The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
MASONIC PHILOSOPHY: AN OVERVIEW
R. G. Aberdeen
School of Instruction No. 16
Masonic Spring Workshop
[LONG PAUSE WHILE LOOKING AT AUDIENCE]
Brethren, something is going on in your mind right now. You’re wondering what I mean by that, right? You’re philosophizing!
What is philosophy? We all recognize that it’s a manner of thinking, but let’s be more precise. About 2500 years ago a Greek philosopher wrote “Men who love wisdom must inquire into a great many matters.” The word in his Greek test which was translated into English as ‘men who love wisdom’ was ‘philia’ which means love or ‘philos’ which means friend or lover, and ‘sophos’ which means wise.
The term philosophy seems to be much abused and much misused — we hear people talk of the marketing philosophy, the political philosophy, the philosophy of this, the philosophy of that. Purists may argue that these uses are incorrect and they may be right. I don’t really care, as long as they all refer to wisdom I do object to using the word philosophy to mean or imply knowledge or information. To have knowledge does not necessarily make us wise.
The dictionary defines philosophy as “love of wisdom”, “the study of the causes or laws of phenomena”, “the study of first principles”. To philosophize is “to search into the reason and nature of things”; “to reason like a philosopher’. A philosopher is defined as “a lover of wisdom”; “one who studies philosophy, or lives’ (and this is important), lives according to its rules”. I think it should be ‘one who studies philosophy AND lives according to its rules’.
What has all this got to do with us? Welcome to Masonic Philosophy: An Overview. As the title of this school implies, we’re going to present an overview of Masonic philosophy without going into it in very great depth. After all, brethren, Masonic philosophy involves lifetimes of study and courses in Philosophy occupy many hours of classes spread over several years of graduate and post-graduate studies at universities. We couldn’t possibly condense it all into this brief session today, but we will attempt to provide a background for further thought for Masons who are wondering why there’s been so much talk recently about Masonic philosophy.
If you’ve already delved into philosophical inquiry, much of what we’ll be talking about will be old hat. If you’ve read anything at all about the development of western thought, you might be expecting to hear me expound on the famous works of the ancient philosophers with names that are, well, ‘Greek” to you — I’m not going to do that because it’s not of great importance to us in the context of this school of instruction. My specific concern is with the value I can derive as man and a Mason by developing for the tenets and principles of Freemasonry a personal force by which to guide the course of my everyday life. To do this, I must philosophize! What is the philosophy of Masonry? The Masonic Bible published by Holman contains this description: “.... the philosophical basis of Masonry .... involves the history of its origin, an inquiry into the ideas that lie at its base, an investigation of its peculiar form, an analytical study of its several degrees, and a development of the ideas which are illustrated by its ritualistic emblems, myths, and veiled allegories and which speak through its sublime system of symbols.”
About three weeks ago I was having supper with a friend from out of town and since I’ve been giving the matter quite a bit of thought lately, I brought up the general subject of philosophy. He commented that philosophy is one of academic interest and that it has nothing to do with the business of earning a living. “Its ancient history,” he said, “and only useful as mental exercise.” I’m sure he was just putting me on, brethren, because to me, philosophy is as modern as a flight to the moon and as relevant to daily living as knowing how to drive a car. It touches each of us, indeed, it directs our entire lives; moreover, it’s something we can make conscious use of, with very little effort. What use is philosophy? It aids us to understand the nature and development of our civilization and to realize just where we stand. It both interprets our world and changes it, by changing us. Philosophy is largely a matter of meanings and the analysis of meanings — it insists, therefore, that we learn to view all alternatives. AT the very least, it improves our use of language. I’ll explain that a bit later.
You came to this school for an overviews of Masonic philosophy. First, listen to this explanation of Freemasonry from the second paper in our Lodge Plan for Masonic Education, the “Little Brown Book”. “... Freemasonry has gathered together or taken those certain principles or fundamental truths which have been proven by time to be necessary for right thinking and moral living ....[and] presents these fundamentals to its initiates for their use in formulating their own personal philosophy of life or establishing their own personal code of moral living.”
