Kai Hughes (UGLE)
If there is one phrase that irritates me in Freemasonry it is when the junior warden stands up at the festive board to propose the toast to the visitors and refers to this as one of the most important toasts of the evening because ‘visiting is what Freemasonry is all about’. Those few words highlight to me one of the real problems in Freemasonry: we do not know what Freemasonry is all about.
I am not saying that visiting a lodge does not have an important role in Freemasonry; it does, but this role is linked to supporting the lodge and developing one’s inner self. The presence of visitors swells the numbers and helps the lodge to create that energy which is so important at the initiation, passing or raising of a candidate and the continual witnessing of the degrees helps to imprint the sublime messages contained within those ceremonies on our minds.
As a young mason, initiated at the age of 25, I remember feeling disillusioned with Freemasonry as there did not seem to be anything more to it than just trying to reproduce a word-perfect ceremony consisting of obscure and outdated words and having a good time at the festive board. So many of us will have spent an inordinate amount of time lying in the bath, walking the dog or pacing up and down in the kitchen, trying to learn the words of the ritual and get them in the right order, but how many of us can honestly say we really understand why we have three degrees and what deeper message the ceremonies of initiation, passing and raising is supposed to convey to a candidate?
It was a visit to a German lodge that made me realize that there was something else to Freemasonry. The ceremony started not with the Master opening the lodge but with the Brethren preparing themselves for the ceremony by quietly meditating, while a pianist played some beautiful classical piece in the background. No one spoke and by the time the Master opened the lodge, the atmosphere was so highly
charged with energy that the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end.
Then we witnessed a highly moving and word-perfect ceremony delivered with feeling and emotion. Word-perfect because the book was open in front of them should they have required a prompt and delivered with feeling and emotion because they had learnt the ceremony and, more importantly, understood the spiritual or deeper message they were supposed to convey. Even today, I can remember nearly every part of that ceremony and it spurred me on to try and understand the philosophy of Freemasonry and its deeper, hidden meanings.
We are told that our order is founded on three grand principles – ‘Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth’ – and, for me, the key to the philosophy of Freemasonry is found in that last principle – Truth. So what is ‘Truth’? It is the knowledge of yourself and through that knowledge you are able to discover your own potential and prepare your mind to reach a higher level of spiritual consciousness. Initiation is the start of
that journey to awaken those hitherto dormant higher faculties and enables a candidate to recover those genuine secrets that are buried within the centre or the innermost part of our soul.
Our potential is our real nature and is something beyond words, judgement or intellectual analysis. Even if we studied the words in the rituals for years we would not arrive at this state of knowledge and understanding. Through words alone it is difficult to enter into real knowledge: we need experience.
That experience comes from our ceremonies and it is important that we create that energy I described above. To do this we need to ensure that our members understand the underlying philosophy of Freemasonry and are able to translate its symbolism and connect with its deeper meanings for themselves.
Too often today our ceremonies are just a set of mumbled words, at best well delivered and without deviation from the script.
If we do not ‘spiritualise’ our ceremonies then Freemasonry will continue to become more and more of a philanthropical and social organization just like Rotary or Round Table. The difference between us and them is three degrees and we should learn to value and understand the nature of that difference and not forget that as a person awakens ‘Truth’ within themselves then the other grand principles of Freemasonry – ‘Brotherly Love’ and ‘Relief’ – will flow naturally anyway.
Copied From The Sunday Masonic Papers
July 19, 2020
Brother Bill one of the original members of the Sunday Masonic Paper group wrote this great response and thought I should share.
I’m struck by a couple of things that are contained in this paper.
It was a visit to a German lodge that made me realize that there was something else to Freemasonry.
… we witnessed a highly moving and word-perfect ceremony delivered with feeling and emotion.
Word-perfect because the book was open in front of them should they have required a prompt and delivered with feeling and emotion because they had learnt the ceremony and, more importantly, understood the spiritual or deeper message they were supposed to convey.
I have said, FOR YEARS, that we in America (and I suppose in Canada as well) put way too much emphasis on a Brother MEMORIZING the ritual – and not enough on his ability to deliver it with empathy and emotion. Some are good at it, but far too many recite the words without any understanding of what they are saying. It reminds me of the story of the first POW coming out of the Hanoi Hilton in the early 70’s – a young Petty Officer 2nd class. When being debriefed, he was asked if he knew the names of any of the other prisoners in the facility. He told them yes, I know all 350+ of them. Stunned, the interviewer asked him to give the names. He started reciting the names so fast that no one could keep up with him, and he included their service numbers. 350+ names and service numbers completely memorized. When the interviewer asked him to SLOW DOWN so they could put the information down on paper, he said “I can’t. This is the way I learned them.” So, the solution was on the interviewer, not the interviewee, and they brought in a special tape recorder that allowed them to slow the recording down to the point that they could make a copy of the information and knew every captive that was being held.
