a whole are thoughtful men, but thousands know practically nothing about Masonry beyond what they may gather from Lodge and Chapter Ceremonial. They may wonder what these "secrets of our Masonic Art" may be, but nobody tells them, and they are too diffident, or not sufficiently interested to inquire.
It is for us as Dormer Members to draw out such Brethren as we are able to contact, and, in the simplest terms, make them interested. It would indeed be a wonderful thing to possess the skill and ability to be, so to speak, a sixth form teacher in the School of the Craft, and feed the sheep — but someone must look after the kindergarten, or how shall the lambs be fed? Or, for that matter, the sheep prepared for sixth form nutriment. For the lambs of today are the sheep of tomorrow and every Master in the Craft was once an Entered Apprentice. It is true that all earnest Master Masons, on being properly vouched for, are welcomed as Members of our Circle, but I would emphasize that its teachings are of a very advanced nature, and assume some pre-knowledge of the technique of Masonic Symbolism, and a considerable degree of mental and spiritual preparation. Or, to put it another way, just as the Lodge cannot be opened direct in the Third Degree, or an Entered Apprentice become a Royal Arch Mason, so a Brother whose knowledge of things Masonic goes little beyond an unassisted contemplation of formal "work in Lodge" cannot fully enter into all that our Study Circle has to impart. The point I am trying to make is, that there is a gap to be filled between what I will call the Floor of the Lodge, and the advanced studies with which we as Dormer Masons are most concerned, and that in trying to do something to fill that gap, we should remember that first things must come first.
WAYS AND MEANS
The question therefore arises, what means are available, or could be made so, whereby these first things may be taught to those desirous of learning about them; and equally important, how can a desire for Masonic knowledge be implanted in the hearts of those who as yet feel no such emotion? What can we, that is, you and I my Brother, do about it? Of course, much must depend upon the atmosphere of the Lodge one belongs to, and upon ones personal circumstances. Is one a Past Master or Officer, or has one not yet achieved Office. Can one give a great deal of time to Masonic work without neglecting the ordinary duties of one's station. But, however we may be situated, there is probably something each of us can do if our hearts are in it and we try hard enough.
There are Study Circles small and large, which deal with various topics of Masonic interest and the simpler aspects of Masonic teaching — very excellent and necessary preliminary instruction. Should there be one within your reach, attend yourself, if time and circumstances permit — example is better than precept — and endeavour to persuade others to do likewise. You may (or may not) find what is dealt with elementary: in any case it will probably be interesting and instructive. There must, however, be many localities where no Study Circle is situated, probably because a sufficient number of Brethren cannot be found to create a demand for this service. But whose business is it to awaken in the hearts of the Brethren a dawning interest in the meaning and purpose of Masonry? Masonic Initiation is emblematic of a spiritual re-birth. Were should a new-made Mason turn for his infant nurture, if not to his Mother Lodge?
Let us, therefore, consider this matter of Masonic instruction through the medium ready to hand, namely, the ordinary working Craft Lodge. The First Section of the First of the Craft Lectures contains this question and answer:- (Q) What is a Lodge of Freemasons? — (A) An assemblage of Brethren met to expatiate on the Mysteries of the Craft. On turning to the Oxford Dictionary I find this definition of "Expatiation" — "The action of discussing at large: extended talk or description." By what stretch of this definition can the recitation by rote of prescribed ceremonial, intended to be rendered verbatim, be regarded as Expatiation? It will be remembered that in the Charge after Passing, it is stated that a Craftsman may offer his opinions on such subjects as are introduced in the Lectures, under the superintendence of an experienced Master who will guard the Landmarks from encroachment. Is it not evident that in earlier days instruction of some kind, and that of a speculative nature, was in fact a regular feature of Lodge work? Surely, any other supposition makes nonsense of the Charge after Passing, and also of the retrospect following the Third Degree obligation. And further — and this is a very serious matter — it must appear to be nonsense to any thoughtful and intelligent Brother who belongs to a Lodge where the Charge after Passing is used, but no instruction is given beyond the prescribed Ritual. If the present day position is held to be that so far as the Lodge is concerned, anything beyond the prescribed Ritual is optional, and that the Officers have fulfilled their obligations in Initiating, Passing, and Raising Candidates in the established Degrees of the Order, why not be honest about it, and revise our Rituals accordingly?