A turn-of-the-century philosopher named William James once remarked that all men have a philosophy, in the that every person has general views on the universe and strong commitments to certain inclusive values. These views and values are generally the product of blind custom and a narrowly limited experience. Most people are hardly aware that they do have a philosophy or that their conceptions of the world are built on assumptions and traditional beliefs which may not be valid. When a man questions, examines, and assesses the validity of the cardinal assumptions underlying his traditional beliefs, he may be said to be a philosopher, not merely to have a philosophy. The principles and truths of Freemasonry are presented symbolically in the Degrees. Bro. H. L. Haywood, a distinguished Masonic writer, tells us emphatically that: “One of the greatest purposes of Freemasonry is to set a man to the task of understanding these symbols for himself.” You see, brethren, the symbols can be interpreted for you by others, but no one can understand them for yourself. it’s been said that the purpose of Freemasonry is to help the individual man improve himself. To make this improvement he must philosophize, that is, he must question, examine and assess the application of the principles which Masonry presents.
Brethren, in spite of all that we’ve said, we haven’t found a specific answer to the question, what is philosophy. Take heart, even philosophers of renown disagree. They disagree on the ultimate objectives, the proper methods and the legitimate scope of philosophical inquiry, but whatever else you wish to include in the aims of the philosophical enterprise, most philosophers do agree that it does have the task of explaining the meaning of the major concepts we use in understanding our experiences and clarifying the conditions of responsible moral judgment. Responsible moral judgment, is that what we’re after? Philosophers have tried many definitions of philosophy: “the study of the universe and man’s place in it”: “the quest for knowledge of the first or ultimate principles of things”; here’s a different one, “a stubborn attempt to thing clearly”; and another, “a questioning of answers rather than an answering of questions”. I like that last one, a questioning of answers. Early in our careers as masons we are admonished to “... make a daily advancement in Masonic Knowledge”. As man advances in knowledge, he invariably discovers new tools for analyzing his accepted world. Often he may begin to doubt the adequacy of previously proposed answers. “The more we learn, the less we know,” as they say. Philosophy, then, has come to mean the search for truth, not the possession of it.
There are, of course, several branches of philosophy. The ancient philosophers were particularly concerned with the study of the physical world, which we call Natural Philosophy. This branch led to our modern science with its fact and proven theorems. Here we can see clearly that advances in knowledge replaced old answers with newer, more adequate ones. In the field of Logic we can see progress in the refinement of the methods of reasoning. The study of how one attains knowledge is called Epistemology and the appreciation of beauty is called Aesthetics. The study of the first principles of being, the ultimate reality, is called Metaphysics, meaning beyond natural science and deals with concepts of Divinity and life after death (as taught by Freemasonry). Moral Philosophy deals with the principles of human action and conduct. The two last-mentioned branches, Metaphysical and Moral Philosophy, seem to encompass what we call Masonic Philosophy. We are concerned with beauty, but in the Metaphysical sense, as a representation of the design of Deity.
In the twelfth paper of our “Little Brown Book” the teachings of Masonry are discussed briefly. We are reminded that Masonry is dedicated to the Great Architect of the Universe and that “... this philosophy of masonry, like all else in its teaching, is not set forth in written creeds or in any other form of words; the Mason must come upon it for himself and put it in such form as will satisfy his won mind.” Now that statement may seem hard to believe, at first. We can understand that each of us must “put it in such form as will satisfy his own mind,” but with our vast libraries of thousands of Masonic books and papers, how can we say that Masonic philosophy and teaching are “not set forth ... in ... words”?
