Freemasonry. The word itself strikes up a multitude of fanciful ideas and images, with each being different to members and non-members; and they might even differ between newer and longstanding members. Namely, what does the word mean? What does it entail; what does it imply… where did it come from? Surely, there may be just as many questions about the word as there would be meaning of it. Freemasonry…
What is Freemasonry? In Macoy’s dictionary there are no less than 31 definitions of the word. Some attempt to interlace Masonry and Freemasonry, but all place “Freemasonry” as some sort of foundation, a structure on which, and IN which the beautiful ideals and notions of Masonry and Masonic Lodges are taught and enacted[i]. In its simplest form, we may say that “Freemasonry” is the Institution, official structure and government, which provides a home for Masonic activities.
So, that is a very loose interpretation of the word. But, what does the word mean? What is held within the word? In North America and those Lodges recognized by the U.G.L.E. (we will not visit or discuss- right or wrong- the practice of Co-Masonry at this point), I believe that the word itself, Freemasonry, can be broken down to represent 3 distinctly different yet interdependent components: The Fraternal Institution of Masonry.
In this clime (gotta throw in a Preston type word every now and then), and many others, our Craft is made up of an appropriate age of men, joined together for the common purpose of bettering themselves, and the Fraternity at large. Just as Fraternities in colleges and Unions in the workplace rely on the concept of Brotherhood, so do we. Through our Ritual and ceremonies, a unique bond is established that many of the Brethren feel binds them eternally to each other. I am inclined to feel this way, and would be remiss if I indicated differently. I can say that, as an example, when I and another Brother have been at odds, I find it decidedly EASIER and more satisfying as a whole to ask for and gain forgiveness and healing from my Brother than I might if dealing with one without! I don’t think this is any type of favoritism, but I do believe that included in my thought process is the knowledge that we both have similar beliefs, and have undergone the same initiation and degree Work. In this manner, we are both inclined and in nearly every circumstance- bound to each other- and this does include helping one another to reconcile and continue our Brotherhood along with a betterment of the self… which includes asking for and granting forgiveness.
The Institution of Freemasonry is often seen as the body, or structure of the whole thing. In our Institution, there are Landmarks, Grand Lodges, Craft Lodges, and Ritual which GOVERN the existence of the Fraternity. For many, this is where they may excel. I have known Secretaries and Treasurers of Lodges who do their Work so precisely that the Lodge would absolutely fail without them. However, some of these men are also the first to admit that they would make a terrible Lodge Officer or Master, and they possibly may not know (or care to know) all of the Ritual and Lectures of the degrees from memory! Does this make them any less of a Mason than the one who can rattle of the LONG form Middle Chamber Lecture, and then float right into the “Letter G”?
As a matter of fact, we are taught in those lectures that each has his place within the Lodge, and should go about doing his good Work, using the talents and skills given by the GAOTU to His glory! In doing so, whether we are reading reports, crunching numbers, presenting a slide lecture, mentoring a Candidate, or providing support on the sidelines– each is doing his special part, and in so doing, provides strength and support for the Lodge, and ultimately, for the Institution of Freemasonry.
Ahh, Masonry! This, my friends, is where I find that the whole matter gets a little tricky. As a basis, I will state (as my opinion), that Masonry is the Heart and Soul of the Fraternal Institution of Freemasonry. Masonry is spiritual in nature, and may be viewed differently from one Mason to another. Masonry I’m afraid is very difficult to put into words, and I also do NOT believe that one needs to be a Mason in order to understand Masonry!
Yes, you heard me right, and I’ll take it a step further. I’ve said it numerous times before and I’ll go on the record again and WRITE it here: I believe that I was practicing Masonry long before I was MADE a Mason! I also believe that there are “those without” who know, understand, and practice Masonry; and who may or may not have ever read any Masonic literature, or set foot inside a Masonic Temple. One caveat is that I do believe that with proper Masonic training (provided by the Freemasonic Institution), one can practice Masonry in… let’s say, a more “regular” fashion.
But, the difference remains: you’ll notice that I said “Masonic” Temple, and not Masonic Lodge. This, according to me, are where the two can become different.
A Masonic Lodge, is simply a certain number of legally assembled Masons, and has more to do with the Fraternal Institution of Freemasonry than does Masonry per se. The Lodge will possess certain things, namely a Charter from a Grand Lodge allowing it to conduct its business, and other necessary items. Funny enough– a BUILDING is not needed for a legally constituted Lodge to exist! But, we all go to Lodge. This is the nuts and bolts of Freemasonry. The Lodge conducts Freemasonic business. The Lodge is rigid and governed by books of Masonic Jurisprudence.
A Masonic Temple, on the other hand… They used to say “Masonic Temple” on the outside of the buildings, all nice and pretty and chiseled into the front or possibly the cornerstone. The Temple, and I’m going out on a limb here, doesn’t need a Charter, it doesn’t NEED Ritual (although Ritual is helpful), it doesn’t need any “legal” number of anything to constitute its existence. The Masonic Temple… a.k.a. “Masonry”, resides purely in one’s Heart and/or Soul.
Case In Point:
I asked my wife just the other day if she would prefer to go to a church- a fancy building with fine carpeting and a beautiful organ, one with a well-known preacher and a choir that wore lovely robes- except for… the minister didn’t know how to preach, the choir couldn’t sing, and NO ONE knew how or even IF they should pray?
Or…Would she rather attend a church with nothing else- no building, no altar, no choir, no organ, no nothing- except that the Church understood the importance of worship, ministering, and prayer?
She said without hesitation that she would choose the latter!
I choose the latter as well! I ask myself “what kind of Lodge meeting do I want to attend”? I want one that knows how to pray, how to live, and what Masonry really is. You’ll most likely find what I’m referring to in what are known Traditional Observance or “T.O.” Lodges. Go look one up. Show up in a relaxed and reverent state of mind. Thank me later.
Yes. I absolutely equate a worthwhile Masonic experience with the worship of God in a church. I make no bones about it. I have and I will continue to say that Masonry is my religion and what I believe to be my correct pathway into the next life and then the next one beyond that! My Masonry is spiritual, it is eternal, and I believe it has been with me (although I didn’t know it, acknowledge it, or follow it for many years) for my entire life. I have little doubt that there are thousands upon thousands of others who share my feelings!
Joseph Fort Newton, an ordained minister, spoke often of Religious Masonry as did Haywood. Many other Masonic authors have hinted at it as well. I believe that these men saw Masonry for what the Creator meant for it to be; namely, as a terrific philosophy and rule for life!
When describing such men, I argue that it is unfair to lend to their pursuit the tired and worn out definition of Freemasonry as “a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”[ii]. A close runner up in the “shut the hell up department” is that Freemasonry makes good men better. Instead, I would choose to suggest that the spirit of Masonry i.e., all that is right and good in the sight of the Creator, is what fed the fire within their souls… that’s what made them “better”! Apply this also to the good Masons of the present day.
Good Masons are reverent, they are spiritual… they are Masons. They know how to pray and understand the importance of prayer. They understand the importance of worship and the awesome nature of themselves and of the Deity- not only in Lodge assembled, but also when standing alone… they remain a Mason. It is perfectly simple and uncomplicated. It is natural.
This is Masonry.
In each of our Masonic walks, may we all be so lucky!
SMIB ~ W.B. Jon Sage
[i] [i] Macoy, Robert. 1989. A dictionary of Freemasonry: a compendium of Masonic history, symbolism, rituals, literature, and myth. New York: Bell Pub. Co
[ii] Indiana Monitor and Freemason’s Guide (1997).