Then, later, Kai says:
Truth. So what is ‘Truth’? It is the knowledge of yourself and through that knowledge you are able to discover your own potential and prepare your mind to reach a higher level of spiritual consciousness. Initiation is the start of that journey to awaken those hitherto dormant higher faculties and enables a candidate to recover those genuine secrets that are buried within the centre or the innermost part of our soul.
How many times have we said, or heard it said, that you can’t discover the “secrets” of Freemasonry by simply READING them in a book? The REAL secrets of Freemasonry are hidden within each Brother – internal. And, in some respects, they differ slightly from Brother to Brother, depending upon what he has found in his journey. We don’t worry about cowans reading exposés BECAUSE they haven’t learned to internalize the essential lessons; they’re only reading about them and moving on because they really only want to discover some hidden conspiracy or unintended meaning that reinforces their notional idea of what Freemasonry is all about – e.g., world domination, etc.
Too often today our ceremonies are just a set of mumbled words, at best well delivered and without deviation from the script.
And, that has always been my point. The person who can READ the ritual without being prompted but with emotion, passion, and zeal, can communicate a lot more to the candidate than one who can memorize well but not deliver the words well.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been “chastised” for having that view and actually uttering it in public. The REASON that the German’s have that book in front of them is more complex, by the way. When you are communicating the teachings to the candidate, his gaze is fixed upon YOU. When you require a prompt from somewhere else in the lodge, what happens? His view immediately, if only momentarily, shifts from you to the person giving the prompt. You’ve disrupted the inter-personal connection between you and the candidate by needing that prompt. As someone who has a great deal of difficulty memorizing more than a couple of lines of anything (had that problem forever, and it resulted in many lower grades in English class because I couldn’t memorize and deliver 16 lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or 16 lines of Beowulf in Olde English) – I get my two lines quickly enough, and then the brain fart hits. The only time I was ever able to break that paradigm was when I needed to memorize two pages of monologue about the different cap colors in Scottish Rite for the 18th degree as the Guardian of the Temple. It took a clinical hypnotist 2.5 HOURS to work with me under hypnosis to get that part down pat. And, I was able to deliver that part well without prompting for nearly 3 years until I was replaced by another person who was actually IN the Rose Croix Officer Line and they were transitioning the parts in the degree to that line. It’s been probably 5-6 years since I did that part, and I still remember it, but can’t deliver it on my own because I’m not in practice. I wouldn’t need another hypnosis session to be able to work in the degree, but it WOULD take a lot of time to restore those lines to their former delivery mode with pacing, intonation, and inflection to make it something for the candidates to remember.
And, as you know, people are very different from each other. We have some who can memorize lengthy monologues, some who cannot even get more than a couple of lines. We have some who read well, others who don’t. We have some who can actually write legibly, and (too many) some who can’t; we have some who work easily with numbers (math) and others who are hopelessly inept. So, yes, it doesn’t matter which side of the coin you choose, there are always questions and issues to be addressed. The one constant is that you can NOT use a “one size fits all” approach successfully.
When I was initiated in Scotland on a Thursday night, I had not taken any measure to read up on what was going to happen. I did that intentionally – and just as importantly, I didn’t have GOOGLE to query, and didn’t have the time to research anything anyway. The next morning, in my office, my Master Chief (who was the Senior Warden that night) asked me what I thought of the ceremony. I told him I was impressed and thought it was well-done. He asked me what I was doing next Tuesday night. I thought about it and said “well, I don’t have the duty, so I guess I’m not doing anything in particular.” He told me that we would be going to Ferryden then. “Ferryden? Where’s that?” It’s a lodge in Montrose, a town about 10 miles from the base – sort of “downtown” to us..but not a large metropolitan area, just a bigger town. I asked him WHY. He said “last night, you were the OBJECT of the degree, and you had no idea what was going to happen or even what was happening to you at any given point. It was all overwhelming and much like drinking from a firehose. Now you need to go watch the degree being performed for someone else so you can understand what happened. They’re doing an Entered Apprentice degree next Tuesday night.” So, he takes me to Ferryden that next Tuesday. Now, it’s important to remember that I’ve been a Mason for all of 5 days, and as I said, it was like drinking from a firehose. So, we walk up to the door of the lodge, and this little old man comes out and looks me up and down and says “we don’t know you son, you’re going to have to pass an examination.” Now, I can’t remember (after all, it’s been over 40 years now) what his questions were, but obviously I was able to answer them to his satisfaction, so he let me enter the lodge. My Master Chief and I sit down, and before the lodge opens, I ask him what that was all about. His answer? “It was to show you that the purpose of the examination is NOT to keep you out; it’s to prove to the Brothers that you won’t embarrass yourself or them in the lodge. Besides, if you couldn’t pass, I could vouch for you because they know me.” Yet, I know some interrogators revel in the idea that they’re going to trip up the visitor on some arcane question or bit of trivia that not everyone knows or appreciates.