Let’s consider words, for a moment. Words and language are the tools of philosophers. Wittgenstein, an influential philosopher who died only about twenty years ago, put forward what some people considered to be a radical thesis. He said, “The problems of philosophers arise in consequence of fundamental errors in the use of language.” Language is the instrument we use in the formation and communication of ideas and therefore of central importance to philosophy. The difficulty is that when you transmit a thought, you use words which are clear to you but which may not hold exactly the same meaning for your listener. He tends to understand your words in his own terms of reference, not yours, and distortion creeps in. You all know of the party game where one person whispers a prepared story to another; he in turn passes it on to the person next to him and so on until it comes back to the originator. The results usually differs greatly from the original, often to the point of hilarity. This distortion is compounded by our natural tendency to add coloration by using words metaphorically, emotionally and pictorially. You might describe a dear friend of your as being firm in his convictions, but to someone else, he’s nothing less than pig-headed. Both descriptions mean that your friend is not easily influenced. Another difficulty that leads to confusion is that the accepted meanings of some words change with the passing years. Language is ever fluctuating; it is, after all, a product of culture and therefore subject to cultural change. The words we use in communicating thoughts, ideas, feelings, are imperfect tools and are often vague or uncertain in meaning. Every philosopher since the days of Socrates and Plato has struggled with the problem of the precise meaning and definition of words, which we call semantics.
Dictionaries frequently give several meanings of a word and these meanings are usually obvious from the context in which the word is used, but many words are indefinite and ambiguous. What is “religion”, an organization or a spiritual impulse? What is “love” and how do you “make” it? How do you assign a precise meaning to mind, reality, justice, happiness, truth, God? Unfortunately, the key terms in philosophy are such as these. We can and do argue indefinitely over misunderstood statements because of our errors in the use of language. But, when one undertakes a study of philosophy or engages in a philosophical discussion, he must take care to stay within one meaning of a term, without limiting that term to that single meaning forever.
The authors of the rituals which we use probably chose their words and phrases with great care in order to convey their meanings with utmost clarity. Certainly the rituals have changed over the years, but still many Masons of today have difficulty in comprehending what our forefathers found so obvious. When we begin to learn the Work, many passages seem difficult and lacking in continuity. But as the original meanings sink in, they become clear and fluid. The principles of Freemasonry are there, in words and symbols. It only remains for us to study them, to view them from all angles, to categorize them and put them in usable form; to come to understand them for ourselves.
Now — let’s take a look at what we’ve got. We’ve defined philosophy as a search for ultimate truth in the sense of wisdom, not merely knowledge or information. Truth is one of the fundamental principles of Freemasonry, but we never clearly explain what we mean by truth. We’ll talk about that a bit later, but you can see the reason why we say, in the “Little Brown Book”, that Masonry’s teaching method “ ... makes a Mason study and learn for himself, forces him to search out the truth, compels him to take the initiative, as a grown man should, so that the very act of learning is in itself a of great educational value.” When the candidate comes to our door he already holds general views on the universe which guide his actions. but those views may be based on assumptions and beliefs of dubious validity. By a careful study of Masonic principles his views and values may be improved and, we hope, he will because of this become a better person. To discover he real meaning of Masonry, the secret of the Masonic Art, the dedicated Mason must philosophize on its teachings. We’ve said that those teachings seem to be primarily concerned with the guiding influence of a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul, and with the necessity of morality.
We’re going to examine these areas of Masonic philosophy more closely, but first, let’s take a short break.
Now, brethren, let’s get back to our topic — masonic Philosophy: An overview. We were talking about our concern with God, with life after death and with morality.
GOD AND LIFE HEREAFTER
Freemasonry is devoted to Brotherhood in the sense that all men are brothers under the Fatherhood of one Supreme Being. Our Brotherhood, then, has a spiritual basis, a commonalty regardless of religion or creed. To ensure that commonalty, we require that our initiates believe in the existence of one God and the immortality of the soul, and that God’s Will has been revealed to man. Is it important whether we believe that the Holy Book of our Faith was authored by God or that it was authored by men inspired by God? I’ll leave that to you, but the Book on our Altar is at the center of our Lodge and at the center of masonry. Masonry beings and ends every undertaking with prayer. Our candidates are received into the Lodge in the name of God and immediately after the reception we invoke the blessing of Deity. We ask, among other things, that the candidate “... may be the better enabled to display the beauties of true godliness...” What do we mean by ‘true godliness’ and the beauty of it?