For the sake of my thesis and to maintain the personal touch, I will assume I am addressing a Brother whose situation is as follows:-
- It is not the custom in his Lodge to go beyond the prescribed Ritual.
- He is a Master Mason who has not attained Office.
- He feels that something ought to be done by his Lodge, in an organised manner, to instruct the Brethren in at least the elements of the meaning of our "Peculiar System of Morality." (One knows that something on these lines is done in many Lodges — the case is stated for the sake of my argument).
Possibly an approach to Officers or Past Masters may receive a discouraging reception. You may be met with the objection that time cannot be found for these extra-ceremonial activities, but this plea will seldom stand up to investigation. Sometimes two, or even three Ceremonies, are worked at a single Meeting, so great is the press of Candidates for the several Degrees. Would it really hurt Candidates to exercise a little patience? Must they be rushed through the three Degrees in as many Meetings? I suggest that in the great majority of cases time could easily be found if the will to find it were present. Apart from occasional instructional efforts, fitted in with formal work, I should like to see at least one Lodge Meeting in every Session set aside for the sole purpose of instruction. An examination of the attendance book of such Meetings would be a useful guide to the Master-Elect when considering whom to appoint to the offices in his gift.
Failing authoritative support for your ideas, what, my Brother, are your constitutional rights and privileges in the matter, and what further steps are open to you? To begin with I dissent from the hypothesis that Lodge proceedings should be governed solely by the wishes or predilections of those in authority for the time being. Every Mason is pledged to a ready acquiescence in all votes and resolutions duly passed by a majority of the Brethren in open Lodge; and at every Lodge Meeting the Master is required to ask, before the Lodge closes, whether any Brother has ought to propose for the good of Freemasonry in general, or his Lodge in particular. You have every right, at any time, in response to this invitation, to rise in your place and put forward such proposals as you may consider appropriate regarding the instruction of the Brethren, whether by way of comment or in the form of a resolution. One would of course, first prepare the way by testing the feelings of the younger Brethren for whom such Instruction Is primarily Intended. Should the response be poor it might be wise to wait, but it would be unwise to give up hope. But I believe the chances are that a quite surprising number of Brethren would be found ready, indeed eager, to support you, and my feeling is that in some cases it might be a good thing if the formal Initiative came from outside the executive.
Let us now consider the important question of procedure. In some Lodges, on convenient occasions, a paper is read or a talk given in open Lodge and is discussed in open Lodge. This course is considered by some to be open to objection on the ground that differences of opinion might reveal themselves in the course of the discussion, and the harmony of the Lodge thereby endangered, and I find myself in agreement with this view. In other Lodges the Master "Calls off" when discussion is to follow a talk or paper, thus avoiding this possibility, and "Calls on" when the discussion is concluded. Again, it is the custom in some Lodges to defer discussion of what has been said in Lodge (or in the Lodge room, with the Lodge "called off") until the after-proceedings, in which the toast list is, for the occasion, reduced to a minimum, and this I feel is the best thing to do. In some Provincial Lodges I know of, a slender toast list is the general rule. One appreciates that at the Installation Dinner a full toast list is called for, but for myself, I must confess that I derive more pleasure and profit from these simpler ways, than I do from a formal dinner where sustained conversation with one's immediate neighbours is well nigh impossible, so swiftly does the I.P.M.'s gavel follow upon the latest oratorial effort.
It needs to be said that practise varies as between the London District and the several Provinces in regard to these matters, and it would be wise and proper to seek authoritative guidance in particular cases. It goes without saying that on any Masonic occasion nothing must be said in the presence of an E.A., a F.C. or a M.M. which these good Brethren respectively ought not to hear, but notwithstanding this necessary limitation there is much of interest and instruction that a speaker may say at the after- proceedings, without any violation of his obligations.
