The Meaning, Purpose and Symbolism of Freemasonry
W.Bro. A. H. Bentley, PGStB, PPGJW (Surrey)
Brother Arthur Bentley joined our Circle soon after it was founded in 1938, and within a short time accepted the appointment as Secretary. On the death of the first Treasurer of the Circle Brother Arthur acted for quite a time in the dual capacity of Secretary and Treasurer until the steady increase in membership and the consequent work involved required a new Secretary to be appointed.
In addition to his executive work for the Circle, Brother Arthur regularly attended the Meetings and delivered a number of Papers which were subsequently printed as Transactions. His activities in Freemasonry covered quite a wide range, and he willingly addressed Lodges and Chapters when an opportunity presented itself. These two Papers were given at the Bexhill Masonic Centre.
He was forthright in his view that many Dormer Papers were too advanced for a beginner in Freemasonry who had no knowledge of esoteric terminology or had not received any philosophical training. His Papers reflected this attitude, for he endeavoured, with quite a measure of success, to act as a bridge or catalyst.
Brother Arthur died in his eighty-fourth year. He was a man of quiet and kindly disposition not given to much talking but a good listener and endeavouring always to pass on pure and unsullied the true principles and beautiful tenets of Freemasonry. In a speech he made at the 21st Anniversary of our Circle he used these words: "We work not for honour, not for glory, not for any reward, but we are proud indeed to be associated with so many Brethren who, in many parts of the world are trying to leave their part of it, better than they found it when they arrived."
I am going to commence my address to you this evening by reading to you part of the Introductory Address to the First of Fifteen Sections of the Lectures in Craft Masonry.
Now, it is quite likely, that many of you have never heard these lectures read, indeed, I doubt not that some of you have never heard of them. Such is the measure of the neglect which the Craft in general gives to the education of its members and it is the purpose of my talk tonight to try in some small measure to remedy this deficiency and arouse in your minds an interest which will encourage those among you who have the urge for Masonic education to seek out the means by which this education can be obtained and also to persuade those who have the arrangement of Lodge programmes to see that some time is devoted to this much neglected subject.
Now for the quotation:
Brethren, Masonry, according to the general acceptation of the term, is an Art founded on the principles of Geometry, and directed to the service and convenience of mankind. But Freemasonry embracing a wider range, and having a more noble object in view, namely, the cultivation and improvement of the human mind, may, with more propriety, be called a Science, although its lessons for the most part are veiled in Allegory and illustrated by Symbols, inasmuch as, veiling itself under the terms of the former, it inculcates principles of the purest morality.
To draw aside this veil therefore, or more properly speaking to penetrate through its mysteries, is the object of our Masonic Lectures....
And such, my brethren, is the object of this talk to you this evening.
The first thing to note is that in the quotation a distinction is drawn between Masonry and Freemasonry.
It is therefore very necessary that we should have clearly in our minds a proper understanding of what we mean by Freemasonry and therefore the first question that we have to ask ourselves is "What is Freemasonry?"
Before, however, trying to deal with this question it is essential that I should make it quite clear to you that I have no intention of falling into the error which is so easy for anyone in a position such as I am of being dogmatic in my remarks.
In any field of human endeavour it is usually those holding strong views on any particular subject who have the courage to stand up and address their fellows. It is therefore very easy for such a person so to express himself as to give the impression that what he says is not only the truth but also the only truth, and if he is dealing with an explanation of symbolism that his interpretation is the only interpretation.
Brethren, such is not my intention at all. I shall give you my ideas, my interpretations, my explanations. I shall also wherever possible give you the thoughts of other writers who have expressed their ideas of Freemasonry, but you will be left entirely to formulate your own opinions and all that I hope is that what I say will be used as something to stimulate you into giving the matter more consideration than you would otherwise have done
To return, then to our question What is Freemasonry?
In its own ritual Freemasonry describes itself as "a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." This is all very well as far as it goes but I do not think that it goes far enough neither is it sufficiently explicit particularly for those newly admitted to the Craft or those trying to make a study of Freemasonry.