After the first invocation, the candidate is asked in whom he places his trust, To avoid the embarrassment of an improper response the Deacon whispers the required answer in his ear. The candidate begins his Masonic journey under the threat of death and his final instructions concerns the reality of his own sure demise. The working of the Old York ritual at Leeds, England, explains this placement of trust more clearly. After the invocation the W.M. says : “Mr. Brown, it is but fair to tell you of the serious position in which you are now placed. Before you stands one with a D.S. in his hand, pointed at your N.L.B., and behind you one holds the end of the C.T. which is about your neck; in this position of difficulty and danger, in whome do you put your trust?” Here, you see, the candidate is in danger. Perhaps we should instruct our Deacon to whisper: “If you place your trust in God, say ‘in God’”, thus leaving the candidate to make the decision. He might answer, “If I have exhausted my resources and cannot save the situation, I would place my trust in God.” Would we accept a qualified answer? I’ll leave that to you, too, and although the answer seems evident remember we must learn to view all alternatives.
In the Charge to the Newly Initiated Candidate we recommend that he contemplate the volume of the sacred law, charging him to regulate his actions by the divine precepts therein and to learn from them his duties to God, to society and to self. There are other charges in our Constitution which we are directed to read at the making of new brethren or when the Master shall order it, yet very seldom are they read. These are commonly called the Ancient Charges, the first of which Concerning God and Religion. They all deserve the contemplation of Masonic philosophers (as I hope you now consider yourself to be) but since we’re discussing spiritual matter, let me quote from the first one:
“Man looketh at the outward appearance, but God looketh to the heart. A mason is, therefore, particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience, Let a man’s religion, or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the order, provided he believe in the Architect of Heaven and earth, and practice the sacred duties of morality.”
Here we find the spiritual and the moral closely interlinked. We seem to be instructed to try to understand and respect the creeds of others without bias or prejudice. The charge continues:
“Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion, in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion, and to strive, by the purity of their own conduct to demonstrate the superior excellence of faith that they may profess.”
Doesn’t that seem to contradict the previous instruction? It depends on the meaning you apply to the word “faith”. Faith can mean “the truth which one believes”, that is, one’s own personal religion, or it can be given the broader meaning of “trust in the Great Architect of the Universe”. Do you begin to see the importance of precise meanings an definitions of words? Let’s consider another aspect of the last quotation — “Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion....” Here we have a qualifier in the word ‘virtuous’. The corollary is that Masons do not unite with men who believe in God, unless they are also virtuous. May we not then ponder the purpose of providing lessons of virtue only to the virtuous? “The lessons of virtue ...” as we say in the General Charge, “.... are carefully imbibed by the workmen.” According to one dictionary, a virtuous man is already “pure in thought and deed” and is “living a good, upright life.” Pure means “free from moral or physical defilement.” Is not a thing either pure or impure” The Charge concludes:
“thus Masonry is the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.”
Well — that charge is certainly something to philosophize on. There are, of course, many other considerations of this aspect of Masonic philosophy. Indeed, the Master Mason Degree itself is almost wholly devoted to the spiritual. or is it? The paper in the ‘Little Brown book’ dealing with the interpretation of the ritual of this Degree states that:
“It is, indeed, a ‘sublime’ Degree, which a man may study for years without exhausting.”
