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.
THE SELF-MADE MASON
Bro. C. Gordon-Craig
The title theme for this workshop is “The Self Made Mason” and my intention is to divide my views into two distinct groups as follows: this evening I wish to attempt to define some aspects of Masonry its aims and objects, and what it is to be a Mason. This may seem superfluous and even fatuous but I would like to postulate two paradoxes and one statement. The first paradox is that we have a highly refined and beautiful system of Craft work that does not transform a man into a Mason. Second that a man can be superficially a member of the system without ever being a Mason. finally, that no man can become a Mason without making himself into one on his own. In other words: one can be initiated, passed and raised to the degree of a Master Mason and still not be a Mason; the completion of the task requires individual effort, one has to make oneself into a Mason. The important corollary is that the whole system of Masonry cannot exist without Masons.
Plainly such a discussion necessarily involves and includes consideration of the aims and objects of Masonry and I trust you will forgive me if I bring them under the light of scrutiny. Tomorrow evening, I hope to outline some practical suggestions as to how one might attempt to become a “self-made Mason.” The overall slogan I have adopted to tie all this together is “usefulness to the Craft” and I trust the relevance of this quote will become more clear as I progress.
I am well aware that the Annual Speaker at these workshops is usually far more senior in the Craft than i am, and I must ask your indulgence if I seem obvious at times in my argument: I am still approaching this vast edifice of Masonry with a childlike wonder tinged with impetuosity.
Shortly before last Christmas my Father died at his home in New Zealand and I had to return to look after his estate. While I was there, amongst his effects I particularly wanted to find his Masonic Certificate and apron. The first I put my hand on immediately, it was right in the drawer where I knew my Father had always kept it; the apron, however, was missing. I looked in other likely places with no result. Finally, out of sheer obstinate frustration, I took the house apart from top to bottom even to the trunks and boxes in the basement: still nothing. This bothered me; I knew my Father had set great store by it, and I knew he had wanted me to have it after his death because he had told me so not too long before. Could he have changed his mind and taken it to the grave with him? I gave up the search though the matter was a constant irritation in the back of my mind. About two weeks later, by sheer chance I came across it, in its case, propped against the wall side of his favourite arm chair, just where his hand would fall naturally on it. In itself that was curious but not remarkable. However, shortly after that I travelled some way south to visit a very senior cousin whom I had met for the first time at my Father’s funeral and who, to the best of my knowledge, had not been in communication with my Father for over forty years at least, and to whom I related this small anecdote since he is also a member of the Craft and we were discussing what Masonry had meant to my Father. To my amazement, he interrupted me before I could recount the dramatic conclusion of the finding, saying: “I can tell you where it was, alongside his chair.” “But how did you know,” I replied. “That’s where it would be,” he answered enigmatically and cryptically. One curious happening was an oddity but two such overlapping occurrences are not the workings of coincidence. Somehow in my Father’s life Masonry meant sufficient to him that he brought out his apron from the place where it was always stored for longer than I had known, when conscious of his approaching end he wanted it near him, and in some similarly mysterious manner, there was some common understanding and recognition of an inner nature or aspect of the Craft that had communicated itself to my Cousin. While thinking on these matters, I began reading my Father’s Scottish Constitution Craft Ritual and was struck by this form of part of the apron charge in the Entered Apprentice Degree:
You will observe that the apron is made of lamb’s skin, and as the lamb has been in all ages the acknowledged emblem of Innocence and Purity, it will remind you of that purity of life and actions which should at all times distinguish a Freemason. I trust that you may live many years to wear that badge with pleasure to yourself, usefulness to the Craft, and honour to the Lodge in which you have been initiated; and let me further exhort you never to disgrace it, for you may be assured that it will never disgrace you.
Here, clearly, is the strongest possible statement of the dual nature of the essence of Masonry, the two-way link that must exist between the individual and Masonry, without which one cannot hope to have any “usefulness to the Craft.”
A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere working mason; if he possess some knowledge of these, he may venture to call himself an architect.
So says that great antiquary and Mason, Sir Walter Scott, in his novel Guy Mannering, and an historical awareness is surely necessary to approach any definition of Masonry. I have, however, neither the time here nor sufficient boldness (even had I the knowledge) to plunge beneath the murky waters of scholarly speculation surrounding the ancient Operative Masons. Instead, perhaps, we should look first at the Eighteenth Century and the beginnings of the first Grand Lodge. Of this period, that great Masonic historian, Bernard E. Jones has written:
... there might well have been another idea — that of forming a friendly society which would watch over its members and their families in time of illness or need.