Freemasonry has been defined as a body of men banded together to preserve and propagate by means of a ceremonial certain basic truths which are the property of the whole human race but which man normally tends to put into the background of his consciousness. These basic truths are concerned with man in his relationship with Deity and man in his relationship with his fellow man. Thus its primary teachings are Brotherly Love, Relief, Truth and Spiritual and Moral Virtue. It teaches Man's dependence upon God Who is referred to as The Great Architect of the Universe, and also Man's obligations to assist his fellow man (Am I my brother's keeper? undoubtedly, yes). From this it follows that Freemasons should assist all men — not merely their brethren of the Craft.
In a little booklet issued by the Grand Lodge of Michigan, U.S.A. to its candidates, Freemasonry is described as:
A fellowship of men of like minds in their search for Truth each working to aid the other in his efforts to attain perfection within himself and in every phase of his personal environment.
Again, in the book entitled The Freemasons by Eugen Lennhoff, the author quotes from the General Handbook of Freemasonry which is stated to be the standard work of German Freemasonry as follows:
Freemasonry is the activity of closely associated men, who, employing symbolical forms mainly borrowed from the Masonic Craft and Architecture, work for the welfare of mankind, seeking to ennoble themselves, and others, in order thereby to bring into being a universal Brotherhood of Humanity, which they aim to represent in miniature amongst themselves.
Thus, we see, that to define Freemasonry properly we have to adopt a much broader outlook than that which is contained in the official definition.
But let us return to the official definition and see what it really means.
First of all then, I think it is necessary to state that at all times in the known history of man on this earth, systems of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols have existed, all with the same object in view, namely to study man's relationship with his God. The religions of the world and the literature of the world are all full of such examples. The trouble is that so often man has observed the surface explanation and missed entirely the more important secrets which are hidden beneath the surface. It is therefore very important and very necessary that we should go thoroughly into what we mean by a system of morality and also what we mean by allegory and symbolism.
Morality is not to be confused with morals and the word here has no reference to morals as we normally understand the word neither to any matter of ethics. It must be obvious that if we were merely dealing with a system of morals there would be no necessity for veils of secrecy, neither would there be any necessity for such an elaborate system of ceremonial as we have in our Craft Degrees. The definition of the word as given by Wilmshurst is that "the word is derived from the word MORES" i.e. customs and practices of some distinctive cult of religious or philosophical devotees."
For the Freemason the study of symbolism is imperative. A symbol can be defined as a visible representation of some object or thing which may be real or imagined, employed to convey a certain idea. Symbols are one of the oldest forms of writing known to the human race for the ancient Egyptians used a form of hieroglyphics in order to convey their thoughts to succeeding generations. It is by means of this symbolism that most of our knowledge of the ancient world and its wisdom has come down to us. The ancient form of symbolic writing has passed from current usage, but Freemasonry, to some extent, is employing symbols to record her precepts and to impress the minds of the brethren who come amongst us. Therefore the Freemason who knows nothing of symbolism can know but little of Freemasonry itself. To quote the words of Albert Pike, that great American writer on Freemasonry:
The symbolism of Masonry is the soul of Masonry. Every symbol of a Lodge is a religious teacher, the mute teacher also of morals and philosophy. It is in the ancient symbols and in the knowledge of their true meaning that the preeminence of Freemasonry over all others consists.
To quote the words of another great writer, R. F. Gould:
The symbolism of Masonry, or at all events, a material part of it, is of great antiquity, and in substance the system of Masonry which we now possess, including the three degrees of the Craft, has come down to us in all its essentials from times remote to our own.
We thus begin to appreciate the importance of symbolism in Freemasonry, but let us carry our thoughts a stage further.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a symbol as: "Thing regarded by general consent as naturally typifying or representing or recalling something by possession of analogous qualities or by association in fact or thought."
And Brother S. T. Klein in his book entitled The Way of Attainment states:
The human race is steadily progressing towards the goal to which the scheme of creation is carrying us; but it is yet in its infancy, as is shown by the fact that we still require symbolism to help us to maintain and carry forward abstract thoughts to higher levels, even as children require picture books for that purpose.
Symbolism is as old as man himself. It began with the first communication of ideas among men. It is the outward sign of an inner concept a word, an image or a gesture which tells to the one who is of the inner circle the story of a secret, a hidden or of an esoteric association.
