Great Teachings of Masonry


"God's Path made mankind one vast Brotherhood Himself their master, and
the world His Lodge."



What is this all about? That was a question I asked myself many times
during my initiation experiences. It is a question which you doubtless
asked yourself, and so has every other man who has forged on to the
end of the Third Degree. The language of the ritual, stately and beautiful
as it usually is, is to most of us a mystifying speech; and the stations
and stages of the dramatic actions are equally bewildering to the novice.
Therefore is it that we ask the question, "What is it all about?"

After we have become familiarised with the ritual and have learned
something of its drift and its meaning, we discover that the Fraternity
itself, as a whole, and apart from any mystery in any one part or detail,
is something almost too complex to grasp. A member grows so accustomed
to the goings on of his home lodge that he loses his first sense of
strangeness, but even so he hears ever and anon such things of the
antiquity, the universality, and the profundity of Freemasonry as it
exists in history and in the great world, as to make him feel that
for all his familiarity with one Masonic lodge, he is very much in
the dark about the Masonic Fraternity in its entirety.

What is Freemasonry? What is it trying to do? How did it come to
be? What are its central and permanent teachings? It is to answer these
questions - and they are such questions as visit the mind of almost
every Mason, however indifferent he may be - that the philosophy of
Masonry exists. To learn "what it is all about," in the whole more
especially than in the part, it is for this that we philosophise about
our mysteries.

The individual who secures membership in a Masonic lodge becomes thereby
the heir to a rich tradition; that to which initiation gives him access
is not something put together in a day, and it will profit him little
if he makes no attempt to enter into his patrimony. He must learn something
of the history of Masonry; of its achievements in the great nations;
of its outstanding teachers, and what they have taught; of its ideas,
principles, spirit. Initiation alone does not confer this knowledge
(and could not): the member must himself strive to make his own the
inexhaustible riches of the Order. He must discover the larger purposes
of the Fraternity to which he belongs.

There is no authorised interpretation of Freemasonry. The newly initiated
brother does not find waiting for him a ready-made Masonic creed, or
a ready-made explanation of the ritual - he must think Masonry out
for himself. But to think Masonry out for one's self is no easy task.
It requires that one can see it in its own large perspectives; that
one knows the main outlines of its history; that one knows it as it
actually is, and what it is doing; and that one knows it as it has
been understood by its own authentic interpreters and prophets. It
is not easy to do this without guidance and help, and it is to give
this guidance and help that such a book as this is written.

There is still another reason for a study of the philosophy or, as
we here more familiarly describe it, the teachings of Masonry. Our
Fraternity is a world-wide organisation with Grand Lodges in every
state and practically every nation. In this country alone it is a vast
affair of some two million members and forty-nine separate and independent
Grand Lodges. To sustain and manage and foster such a society costs
the world untold sums of money and human effort. How can Masonry justify
its existence? What does it do to repay the world for its own cost?
In one form or another these questions are asked of almost every member,
and every member should be ready to give a true and adequate answer.
But to give such an answer requires that he shall have grasped the
large principles and be familiar with the outlines of the achievements
of the Craft, and this again is one of the purposes of our philosophising
on Masonry.

How can we arrive at a philosophy of Masonry? How are we to learn
the authentic interpretation of the teachings of Masonry? What is
the method of procedure whereby one who is neither a general scholar
nor a Masonic specialist may gain some such comprehensive understanding
of Masonry as has been called for in the preceding paragraphs? In short,
how may a man "get at it"?

One way to "get at it" is to read one or two good Masonic histories.
There is no need to go into detail or to read up on the various side
issues of merely antiquarian interest; that is for the professional
student. There is only need to get the general drift of the story and
to catch the outstanding events. To learn what Masonry has actually
accomplished in the world is to gain an insight into its purposes and
comprehend its own present nature and principles, for Masonry has never
had need to break with its own past! The Masonry of to-day does not
make war on the Masonry of yesterday. Its character emerges clearly
from its own history as a mountain stands out above a fog; and what
it has ever been - at least in a large way -  it is now, and doubtless
always will be.

This same history forges ceaselessly on, evermore renewing and making
itself. It is going on to-day, and the process is one that keeps publishing
itself to the seeing eye, for, after all, there is not much that is
secret about the rich and tireless life of the Fraternity; indeed,
this life is constantly revealing itself everywhere. Grand Lodges publish
their Proceedings; men engaged in the active duties of Masonic offices
make reports of their functionings; students of the Craft write articles
and publish books; Masonic orators deliver countless speeches; special
Masonic conferences, whatever be their nature, make known their business;
most of the more important events get into the daily papers; there
are scores and scores of Masonic papers, bulletins and journals, weekly,
monthly and bimonthly, and there are many libraries, study clubs and
learned societies everywhere endeavouring with tireless zeal to make
clear to members and profane "what it is all about." So it turns out
that to learn this for one's self one does not need to take any one
man's word for it; he can look about, and listen, and read up a little,
and thereby form his own conclusions. It is amazing, when one looks
into it, how much of the labour going on in the Craft is designed to
make clear, and to propagate and enforce the principles and teachings
and spirit of our great Order. To learn what are these teachings asks
of us no rare talents, no "inside knowledge," but only a little effort,
a little time.

To the novice the Masonic world seems very confusing, it is so many
sided, so far-flung, so clamorous with voices and the din of action;
but this, after all, need not frighten him away from an attempt to
grasp that world with a comprehensive understanding, for all of Masonry
constantly revolves about a few great ideas. These ideas confront one
at every turn - what becomes more familiar to an active Mason than
such words as "Brotherhood," "Equality," "Toleration," etc., etc.
so that the youngest Entered Apprentice need have no difficulty in
getting at them. If he does get at them, and if he learns to understand
them as Masons understand them, they will help him greatly to gain
that comprehensive and inclusive understanding which we have been calling
the philosophy of Masonry.

Nothing has been said as yet of the great teachers of Freemasonry.
In the older days there were Anderson, Oliver, Preston, Hutchinson,
etc.; then came the philosophers of the middle years, Pike, Krause,
Mackey, Drummond, Parvin, Gould, Speth, Crawley, and others; and in
our own day Waite, Pound, Newton, etc., etc. In the writings of these
men the great and simple ideas of Freemasonry become luminous and
so that he who runs may read.

In addition to all this the member may take advantage of those interpretative
devices which are a part of the Craft itself, the lectures and monitorial
explanations built into the ritual of all the rites and degrees. None
of these is infallible - nor are any of them made compulsory to believe
- but even when they stray farthest from the original meaning of our
symbols they are always valuable in revealing the ideas and ideals
of multitudes who have originated or used them.

This much to show why we should strive to make for our own mind a philosophy
of Masonry, and in how many ways one may arrive at that philosophy.
There remains only one word in caution. A study of the philosophy of
Masonry is not a study of philosophy; the Masonic student as such has
little interest in Plato and Aristotle, in Neo - Platonism, Mysticism,
Scholasticism, Rationalism, Idealism, Pragmatism, Naturalism, etc.
Masonry touches upon the circumference of each of these and the other
major philosophical systems, no doubt, but there is no such thing as
a Masonic philosophy any more than there is such a thing as a Masonic
religion. We speak of a philosophy of Masonry in the same sense that
we speak of a philosophy of government, or industry, or art, or science.
We mean that one studies Masonry in the same large, informed, inclusive
and critical way in which a political economist studies government
or an astronomer studies the stars. It would be a blessed thing if
more of our members were to lift up their eyes from the immediate and
often petty affairs of their own lodge room in order to gaze more often
on those profound and wise principles which are to our Fraternity what
the laws of nature are to the universe.