And now let us turn from the particular to the general. I do not believe that the Brethren as a whole are really indifferent to the things we of the Dormer make our special care and study, but they do need to be lead in that direction. No Brother of any sensibility can fall to be moved in some degree by his ceremonial experiences. The soil is good, but if the seed be not sown and watered how shall the harvest be gathered? In the instructional field, our formal ceremonies of themselves are not enough. A good and earnest friend and Brother who had recently been raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, once said to me In an evident spirit of disillusionment, "Isn't there anything else?" I tried to explain that there was everything else, namely, the appreciation in terms of one's own Inner experience, of what lies behind the veils of allegory and illustration by symbols; that Masonry is essentially an instructional system concerning a higher way of life than that which we ordinarily tread. "Then," said my friend," if that is so why are we not told something about it, and how can one obtain light on these matters?" Now I am persuaded that what my friend said thousands of Brethren are thinking.
Within the kingdom of the Craft the highways and hedges are thronged with potential workers, teachers, healers. Many may be just waiting for the call — the right message at the right moment. Indeed, how great a fire a tiny spark may kindle. A word spoken and a life transformed is within the experience of many a seeker after souls. Truly the Masonic harvest is plentiful, but the labourers, as yet, are all too few. I seem to sense a stirring in the hearts of men, particularly our Brethren in Freemasonry. A flood tide in the affairs of Masonry is upon us — let us take it in the flood, and by this means or by that, use such rights and influence as we may possess to bring home to Masters, Officers, and Past Masters their responsibility for at least the initial instruction of the Members of their Lodges. Get the Brethren interested; that is the great thing — make them realise that there is much more in our wonderful system than appears on the surface. Study Circles, and similar agencies will I am sure spring up to supplement the ground work thus provided, as these extra-ceremonial Lodge activities stimulate a sufficient demand for them.
My appeal is to all "Brethren of the Mystic Tie" into whose hands this paper may come, but especially to fellow Members of our Circle. And my hope is that except where sheer necessity prevents, we may all, employing the advantages and fortified by the inspiration of our Membership, play some individual part in such a crusade as is here envisaged, to the end that not only may like minded Brethren rally to our standard, but that many a Brother who might never, in the real meaning of the word have become a Mason at all, may in due time, be moved to join us in receiving and spreading throughout the Order, the Light of our Mysteries.
Doubtless there are some Lodges where the desire for something more that the prescribed Ritual is present or could be engendered, but no Member of it feels himself competent to "Expatiate on the Mysteries of the Craft" — and in some Provincial Lodges outside help if not impossible, is very difficult to obtain. But be that as it may, it would greatly strengthen one's hand if one were able and willing to step into the breach, if called upon. It is not suggested that all is going to be plain sailing — this is no field of endeavour for those who look for easy victories. But no Mason, particularly a Dormer Mason, should too readily assume that it is beyond him to speak acceptably on some simple Masonic theme.
It will be observed that no attempt is made in this paper to indicate what kind of instruction should be given in the various ways referred to, but I would venture to suggest that except in the case of a deeply instructed and experienced Brother, it should be of the simplest nature, designed chiefly to encourage further enquiry.
Masonry is a Mystery System scarcely to be comprehended by a life time's study. Those who essay to speak to their fellow Masons need not pretend to know all the answers. But what we can all do for an earnest and enquiring Brother, is to invite him to join the Dormer that he and we may learn together from the same source, but each along his own lines. Just as every soul is a unique creation, so there are as many paths to Paradise as there are souls on pilgrimage. When we arrive at that stage of spiritual unfoldment, at which we shall be entitled, in a plenary sense, to demand that "last and greatest trial" we must go forward alone, so far as mortal aid is concerned. But that experience is a long way off for most of us and meanwhile we are within hailing distance of like minded Brethren, and it is good to travel the pilgrim path in company. We are all familiar with the saying that if a thing is worth doing at all it is worth doing well. But a famous musician once said to his pupils, "If a piece of music is worth playing at all it is worth playing badly," his meaning being, I take it, that skill in any art comes only by practice, in overcoming imperfection; that earnest endeavour has a value all its own. Believe me, Brother reader, there may be more power in a few halting phrases, spoken from the heart in evident sincerity, than in the most eloquent of orations coming only from the head. Such verbal dexterity without deep feeling and conviction behind it may hold us for a moment, but will not awaken any answering chord. But speak with your lips, your hearts consenting, and your words may bear fruit in ways beyond your knowing.
Freely, Brethren of the Dormer, we have received shall we not freely give, using the talents wherewith God has blessed us (be they ten, or be it one) to His glory and the welfare and advancement of our Brethren in Freemasonry.
Peace to all beings,
S. M. I. B.