In his book entitled Symbolism or Mystic Masonry, Brother J. D. Buck states:
In its ritualism and monitorial lessons Masonry teaches nothing in morals, in science, in religion, or in any other department of human knowledge or human interest, not taught elsewhere in current forms of thought, or by the sages of the past. In these directions it has no secrets of any kind. It is in the ancient symbols of Freemasonry that its real secrets lie concealed, and these are as densely veiled to the Mason as to any other, unless he has studied the science of symbolism in general and masonic symbolism in particular. The most profound secrets of Masonry are not revealed in the Lodge at all. They belong only to the few.
And as a last quotation on this particular aspect of symbolism I quote the words of Brother F. V. Mataralay in his book entitled The Masonic Way: "The way of Masonry is largely inculcated by symbols. It has been found in all ages that emblems and symbols expressing great truths by a few simple strokes, appeal to the mind more strongly and are better remembered than words. To make the most of them it is necessary to grasp the meaning underlying them, and to carry the mind along with them."
It is therefore our duty as Freemasons to learn to interpret the symbolism of our Craft for only thus can we become Freemasons in fact instead of only Freemasons in word. This is our daily advancement in masonic knowledge. Far too many members of the Order make no attempt to draw aside the veil by which the allegory of the Craft is hidden and are perfectly content to accept the symbols at their face value rather than to make any serious attempt to solve their mystery.
It must not be forgotten, however, that the primary purpose of symbolism is to conceal, for in all ages where esoteric truths have been taught by means of symbols, the reason is not only because mere words are inadequate to impart the message which it is intended to convey but also because it has been, and is still is, necessary to veil certain truths from the profane and from those who are not yet entitled, i.e. properly prepared to understand them. Each of us, therefore, must interpret the symbols of Freemasonry according to his own capacity. It follows, therefore, that in a particular symbol we shall each see something different. This does not mean that either of us is wrong. We are each permitted to see so much of Truth as we are entitled to know.
There have been, and still are, however, critics who question the interpretation of masonic symbolism for as one writer puts it:
When we become launched into its stream, we are often caught up in the torrent and carried out into the open sea of imagination without the chart of reality and proof to guide us on our journey.
Again, it has been contended by some writers that one is not justified in ascribing to any particular symbol any meaning other than that given in the ritual, for surely, it is held, the compilers thereof, with specific design, gave to each of the Operative tools, for instance, or other emblems, the meaning best suited to convey an important and instructive lesson. However, we are enjoined to speculate on the meaning of the various symbols and each of us according to our own ideas gives to the particular symbol the meaning which most appeals to his own individuality. Moreover, there must be some meaning other than that contained in the ritual otherwise the whole idea of veiling with allegory and illustrating by symbol falls to the ground. We are told that veiling is necessary in order to safeguard our secrets from the profane and if veiling is necessary at all it must be to hide something which is not for the world at large. We therefore come to the conclusion that veiling is necessary in order, first that we should learn to think for ourselves, and secondly that the secrets which by means of this thinking can become known to us are only for those who are properly prepared to receive them.
In his book entitled Freemasons Guide and Compendium, W.Bro. Bernard E. Jones states: "It is unfortunate that masonic symbolism lends itself to the fertile invention of hosts of writers, who, as W. H. Rylands puts it, 'guided by no sort of system and ruled only by their own sweet will, love to allow their fancies and imagination to run wild'.
Whilst as I have stated before, all are entitled to hold their own opinions I must differ from Brother Bernard Jones and Brother Rylands as quoted here. I feel that these are the remarks of one who is unable to discern anything beyond the obvious. Maybe I am biased in favour of the mystic rather than the materialist, but in my view these brethren are unable to appreciate that the purpose of symbolism and masonic symbolism in particular is primarily to encourage the imagination. To encourage contemplation and meditation. The small voice of intuition which resides within each one of us should be given more scope than is usually afforded, for remember, brethren, the words of the poet Browning:
Truth is within ourselves. It takes no rise From outward things, whatso'er you may believe, There is an inward centre within ourselves Where truth abides in fulness, and to know Rather consists in finding out a way Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape Than by effecting entrance for a light Supposed to be without.
And are we not told in our own ritual that we hope to find our secrets "With the centre."