Sublime means having noble qualities or giving rise to high or noble thoughts. It goes on to say:
“In the first two Degrees you were surrounded by the symbols and emblems of architecture; in this Degree you found a different order of symbolism, cast in the language of the soul — its life, its tragedy and its triumph. To recognize this is the first step in interpretation of this sublime and historic step in ‘Craft Lodge’ Masonry. The second point is to recognize that the Master Mason Degree has many meanings; it is not intended to be a lesson complete, finished, closed.”
“There are many interpretations of this Degree, all true. But most essentially, it is a drama of the immortality of the soul, setting forth the truth that, while a man withers away and perishes, there is that in him which perishes not.”
Let’s change the emphasis now and consider morality. Freemasonry has been defined as a “... system of morality,” and is described in the Canadian Rite as “... the most moral human institution that ever existed ...”. the definitions of ‘moral’ include: “pertaining to a person’s conduct;” “concerned with the rightness or wrongness of thoughts and actions;” “acting according to the law of right and wrong.” I’ve always thought that the term moral was interchangeable with the term ethical in the same way that we interchange Masonry and Freemasonry. Ethics, is derived from the Greek ‘ethicos’ which means moral and moral comes from the Latin ‘mores’, meaning custom, conduct. The word moral is also used as a noun and in this sense it means the lesson of a story or a fable. Perhaps this meaning is more applicable to Masonry than we realize. I found one dictionary definition of ‘ethics’ which seems to draw a fine distinction __ it calls ethics “the rules which regulate duty or conduct.” That distinction, I believe, is of some importance when considering the teachings of Masonry. Masonry not only demonstrates the important truths of morality, it also instructs us in how to apply these truths to our daily lives and conduct. Morality, we are told, “is a name for the forces that bind us in the relations of amity and accord,” friendship, understanding and agreement. Confucius, that Chinese philosopher now being put down in his own country, said: “I have taught men how to live.”
At the conclusion of the Master Mason Degree, the newly raised candidate is charged, in part, “To improve the morals and correct the manners of men in society ...” The phrase ‘to improve the morals’ implies to me that morals are subject to change. If they can be improved, may they not also worsen? We speak of the current wave of sexual freedom as a “New Morality” or as a loosening of moral standards. The point I’m making, brethren, is that if morals can be changed and improved, improved in relation to what? What is the standard? Are we referring to that perfection toward which we must ever strive, the “beauty of true godliness”, or have we a more earthly standard? Who sets the standards? Are they not contained in the divine precepts of the volume of the sacred law? The new Mason is told in the charge to regulate his actions by these precepts, and ethic is defined as the rules which regulate duty or conduct. Further, he is charged to consider the volume of the sacred law as the unerring standard of truth and justice. The Holy Bible itself however, reveals evidence of ethical advancement. The Mosaic Law of retaliation (life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot) is contained in Exodus, Chapter 21, verses 23 and 24. The previous chapter of the same Book reveals the Ten Commandments and the 19th chapter of Leviticus, the following Book, contains the statement of the Golden Rule: “...love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord.”
Adding to the confusion of changing customs an orals is the problem of differing standards among the various cultures. How do we know that our morality is the only right one? Many differences in moral standards between cultures are due to geographical locations. Differing climates dictate different modes of dress and this may lead to traditional beliefs with no basis in fact. To a person who has gone naked all his life because of the hot, humid nature of his environment, whose entire background accepts nudity as an everyday fact, may not the wearing clothes, a covering and concealing of the body, seem immoral? Can we legitimately question the moral validity of the differing practices of other cultures? How do we now that right is right, that good is good, that we ought to love our neighbor and strive for excellence?
We now that all peoples have certain rules of behavior and that these rules may vary from man to man, from country to county and from civilization to civilization. Everyone receives some kind of moral education, beginning in his formative years and continuing through adulthood. Somewhere along the line this education stops or “sets in”,. Values are established. Freemasonry continues this moral education, changing and improving the morals of men in society, with reference to the highest standards accepted by that society. these are the norms which we regard as true.
