They snickered when he walked by, the two Brothers, longtime past masters and longtime members of the lodge, both slightly deaf, thought they were whispering. “Is he a wizard or just a wackjob?” the man had asked. Both giggled and snorted a bit, the other responded, “I don’t see a wand in his hand, but nothing would surprise me with this lot.”
The Wizards actions that brought such ridicule, the study of the esoteric areas of Masonry. He had read a paper the other day during good of the order and the paper was about speculative alchemy, since which time he was branded “one of those.”
Generally, my style is not a rant so much as it is a story. This writing is categorically a rant, so if you suffer from rantaphobia, I recommend reading no further. If you believe that men with less than 50 years in the Craft should keep quite and learn their place and that holding a dues card deems a man a Mason or an event merely taking place in a Masonic lodge is enough to deem it a Masonic event, again, I implore you, read no further.
Long gone are the fun filled days of my Masonic youth when I was overtly offended by statements that started with “back in my day” and ended with some sort of immoral moral story that included me sitting down, shutting up and simply being happy I was a Mason. I have reached a point that I am only saddened that a Brother has sat in lodge so many times and found so little in the way of Masonry. It seems that you can have 20 years of experience, or one days worth of experience over and over again for 20 years, depending on how you choose to see it, or more importantly for this rant, choose not to see it.
There is a shift in the Craft right now, a rent in the fae* as it were. Like all transitions, even the initiatory one that all Masons are supposed to go through, there are ripples and currents and instabilities. There is always a death before a rebirth. (For those who are now thinking, “Man, this guy must be one of those wizards, wackjobs, or weirdoes”…that answer is yes, and had you paid the least attention during your MM degree, your 18th degree, or the Order of the Temple you would have noticed there is a slight allusion death and rebirth in all of these).
The Craft as a whole is undergoing regeneration, an evolution of devolution as it were, a return to the philosophical, alchemical, and psychological aspects of Masonry. I am a proud to be a member of the transitional team, and don’t mind the ripples. Nonetheless, I have noticed that as the pendulum swings, the grumblings of those who would prefer to do nothing have grown louder. Because the cacophony has drowned out a few voices of education I find far more melodious lately, I have decided to address them.
First, I would like to address the statements that seem loudest.
“Just because you want Masonry to be mystical, spiritual, or include other hocus pocus, does not mean that it does.”
“What in the heck does alchemy have to do with Masonry at all?”
“Pike, Wilmshurst, Hall and others were weirdoes or oddballs and don’t speak for the Craft. Heck, most men in Masonry are never going to read those crackpots anyway.”
I have addressed these individually before and/or with groups. But, today I want to discuss, at least briefly, the converse or the root of the argument. Not the psychological or philosophical origins which are likely to do with unfit men being made Masons with little or no thought given to the work in attempts to bolster numbers and keep dues artificially low….that, is another argument for another day.
No, I want to discuss the foundation of the argument from rhetorical standpoint. I mean rhetorical in the traditional and academic sense of invention or discovery, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. I believe that the invention or discovery of the argument against Masonry as an alchemical art, a mystical tradition, or spiritual undertaking is flawed. So, I will make my argument here.
The converse to Masonry as a mystical tradition of metaphysical transformation generally takes the position that Masonry is a highly stylized social group with moral lessons imparted to its members. In short, it is a social order for good men to get together on occasion and help serve their community.
If this is the case, I find most of Masonry difficult, if not impossible to explain. When Masonry is regarded as a purely mystical tradition designed for transformation all of these misgivings and difficult explanations dissolve.
So, if Masonry is nothing more that a social and charitable order and all of the mystical and metaphysical “stuff” is drummed up by the wizards, wackjobs, and weirdoes, then I ask WHY:
1. Do we (the Craft) bother with a tiered initiatic system that includes archaic language modeled after the mystical traditions of Greece, Egypt, Persia, etc? Why not simply allow people in after a back ground check? Shared experience is attained easily enough by going to dinner together or consuming alcoholic beverages together. Why initiate at all?
2. Do the penalties and passwords directly correlate to alchemical operations in place and written about in the 1400 and 1500’s long before the public acknowledgment of Freemasonry in 1717. Alchemical operations include taking an herb that is torn out by its roots, placed in liquid, agitated twice in a day while remaining buried in a sand bath during the remainder of the operation. Any of this seem familiar? The passwords for the various degrees have direct alchemical allusions, why would the drafters of the operation make these connections, for pure coincidence? The highest point of a distillation apparatus was referred to as the pinnacle of the temple. It continues like this throughout all of alchemy and ancient alchemical text.
3. Does the neophyte’s journey culminate in an ancient death ritual similar to those found in ancient mystery schools designed for the sole purpose of spiritual enlightenment?
4. Is the word “mysteries” or “mystery” specifically included in many Masonic rituals if there isn’t one? Is this a lie?
I will be honest, if Masonry is a purely social order with some charitable intentions; it does a miserable job it. My arguments for this are as follows:
1. You can’t talk to the lodge without first addressing the Master which slows communication, which is the primary objective in a purely social event.
2. There is very little actual socializing during lodge and many lodges don’t have dinners anymore or the dinners are so terrible they have become a point of jest and humor within the ranks of the Fraternity.
3. We give very little money away for a charity.
4. We barely help ourselves. Brothers will fall away from lodge without being noticed and rarely receive so much as a phone call before his NPD letter is mailed.
5. Men rush home instead of socializing because meetings are filled with minutes, paying bills, and petty arguments all while sitting in the same seat and next to the same person you always sit next to. This is not social.
As a purely social or charitable order, Masonry utterly fails and becomes nothing more than bizarre and archaic ritual with no meaning. Further complicating the issue, it would mean that several parts of the rituals used throughout the world are filled with outright lies. The rituals and charges of the various orders of Masonry speak to mystery, enlightenment, and a need to study the deeper meanings and converse with well informed adepts and Brothers. If Masonry is a social club that teaches the golden rule, what is left to “study.” We could some it up with, “Hey that’s naughty, stop it.” Those lessons are learned prior to grade school for most and certainly don’t require an elaborate death ritual to inculcate them.
So it is, I must relegate myself to the denizens of the wizards, wackjobs and weirdoes that will study as the ritual begs, search as the charges recommend, and never stop trying to build the temple, hone the stone, and perfect the ashlar.