I would like to give you a quotation from a book entitled The Meaning of Masonry written by W.Bro. W. L. Wilmshurst:
Our teaching is purposely veiled in allegory and symbol and its deeper import does not appear on the surface of the ritual itself. This is partly in correspondence with human life itself and the world we live in, which are themselves but allegories and symbols of another life and the veils of another world; and partly also, so that only those who have reverent and understanding minds may penetrate into the more hidden meaning of the doctrine of the Craft. The deeper secrets in Masonry, like the deeper secrets of life, are heavily veiled; are closely hidden. They exist concealed beneath a great reservation; but whoso knows anything of them knows also that they are "many and valuable," and that they are disclosed only to those who act upon the hint given in our Lectures, "Seek and ye shall find; ask and ye shall have; knock and it shall be opened unto you." The search may be long and difficult but great things are not acquired without effort and search; but it may be affirmed that to the candidate who is "properly prepared" (in a much fuller sense than we conventionally attach to that expression) there are doors leading from the Craft that, when knocked, will assuredly open and admit him to places and to knowledge he needs at present little of.
In the Prestonian Lecture for 1953 the late W.Brother G. S. Shepherd-Jones quotes Dr. Sayce, the Professor of Assyriology as follows:
We can understand the spiritual and the abstract only by the help of the material and we cannot convey that understanding to others or even to ourselves, without recourse to parables, symbols and allegory.
Also Clemens Alexandrinus once stated:
All sacred truth is enfolded in enigmatical legends, fables and allegories.
After considering all that I have said regarding symbols and symbolism I would now like to define a symbol as an outer, visible and tangible sign of an inner spiritual reality. It is my belief that there must be some hiddenness in Freemasonry for, if it is not so then surely we are wasting our time in memorising ritual and performing ceremonies just to learn something of a few ethical virtues which can be just as easily learned without all this ritual and ceremonial.
One is sometimes asked why it is that Freemasonry employs a ritual and an elaborate ceremonial. Could not it is asked, the lessons of Freemasonry, of Brotherly Love, of Charity and of Benevolence, be taught without all this ceremonial without all this learning of ritual and, bearing in mind particularly the Third Degree, all this drama.
The answer, of course, is that Freemasonry, as properly understood sets out to be something more than a society to improve and teach the living of a moral life. It is a Spiritual Science and at all times lessons of Truth and lessons of the Spirit, have of necessity always been taught in this way. By its very ritual Freemasonry is said to be veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. So are all forms of religion and spiritual teaching. Many there are who believe that the Bible itself is composed entirely of allegory and symbol. Most, I believe, will agree that at least part of it is so written. Why is this?
Spiritual Truth can only be taught in this way. Firstly because when teaching people of all stages of spiritual development it is the only means available by which understanding can be conveyed to them. Children are taught by means of fairy stories and picture books. Secondly you cannot use an entirely material means to teach spiritual truths. And thirdly spiritual truth must always be taught in such a way that only those properly prepared shall be able to understand. It is the explanation of what the Bible calls casting pearls before swine.
Therefore, I can now answer our original question as to what is Freemasonry by saying that in my opinion:
Freemasonry is a spiritual science which teaches of man's relationship to his fellow man but more particularly of man's relationship to God. It seeks to explain by means of allegory and symbolism the How, Whence and Whither of life but purposely veils its instruction so that only those who are worthy by being properly prepared or properly instructed shall be able to avail themselves of its teachings.
Having now, I hope, established the fact that Freemasonry, when properly understood, is something more than just a Brotherhood with Charitable and Moral objects, I would like to explain what to my mind is the interpretation of the Three degrees of the Craft with perhaps a few brief words of a general nature on the Royal Arch ceremony bearing in mind the fact that perhaps not all here are members of the Holy Royal Arch.
The Ceremony of Initiation is intended to portray that search for Truth and Light which is inherent in all of us. Therefore we come in that state of darkness which illustrates that state of ignorance in which we all commence our earthly pilgrimage.
The candidate enters, poor and penniless, for man brings nothing material with him into this life. Hence he is deprived of all monies and metals before he enters the Lodge. He knocks on the portals of this life to gain admittance where he hopes to obtain knowledge of Truth because it is only in this life that he can make spiritual advancement (in a later degree we say, "be careful to perform your allotted task whilst it is yet day". In this connection it is my opinion that care should be taken that it is the candidate himself who does the knocking, for no one can make spiritual advancement for another. Each must labour for it himself for himself and by himself.
Having entered, he travels wearily (slipshod) and not properly clothed because this is not his natural home (man is really a spiritual being condemned to work out his salvation on this earth) being a spiritual being he has not even got the proper clothing to live in a material world.