The PURPOSE of the ritual is to imbue in the candidate an appreciation for the teachings of that degree. Now, whether an individual delivering part of that ritual memorizes or reads his part should make little difference. It is the ABILITY to do whichever is more effective BY THAT BROTHER that is important. And, what do you do IF (not when) NO ONE can deliver the ritual by memory without constant disruption and prompting? Isn’t that worse than reading the ritual? (and not JUST from a time consumption perspective) And, if a Brother has difficulty speaking (stroke, or other speech impediment) isn’t it better to have that Brother take a non-speaking part? These Brothers are usually well-aware of their shortcomings and problems, and are more than willing to help, but in a capacity that doesn’t embarrass them as well. You know, as well as I do, that the Germans holding that ritual in front of them have memorized most of that ritual; they use the book as a crutch – a pseudo prompter for the lack of better analogy – which doesn’t require the candidate to shift focus during the monologue should the speaker need a “reminder” of his next word or phrase.
Every lodge, every ceremony, and every brother is unique. We need to start remembering that and using each piece of our lodge to its fullest advantage where their strengths lie, not trying to force something onto a Brother that is beyond his abilities.
If the requirement is that a Worshipful Master MUST memorize all three rituals, the funeral ceremony, and be declared proficient before he is allowed to take office, then we also need to be willing to accept a Brother when he says he CAN’T do that and let him serve in a capacity where he is comfortable and accept that he will NEVER be the WM, despite the fact that he may well be a capable leader and planner, just not a very good memorizer. Instead, we are so desperate for warm bodies that we goad him into taking a spot in the line, with the notional idea that it’s 7 years for him to learn his parts on his way to the East. But, reality is, almost always one or more of the Brothers ahead of him (who have already done this trip at least once, and perhaps multiple times) will drop out, and he’ll be asked to “step up” to the next slot(s) in mid-stream, often making the trip to the East in 4 or even 3 years! I submit, we do an injustice to the individual we put into that position by expecting him to not just memorize that huge amount of ritual, but to internalize it so quickly that he really doesn’t understand it when he’s expected to deliver it to a new candidate…only to be chastised by PWM’s on the sidelines for not knowing his part perfectly.
Even today, we’re finding more and more organizations embracing ZOOM (peer-to-peer technology) as a way to remain in contact and carry on some more routine business matters. OBVIOUSLY, you can NOT communicate certain things (grips or anything that requires personal body contact) but what we’re finding is that we can do far more virtually than we believed possible in the past. I’m not endorsing P2P as a “suitable substitute” for in-person experiences. But, I am saying that we should be embracing that technology to remove the boring and repetitive parts of our meetings that MUST be conducted as a business, and look to the in-person sessions as a place to communicate the essential teachings – education, for lack of a better word. Far too many lodges spend 5, maybe 10 minutes of their 2+ hour long meeting devoted to some sort of “education” – and yet, we constantly see Brothers tell us that what they want is MORE EDUCATION at our meetings, not less. But, when you factor in all those ritualistic openings, closings, reading of the minutes, reading the treasurer’s report, reading memorial scrolls and sickness and distress, discuss mandatory repairs to the building, argue about how much dues should be, etc … and then we only have 5-10 minutes for what SHOULD be a priority in our meetings, THAT’s the reason so many men don’t come back. They have better things to do with their time than spend (say) the better part of an hour to get to the lodge, sit through 2 or more hours of a meeting with little “education” to show for it, and then spend the better part of another hour to get home to family. And, we’re surprised?