In support of this concept, he cites several examples of friendly society or benefit society lodges that came about in that early era. Without denying any of “the ancient usages and established customs of the Order,” I do want to single out for examination the fraternal aspect of Masonry because here we can make a clear distinction between the Craft and other societies that claim to be of a benevolent or fraternal nature. This willingness to assist others is repeated and emphasized throughout the Ritual.
Do you seriously declare on your honour that you are prompted... by... a sincere wish to be serviceable to your fellow creatures?
So asks the Treasurer before even the erstwhile Candidate is admitted to the Lodge Room prior to initiation. Again and again is tressed the importance of “affection and brotherly love.” We invoke the Supreme Architect of Heaven “that charity may spread wide” and “that we may do good unto all men, especially those of the household of our Masonic faith.” We exhort the candidate to “be warned of the solemnity and importance of the step” he is about to take, and advise him that those who are “moral and upright before God, and of good repute before the world... when associated together, naturally seek out each other’s welfare and happiness equally with their own.” This is, obviously, the crucial difference between Masonry and those societies that are merely fraternal by name. It is all too easy to swear devotion to the principles of brotherly love and charity and much more difficult to put those principles into actual practice. So many societies will take any man on surface recognizances and with the slightest lip-service to a pretence of spiritual or moral re-education or training will claim pompously to have made him better. Masonry sets clear and high standards of selection and with its superlative system of teaching, aims at making the good man better. Yet unless that good man also aims and works not only at making himself better, but continues to work at developing himself, his usefulness to the Craft will be little.
A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
When I mentioned recently to a friend and Brother that I wished to include this often quoted passage, he advised against it, saying “Oh no, it’s too hackneyed.” But let us look at it again briefly, The key word is “system”: Masonry is a system of morality, not a system of faith or worship. Masonry is not a religion, and while it can be a great guide, it would be against the most fundamental principles of the Craft to pervert it into a religion. “The design of the Masonic Instruction is to make its Votaries wiser, better, and consequently happier.” The primary purpose of the degrees is to teach but the precepts taught can be forgotten or become rusty through lack of exercise. “A... system of morality” says the Ritual: a system depends on every component to keep it functioning in balance and without members what would be the value of Masonry? Accordingly, it is necessary to consider the present position of Masonry and its members in relation to the system. “ ‘Yes, “veiled in all’gory and illustrated in symbols” — the Fatherhood of God, an’ the Brotherhood of Man; an’ what more in Hell DO you want?’ “
Kipling’s mason is right as far as his personal lights are concerned but Masonry is more than that: it needs Masons. Essentially, the two questions we are studying are: what is a Mason? What makes a Mason?
One of the fallacies to the system is, of course, that one expresses a desire to join before one knows very much about what one is joining, and occasionally there are some, such as the late President Lyndon Johnson, who stop after taking the Entered Apprentice Degree. However, it is hard to think of a more rigorous process of screening, a process designed not only to ensure that the potential candidate is made of the right stuff, but also that the vital core it there to be developed, that there is a positive likelihood of usefulness to the Craft. A potential candidate may not be solicited, he has to show and express interest, he has to be “unbiased by improper solicitation of friends and uninfluenced by mercenary motives...” The second question asked by the Treasurer is vital for the point of our discussion:
Do you seriously declare on your honour that you are prompted to solicit the privileges of Masonry by a preconceived favourable opinion of the Institution, a desire for knowledge, and a sincere wish to be serviceable to your fellow creatures?
The three important points for us here are the emphasis on fraternalism or benevolent charity; on “a preconceived favourable opinion”, which must be based surely on the evident example of known Masons and their work; and “a desire for knowledge”. This “knowledge” must in its context refer specifically to Masonic knowledge, and I postulate that id does not stop with the knowledge contained in the Rituals, nor in the work of the Degrees, but is an on-going, continuing knowledge that may not be even cumulative or necessarily increasing, but an ever-present Masonic knowledge or awareness that is gained from the constant everyday practice of Masonry.