His journey round the Lodge (i.e. through life) is illustrated by stepping over the chequered floorcloth with its squares of black and white, emblematic of the joys and sorrows, the good and the bad, the pain and the pleasure and all those other pairs of opposites which go to make up this life. At certain stages in his journey he is tested as to his worthiness to proceed and each of us will remember times in our lives when such testings have literally been made and it is only the affirmation which we made when we first entered the Lodge that it was in God in Who we put our trust that gives us the necessary courage to proceed on the journey.
The candidate is next presented to the Master symbolic of the Master Principle within each one of us which enables us to recognise the truth when eventually presented to us. The nearer the candidate advances, the bolder become his steps. It should be realised that all this time he has been in a state of darkness and in this state of ignorance the things which he would wish to know and see are all around him thus symbolising the fact that until one's eyes are opened one's faculties are not attuned to enable us to appreciate them.
Finally, having taken the obligation he is restored to light (note the importance and the implications of that word "restored") and is thus symbolically deemed to have attained the first stage in his real spiritual development. His eyes are opened to learn the real meaning of Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. When seen through the eyes of the Spirit the material things of this world seem-very different.
In the Second Degree the advance to the East is of considerable interest. In the First Degree the movement was all on one plane but now there is an ascent from one level of consciousness to a higher one. Thus in ascending the Winding Staircase the candidate raises his consciousness from the level of the senses to the more hidden byways of the mind. He is later told that in the Second Degree he is to pursue his researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science and this can only be done on a level of consciousness higher than the sense level of the material world. The spiral staircase is the symbol of evolution ever onwards and ever upwards. All life is cyclic. So with man. His evolution is cyclic but when he receives assistance from higher powers and when he himself consciously assists in the work, the cyclic motion becomes spiral.
In this degree the importance of the heart is emphasised. The heart is where our preparation first began where that inward urge to tread the pathway of Initiation first commenced. Therefore now, the heart becomes the repository of our secrets; in fact it could indicate that those secrets were known inwardly to us all along and that now we have merely rediscovered them, have now realised that the truth resides within us all along if only we were not so blind as to realise this.
The candidate is now expected to extend his researches from moral truth to the hidden mysteries of nature and science but it should be remembered that no one should be permitted to extend his researches in this way until he has properly made himself acquainted with the principles of moral truth and virtue. We can understand this by saying that the candidate should properly understand the teachings of the First Degree before seeking to be Passed to the Second.
Thus, to sum up the teachings of the Second Degree, it impresses upon us the necessity of exercising our intellectual faculties which will thus enable us to get a better understanding of man's relationship with God.
We now come to the climax of the Craft Degrees. The nature of the steps to the East which are taken in the Third Degree are particularly distinctive and full of meaning. If you wish you can consider them from the obvious point of view that in taking them the candidate is demonstrating his willingness to overcome the terrors of the grave. It has been said, however, that these steps were responsible for the idea being spread outside the Craft that Freemasonry was anti-christian because the claim was made that Freemasons trampled upon the cross. True, the manner of making the steps is similar to the actions used in making the sign of the cross, but if it is true that we do trample upon a cross it is not because of the Christian associations with that symbol but because the cross demonstrates the power of death and Freemasons demonstrate by their actions that they are prepared to overcome this evil, believing thereby — as the Christian also believes — that in this way immortality can be achieved. That as St. Paul says mortality becomes swallowed up immortality. The cross also signifies all those earthly, material things, which hold back all those who truly seek to tread the pathway that leads to the spiritual life. And in this respect Freemasonry is referring to a symbolism of the cross which is far older than Christianity, although even in Christian symbolism the cross has the same meaning. Thus we can say that the steps in the Third Degree indicate that we trample our bodily nature underfoot so that our spiritual nature may arise.
The procedure relating to the actual raising is of interest because it shows quite clearly that neither the teachings of the First Degree, nor the teachings of the Second Degree are of themselves sufficient. In other words the First Degree with its preparation, its purification and its lessons of morality prove a slip as do the intellectual pursuits, the cultivation of the intellectual faculties of the Second Degree. At-one-ment and the raising from the tomb of transgression (our physical bodies) can only be achieved by means of the firm grip of Faith, a complete abandonment of all that is material and by a complete sense of brotherhood as exemplified by the F.P.O.F. — and that means brotherhood in its widest sense of love for all mankind perhaps of all living creatures. Nevertheless the earlier stages are essential as preparation for the supreme test.