I’ve tried to tell folks, repeatedly, IF your meetings are boring, predictable, and repetitive, you WILL lose your members. Oh, you’ll continue to see the same minimal cadre of Brothers that have been doing the same thing for 50 years coming, but those Brothers, sadly, are NOT your future – they are dying off. Your future is with the younger men who come seeking light – and when they don’t find it, or find that you don’t emphasize it (education), they move on to something else. What happens then? The lodge closes.
I work the audio deck for the Consistory. As such, I have to have EVERY degree’s ritual in front of me to make sure the appropriate speaker’s microphone (1 of 16 plus audio clips) is on at the right time. In the process, I’ve seen Brothers who are excellent ritualists, flub lines, forget entire paragraphs, then later in their part remember that they forgot something, go back and try to recover – makes life “interesting” to try to follow in a script. No one says anything to them – because the candidates don’t KNOW what to expect anyway. It’s better to “bluff” and not stumble than to apologize for forgetting something and verbally saying that to the candidates. I’ve been doing this audio schtick now for about 5 years now. EVERY SINGLE TIME we do a reunion, I learn something new about each of those degrees. But, do NOT ask me to become one of those actors on the floor delivering those lines – I can’t. I know it, and I accept it. And, my Brothers accept that I’m VERY GOOD at running that audio board for them…so…is it important that I be able to memorize? NOPE. In fact, I will state, unequivocally, that had I been required to undergo the proficiency examinations required in Colorado (and most, if not all, states here in USA), I would not be a Mason today. My proficiencies in Scotland were 10-12 questions and answers – and the answers were relatively short. Even so, it took me a lot of work to get those short answers down pat to move on to the next degree. And, then once past the MM degree, I found that NO OTHER DEGREES require you to be “proficient” to participate in the appendant bodies. Oh, you have to know a few things to not stand out in a meeting as being inept, but you don’t undergo that same “proficiency” step that involves learning basically a majority of your initiation/passing/raising ceremony including, but not limited to your entire set of obligations VERBATIM and standing in front of your Brothers to PROVE you know it.
One last point. In Scotland, there are something like 40+ different rituals for lodges to choose from. They may pick and choose ANY ritual for any of their degrees at any time, and they don’t need permission from GL or GM to change from time to time. They just do it. And, if they don’t like any of the available rituals, they are permitted to re-write the ritual in their own words to suit their purposes. The ONLY stipulation on them is that they must preserve the signs, words, and tokens of the degree, and the essence of the teachings. The exact WORDING and organization of the degree ritual is up to them to decide – which makes it a wonderful learning opportunity for visitors – they see the same lessons being presented differently, which helps them internalize those lessons of the degree…and they didn’t have to go to a different country or state or province to experience that – it can be only a few miles down the road. Telling the story in your own words is the important key…not whether you can parrot a defined ritual word-for-word.
Oh, and a little humorous story about my 2nd degree proficiency. I had been practicing with a CPO in my office (he was treasurer) prior to the meeting where I would be called to answer the questions. That night, we were surprised by an unannounced visitation by the Provincial Grand Master and his deputation. As I was called to the carpet to answer the questions, fully expecting the RWM to call upon the treasurer to come and ask them, suddenly the PGM stands up and says “RWM, if it’s OK with you I’d like to propound the questions to the Brother.” My knees almost buckled. I was going to be questioned by the Grand Master! He came out, and believe it or not, he screwed up the ORDER of the questions. But, fortunately, I learned the answers, didn’t just memorize the answers in the order they were written on the card I was given. But, one question (suitably paraphrased all these years later) was “In ancient times, where did the Brethren go to receive their wages.” Of course, the proper answer is “the middle chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.” On the floor, and under the pressure of the presence of the GM, I said “in the middle chamber of King Solomon’s TOMB!” No one said anything, no tittering, no laughter, just moved along to the next question. At the end, the GM congratulated me, returned to the east with the RWM, and the meeting continued. After lodge was closed, the JW (who was a very short stocky CPO) came up to me and shook my hands. But while shaking hands, he said quietly, “you know commander, you sure like to get paid in some pretty kinky places.” I asked him what he meant, and he said “middle chamber of King Solomon’s Tomb” – I said I didn’t say that, and he replied “Oh, yes you did. We all heard it, and we’re not going to let you forget it either.”
And, THAT’s the kind of experience that cemented my bond to the craft…not the need and ability to memorize a large amount of text. I witness in awe those Brothers who CAN memorize all that, and I know not all of them find it easy. But, for me, it’s not just difficult, it’s damned near impossible without undergoing extensive hypnotherapy to get 2 pages of monologue into the memory cells where I can recall it.