As stated in an earlier explanation, Masonry presents to its initiates those fundamental truths which have been proven by time to be necessary for right thinking and moral living. Thought, as well as action. We accept, then, that at least some moral values are permanent, but when we talk about maintaining the good order of society, we must also accept that under certain conditions, even these permanent values may change. Thus we find moral problems in our definition of “... murder, treason, felony, and all other offenses contrary to the laws of God or man.” Is abortion or execution murder, is draft-dodging treason, is the Mosaic law of retaliation (life for life, etc.) a law of God, must we always obey the man-made laws of our society which everyone agrees should be dropped but which still exist because we simply haven’t gotten around to passing the necessary legislation? Would you act as Socrates did? He drank the hemlock when the doors of his prison were open rather than set the example of disobeying the laws of his ungrateful country. These are questions that each of us must answer for himself in his search for truth.
Earlier, we said that philosophy has come to mean the search for truth and we promised to discuss what we mean by truth, since it is never clearly defined.
Let’s take another short break before we go into this final phase of our topic.
What do we mean by truth? Truth is agreement with fact, yes, but as a tenet of Freemasonry, truth must be exact. Actually, truth refers not to the fact itself, but to what we believe or state about the fact. [HOLD UP A PEN OR PENCIL] This long, narrow instrument is something that I use to write with, but it is neither true nor false. It is a fact. If I state, “It is a pen” and it is, my statement is true. If it happened to be a pencil, my statement is untrue. If I believe it to be a pen when in fact it is not, even if I have always called that specific type of instrument a pen, my statement is still untrue. Just because it is true as far as I’m concerned doesn’t make it true. Truth consists in stating the actual fact.
This may seem pretty obvious to you but when we search for ultimate truth, in the philosophical sense, we must distinguish between reality, and dogmas, and opinions. We tend to call our firm beliefs ‘truths’ without knowing if they are, in fact, the case. We may believe with absolute conviction that the thing is true, but what we believe may be wrong. How do we prove that our belief is true? To determine whether a thing is true or false we must apply certain tests. Our methods of testing are central to the philosophical enterprise.
Let me just say that about some things we may be quite sure while others may require exhaustive study to arrive at the point of arguable probability. Physical objects can be identified with a high degree of certainty, things that we can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste. Adding to these impressions our previous experience, we may be able to safely conclude that the thing we’re concerned with is true. The senses, however, may be confused and experience may be hallucination. In a darkened room a shadowy form may appear to be something which it is not. Before we make a statement about such a form we apply tests — we may touch it, walk around it, event turn on the light or strike a match. Perhaps it’s because we rely so much on the sense of sight to provide the basic evidence for truth that we often say we are seeking for light. To illumine the mind is to perceive truth. We find it said, “light comes from God.” Can we now read new meaning into that phrase, “God said, Let there be light: and here was light.” Light was the predominant symbol in all the ancient mysteries, revered because it was an emanation from the sun, the common object of worship. Pythagoras called it the good principle of nature, and the Cabalists taught that eternal light filled all space before the creation, and that after creation it retired to a central spot, and became the instrument of the Divine Mind in creating matter. Light, therefore, became synonymous with truth and knowledge, and darkness with falsehood and ignorance. It is therefore a fundamental symbol of Freemasonry, and contains within itself the very essence of the speculative science.
May I quote once more from the ‘Little Brown Book’? On page 58, “The purpose of secrecy is not to keep the candidate in the dark, but to stimulate him to seek the light;” again on page 60, “Men ... cannot work together except that they all understand the work to be done, hence the need for enlightenment;: and again, on page 63, “... learning the trial lecture of the three degrees ... will be a possession for you within your own mind, for which you will constantly draw inspiration and light in your daily life.”
You’ve noticed that throughout this lecture I’ve quoted several times from the Lodge Plan for Masonic Education, the ‘Little Brown Book’. I’ve done this purposely because I wanted to use a commonly available and easy to read reference to Masonic philosophy outside of our two rituals. Are you familiar with the Little Brown Book? Do you have your own copy? There are still a few available at the Workshop Bookstore. Those of you who have read the booklet thoroughly and have contemplated its contents will agree that it outlines most of the Masonic philosophy we covered today.