I have placed considerable emphasis on Masonic principles and methods of selection because, as I intimated earlier, they seem to me to mark an important distinction between our Craft and other fraternal, or quasi-fraternal, organizations. It is refreshingly different in this permissive and liberated society where it may seem sometimes to a pessimistic and jaundiced mind that no standards remain, and no group has the right to challenge the entry of any individual on any grounds to membership in its ranks other than payment of dues, that a Masonic Lodge can retain and insist on its ancient requirements, and what is more, enforce them effectively. Fraternalism, brotherly love, a spirit of mutual trust and friendship, these can be built only when there is a solid foundation and one which is known and respected by all members of that system. Theoretically, one might say that a candidate for initiation has become a Mason by the end of the Entered Apprentice Degree. It would be even more theoretical to speculate at what point in that degree this transformation from moth to butterfly occurs, possibly immediately after the Obligation when he is addressed for the first time “by that sacred appellation” of “Brother” but this line of investigation is as useless and idle as that of the medieval theologians who considered weighing the human body before and after death in an attempt to prove physically the existence of the soul. It is plain and clear that one has not become a Mason by the end of the First Degree: is it any more realistic to assume that one has become a Mason by the end of the Third Degree? If not, when? And by what process? The teaching system of formation contained n the workings and Charges of the three degrees from Entered Apprentice to Master Mason has surely to be one of the best designed, outside of perhaps the Oxford University undergraduate tutorial system, yet even with its instructions, exhortations and examinations, it will not guarantee that the finished product is a Mason. Recognizing this the Grand Lodge of Alberta a few years ago adopted a “Lodge Plan for Masonic Education”, or an “Expanded Mentor Plan”, which, in its preamble states:
It is the intent of this Plan to provide... our new Brethren with the true spirit of Freemasonry and help them to learn to believe in as well as to understand, its purposes and ideals.
In other words, a separate learning process may be necessary in addition to the formal instruction received in the Lodge. The preamble to the Mentor Plan continues by listing some of the benefits likely to accrue from its adoption:
Every newly made Mason enters properly instructed and confident in his membership. The constituent Lodges are strengthened by more zealous members and every Mason in the Jurisdiction may indulge his need to participate and contribute to the furtherance of the Craft.
Wise and thoughtful words, yet notice that phrase “need to participate and contribute...” The Mentor Plan too, while a most admirable scheme and one worthy of the fullest utilization, still is no guarantee of producing a recognizable package, tied with a blue ribbon, and containing one guaranteed Mason in full working order.
...in leisure hours, that you may improve in Masonic knowledge, you should converse with well-informed Brethren, who always will be as ready to give as you to receive instruction.
The importance of Masonic education has been stressed for centuries and Bernard E. Jones mentions a Report made in the early years of the Nineteenth Century to the Grand Master of the “Moderns” recommending “the institution of the Office or Degree of a Masonic Professor of the Art and Mystery of Speculative Freemasonry...” I will return to the topic of advancement in Masonic knowledge rather more fully tomorrow evening but again my point is that no matter how well constructed a plan of Masonic education may be, none is sure to make a Mason. My own Lodge has instituted the pleasant practice of presenting candidates with the appropriate volume of Claudy’s Introduction to Freemasonry on completion of each degree yet these too have their limitations which Claudy himself recognizes.
Freemasonry gives her all — and it is a great gift — to those she accepts. But she gives only to those who honestly desire the gift. He who is not first prepared to be a Freemason in his heart, that is, of his own free will and accord, can never be one.
There are many types of Masons: a very old phrase was “Knife and Fork Masons” which I believe referred to those who came only for the Festive Board, and may date back to the Eighteenth Century when there may have been some members who looked on the Craft as an extension of a Coffee House or social club. My late Father once spoke to me of “Apron Masons” by which he meant those Brethren who gave lip service to the forms but otherwise made no real attempt “to enforce, by precept and example, obedience to the tenets of our Institution.” By contrast I would like to focus a beam on another type of Mason, “The Self Made Mason.”
In this first section I have asked the question what makes a Mason? Can one belong to Masonry and be a member in it, and yet not be a Mason? We have a beautiful system but do we have a product? We have the mould, we have selected our ingredients with care, yet we may not necessarily have built something that will last. Obviously there are limits to what a system is capable of producing, there is a point at which the individual must do the rest. A Mason is not created or made: he must make himself if he is to have any usefulness to the Craft. I am under the impression that there are a greater number of Masonic trials than in former years and I am sure that the statistics of those suspended for non-payment of dues are scrutinized closely. These, of course, are matters of primary concern to higher councils than I am privy to, but every Mason should face the responsibility of helping not only other Brethren but especially himself to become a better Mason. I would like to leave you to think on ways one can assist a Brother or oneself to become a self made Mason and we will look further into this in the next section.
Finally, I am highly aware that a clock cannot make itself. Our Masonic system did not make itself without the aid of Divine Wisdom, nor do I believe any Mason can make himself without “the continued dew” of the Almighty’s blessing. In the words of the Psalmist: “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it....”