Thus, the symbolism of the Third Degree may be considered as indicating physical death and subsequent resurrection and immortality or it can be considered as a mystical death of the lower nature and the raising to a higher life, which henceforward ought to be guided by our spiritual nature. The words "reunion with the companions of our former toil" can be equally applicable in either case. However, the idea of a mystical death and a raising to higher things is merely a symbolic representation of actual physical death and a resurrection to a higher life, for all mystical writings including the scriptures tell us that death is a necessary step to higher things.
Let us not forget, however, that pure ancient Freemasonry consists of Three Degrees, namely, the Entered Apprentice, the Fellowcraft and the Master Mason, including the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem. It is necessary, therefore, that we should consider the message of the Royal Arch before completing our survey of what Freemasonry is intended to teach.
We are told that Holy Royal Arch is the completion of the Third Degree but I believe that it cannot be properly understood without the knowledge of the Installation Ceremony. Perhaps, indeed, probably, this was the reason why at one time candidates for the H.R.A. had to be Installed Masters. indeed some authorities suggest that the ceremony of the H.R.A. was conferred upon Masters at the termination of their year of office and even today in some Constitutions Mastership is a necessary qualification for the Royal Arch.
In the Craft Degrees we have been dealing with the building of the First Temple preparing ourselves, shaping ourselves to be stones fit for its structure building a superstructure. Then a tragedy occurs and the temple is unfinished incomplete. In the Installation of the Master, however, we learn that the temple was completed for its relates happenings which occurred at its completion. This would seem to bring the Temple tradition into line with what is recorded in the V.S.L. for in that Book we learn that the Temple was completed but we have no reference to the death of the Builder.
One other fact of importance is that Installed Masters will realise that in the Installation Ceremony we are given no secrets which replace the substituted ones communicated in the Third Degree.
The H.R.A. ceremony shows us that the former temple is in ruins, that the rubble must be cleared away and a new Temple must be built on the same foundation. This, to me, clearly means the building of a spiritual or celestial body on the foundation of the physical, for the physical was only able to provide us with substituted secrets. We still have to find the genuine which are ultimately communicated to us in the Chapter ceremony, although still under veils of allegory and symbolism.
Thus to sum up the teachings of our Craft system, we first pass through the stage of preparation and purification, next the cultivation of the intellectual faculties followed by the learning of spiritual truth and the mystical death. But again and again having reached this stage we slip back and our temple lies in ruins; we are unable to sustain ourselves on this level of spirituality. This may happen many times in a lifetime or perhaps indeed in many lifetimes, but hidden deep within ourselves is that spark of the Divine and ultimately our better self discovers this and breaking away the stones of the vault which have so far prevented it from coming to the surface we achieve the end and aim of all our endeavours, we discover the genuine secrets and are rewarded with seats among the Princes and Rulers; those who have already achieved, and then as St. Paul says there is no more going out.
Thus our Masonic Journey gives us some knowledge of the purpose for which we come into incarnation on this earth and some indication of what we can hope for in the future. We can see the importance of the message which it has for all of us. It attempts to answer so many of those questions which so many people are asking at the present time. We also see how important it is that the brethren of the Craft should be properly educated and instructed. Left to the individual Lodges little of this information would become available. Lodges are so occupied in working the Three Degrees, and then not always as fully as they should, that no time is left over for instructional talks. The Lodges of Instruction are usually merely Lodges of Rehearsal and with certain exceptions have little time for the instruction which I have tried to show is so essential not only to a proper understanding of the real Freemasonry but also a proper understanding of life itself.
In my opinion, and in the opinion of those who are like minded, it is essential that all those who are members of the Craft should have the opportunity of receiving instruction and being given the information about the Craft which is their right. What use they make of it is entirely their own affair, but apart from it being of assistance to them in their own spiritual development let us not forget the promise which we, each one of us, made at the time of our Initiation. We stated that our wish to become a member of the Craft was because of "a general desire for knowledge and a sincere wish to render ourselves more extensively serviceable to our fellow creatures."