There is one other statement of Masonic philosophy with which we’re all familiar — the General Charge which is given once a year in each Lodge, at the conclusion of the Installation Ceremony. I believe that it should be printed in our Constitution along with the other charges and that all charges, particularly the General Charge, should be pointed out as the first subjects of study for each Master Mason as soon as possible after he completes the Degrees and the Mentor Plan.
I’d like to touch on one or two points brought out in the General Charge. We are told in the first paragraph an again, just before the moving portrayal of the ideal of a Freemason, that we should have but one aim, the attainment of the chief point in Freemasonry, which is to endeavor to be happy ourselves, and to communicate that happiness to others. This, then, should always be uppermost in our minds.
But — what is happiness? Pleasure and mirth? The absence of painful experiences’ Pace of mind? A sense of satisfaction and fulfillment: How is it to be achieved? We are told that the chief employments in the tyled recesses of the Lodge are constituted in a calm enquiry into the beauty of wisdom and virtue, and the study of moral geometry. Perhaps we should refer this as well to the tyled recesses of our minds, whether within the Lodge or without.
I am constantly amazed at the ritualist who delivers the Work letter- perfect, with dignity, and with meaning that seems to come from the heart — and then spoils it all by telling the kind of story at the Festive Board that has no place at a Masonic gathering. To him, the Ritual appears to be the be-all and the end-all of the Craft. There are others who seem to feel that Freemasonry consists of taking in new members at the one end and cranking out Past Masters at the other. Of course, not all Masons who have yet to delve into Masonic philosophy are ‘one-or two-night a month Masons’ by any means. Many of the men who come knocking at our door do so because they have always tended, as we say in the General Charge, to move quietly and modestly in the spheres of their lives, generally conducting themselves as Masons should, and they’re looking for companions with similar standards. Perhaps I should be satisfied with that. Perhaps I would be, if all the men we admit were of such a nature. After all, not everyone is interested in studying. Their improvement will surely come about through association with Freemasonry and participation in its activities, even though it may take much more time.
I know that I sound impatient. It’s just that I’m anxious to share that which I’ve found in Freemasonry with those who are still wondering if what they see on the surface is all there really is to the Craft.
Le me share with you a bit of prose about fireplaces that appears in the Ottawa Journal and was reprinted in this January’s issue of the Reader’s Digest. As I read it, it reminded me of the philosopher’s approach to Freemasonry. It is, in a way, allegorical. As I read it to you now, thing about Masonic Philosophy.
“There are utilitarian souls who assume that a fireplace is meant only to warm people. But he who tends a fire knows that it means much more. A man who has a fireplace need never be lonely. A fire, correctly tended, requires thought and attention; in return, it offers warmth, music and beauty. And the glow from the hearth means a glow in the heart.
“A man who cherishes his fire wants a solid backlog of oak or had maple. If he is fortunate enough to cut his own wood and has a choice, he sees to it that he has several kinds. The resin of pine or cedar means quick, hot heat, yellow flames and a pleasant odor; yellow birch gives an orange-yellow flame, burns long and steady; old apple wood means fragrance and a clear, bluish flame. Elm has deep russet flames. Balsam and spruce crackle and spit and must be watched.
“Don’t poke your fire too much, but use judgment as you put on the logs. A moderately high fire created its own draft. A good hearth tender uses his broom occasionally, but doesn’t worry if a few ashes spill out.
“Tending fire is for the patient man. It fosters deep thoughts and a contentment with the simple basic things in life ... Mechanical heat has its good points and one wants it. But somehow it is more meaningful if flames paint a picture in a fireplace and a man has a chance to tend his fire.”
Why not make your fire — Freemasonry?