We, who are privileged to be members of the Craft have a responsibility to our fellow human beings. By reason of what we learn from the Craft we should understand the meaning of life and the part it has to play in the spiritual development of everyone. They are our brethren, whether they are actually members of the Craft or not, and it is our responsibility to pass this knowledge on and to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate ones who are on a lower rung of the ladder of evolution.
So many people today have a code which would say what can I sell you, or what can I persuade you to buy or even what can I trick you into buying Brethren, not what can I sell you but how can I serve you should be our motto. After all, brethren, true greatness comes in service to others. Today service seems to have been changed into self-service. Selfishness and the I'm all right, Jack, attitude is far too prevalent.
Therefore, I would urge all those who have anything to do with the organization and arrangement of meetings whether in the capacity of Master, Principal, Preceptor, Secretary or member of a Standing Committee to try and give serious considerations to the question of the education of our members. And to all I recommend the services of the various Study Groups which exist in various parts of the country.
Within the Craft as it exists today there are numerous bodies which endeavour to give some instruction to their members. At the moment I am thinking only of those which operate in this country and under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England. It would be invidious of me to classify and name them individually and therefore I only refer to them as falling within certain specified groups.
Firstly, there are those whose Transactions, Lectures or Papers are purely of an historical nature. They probably deal as much with ancient Operative Masonry as they do with Modern Speculative Freemasonry. They seek at all times to be completely factual.
Secondly, there are those, who still historical and factual, concentrate their attention on Lodge histories and the like.
Thirdly, there are those, who recognising that material, historical facts although all very well in their way ignore the teachings of the Craft, and therefore they concentrate their efforts on talking of the moral and ethical lessons which our ritual has to teach.
Finally, there are those that believe that underlying the ritual and ceremonial of the Craft is a hidden, an esoteric teaching which is of far greater importance than any information which may be obtained from archaeological or historical discoveries. This group is often accused by the others of letting its imagination run away with it but seeing that we are called not without good reason; Speculative Freemasons, we should, at least, spend some part of our time in speculation.
There is thus among all those who have the interests of Freemasonry at heart something within the Study Groups of importance to all brethren whether their particular interest should be in connection with the history or the archaeology of Freemasonry or whether their interest is for the interpretation of the symbolism or the study of its mysticism.
Of this last group the Dormer Masonic Study Circle is in many ways unique. It has set up for itself a standard of Transactions and Lectures which is without parallel in the Craft and it is our greatest ambition to be able to maintain this standard. It seeks to make known to the Craft in general what it believes to be the real purpose of Freemasonry and in pursuance of that object it has held this meeting here today.
It acknowledges the inspiration which it derives from that great Masonic teacher the late W.Brother Walter Leslie Wilmshurst, the founder of the Lodge of Living Stones. Indeed there are several members of that Lodge here today, including the present Master W.Brother J. H. Marshall. Therefore I make no apologies for quoting from the words of Brother Wilmshurst, words which were used by him at the dedication of the Temple at Leeds used by the Lodge of Living Stones:
So many brethren unfortunately regard our system as confined to the familiar Three Craft Degrees and to the formal making of Masons. They are unaware, or they do not reflect, that those three ceremonies are merely personal to the candidates for Masonry; they are but rites of admission to the Craft, rites defining the candidate's status in it; they are details within the much larger scheme which constitutes the Crafts' real field of work and which every Mason is called to promote according to his capacity as Apprentice, Fellowcraft or Master. That larger field of work, as you know, is impersonal, cosmic, wide as humanity, for it has to do with the re building of the temple of the whole of humanity.
I hope that if the ideas that I have expressed are new to you, you will not just dismiss them out of hand, but give them the consideration which I believe they deserve. If, on the other hand, you are of those who already have made some study of Freemasonry we hope that you will agree with at least some of the ideas which have been put forward. As I stated early in my talk I am anxious not to be dogmatic and would not expect that everyone would agree with everything which I have said. I shall be quite satisfied if I have at least aroused your interest and if you require more information or you feel that the Circle can be of interest to you there is literature available at the Secretary's table.
But let me say finally, that whatever your particular interest in Freemasonry may be, you will not receive the maximum benefit from it unless you take positive steps to seek to find out all about it. Seek and ye shall find, Knock and it shall be opened unto you. Brethren, you have all knocked at the door of Freemasonry and the door has been opened to you but it is up to you to seek for the treasures which Freemasonry has within its powers to offer you.