II. Faith & Belief in a Supreme Being
III. Secrecy & Fidelity to Trust
IV. Brotherly Love & The Golden Rule
V. Relief & Charity
VI. Truth & Honesty
VII. Temperance & Resignation
VIII. Fortitude & Courage
IX. Prudence & Wisdom
X. Justice & Judgement
XI. Reverence & Dignity
XII. Self Sacrifice & Service to Others
XIII. Sharing Strength and Wisdom
XIV. Setting a Good Example
XV. Harmony & Conduct
XVI. So Mote It Prevail
The following is a compilation of the basic necessities and lessons of the craft. As we all know, the 1st degree of life is all about growing up and searching for that “moral truth” in order to make resolutions and prepare for greatness. As Freemasons, we need help from trustworthy friends in order to reach that level of greatness and in turn we ourselves are to help them by showing our trustworthiness.
I’ve spent over a year on this and I can honestly say that, indeed, it has been time well spent. Now, more than ever, do I realize that there is so much to do in this life and yet so little time. There are several virtues to work on in our everyday lives to help us be better men. I’m constantly rereading these lessons over and over so they are etched into my mind, much the same way ritual should be studied.
A Freemason is not measured by his rank in lodge but rather by his deeds. More importantly, we should not rely on others to measure us but only ourselves as the craft is a personal journey to discover who we really are. We improve ourselves for the betterment of society and take oaths on volumes of sacred law to lay the foundation for greatness. The square of virtue measures the stones used for “that temple not built with hands,” while the compasses keep our minds balanced and within due bounds.
It is my hope that you will take something away from the following. We are all but men, and like all men, we are a constant work in progress. By learning to be an upright man of morals, you will be enabled the better to discharge your duties as a Freemason, and discover the true secret of the craft – who you are.
So mote it be.
One of the charges of Freemasonry recommends “the practice of every moral and social virtue.”
When I first became a Freemason, I was a lot more interested in science than morality. It probably wasn’t until just this past year that I realized that being a Freemason isn’t just about what you know, it’s about how you act. I have the rest of my life to seek truth and knowledge, but as I’m still so young I figure I should concentrate more growing up and learning to conduct myself properly.
But what I realize even now as I’m writing this is that you can never even find divine truth without first learning about morality:
FREE-MASONRY is a MORAL ORDER, instituted by virtuous men, with the praiseworthy design of recalling to our remembrance the most sublime TRUTHS, in the midst of the most innocent and social pleasures, – founded on LIBERALITY, BROTHERLY LOVE and CHARITY. It is a beautiful SYSTEM of MORALITY, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. TRUTH is its center, – the point whence its radii diverge, point out to its disciples a correct knowledge of the Great Architect of the Universe, and the moral laws which he has ordained for their government. (Macoy, 1867)
As Freemasons, we should constantly be building ourselves up to be beacons of morality. We should be true to our beliefs, conform to Masonic ideals, and resist the temptation to lower our standards. We need to be community leaders and try to educate others to raise their standards and practice good, honest living. Our lives must be built on the corner stone of high principles.
I have had the unfortunate pain of meeting some brothers who are Freemasons “by name only,” who have failed to live up to the precepts our noble society preaches. A real Freemason will wear a Masonic ring not only to be identified by others, but also to constantly remind himself of what it means to be a true Freemason:
The real Freemason is the man in whose everyday life one sees an exemplification of true Freemasonry. The real Mason may be as poor as a church mouse, or he may be the richest man on earth. But poor or rich, destitute or otherwise, the real Freemason demonstrates the teachings of the Fraternity in his daily life, in his business and social dealings with his fellow-men, in his religion and in his politics. The real Mason does not lose his interest in Freemasonry or his interest in his brethren. (Unknown, 1925)
A mason is molded by the lessons of morality and science, and his entire life is spent not only thinking about them but acting on them as well. Because of his life experiences and everything the craft has given him, he is constantly reflecting on and contemplating Masonic virtues. Our human reason assisted by conscience and tempered by the art of Freemasonry allows us to know the difference between right and wrong so that we may live righteously.
Since Freemasonry is a beautiful system full of rituals, symbolism and allegory that gives us lessons of morality, we need to remember that learning a ritual isn’t simply about floor work or memorization, but understanding what that ritual means and how we should apply it to ourselves:
Masonry does not exist for the mechanics of ritual alone. Just as important is the learning, interpretation and exemplification of that ritual and of the basic principles of our Order. Equally important, too, for the candidate and for every member is the need to fully understand these principles, as well as our responsibilities as Masons.
– Grand Master Donald J. Flood at the annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, 1985.
Freemasons should be aware of what is right and what is wrong, and also should be able to tell the difference between what is ideal and what is practical. Knowing that, our conscience will tell us what the best choices are so we can restore order out of chaos among the pressures and stresses of daily life. That’s the nature of morality – to do right if we can, not do things that are questionable or may cause harm to others. Rather than simply talking about how to act, we should actually be acting accordingly.
The point within a circle is a good example of morality. It’s a symbol that teaches us how to “bound” our conduct so that we may be upright in our actions:
The point representing an individual brother, and the circle, the boundary line of his conduct beyond which he should never suffer his passions, his prejudices, or his interests, to betray him. Just as the scientist studies the orbit of the satellite spinning around the earth, so should we study this circle that bounds our conduct, so that we will know of what it is composed and how far it extends. (Hemphill, 1999)
By conducting ourselves in a righteous manner, we can do a lot of good in the world and perhaps even attract new members to the lodge. However, we should keep in mind that we are in the business of making good men better, not bad men good. When new members come to the craft we need to make sure that they are moral to begin with and that they have the desire to learn. It will therefore be a lot easier to teach them how to be better men and remind them of their obligations when we see them making mistakes:
First, see that our members are educated Masonically so that they know what is expected of them as Masons. Second, when we find a brother forgetting his teachings, we should remember to whisper good counsel in his ear, gently admonish him of his errors, and endeavor in a friendly way to bring about true and lasting reformation. And finally, we should guard our portals so that only those are admitted to our fraternity who will be receptive to our teachings, and who will find it easy to conduct themselves as Masons. (Hemphill, 1999)
We are taught about equality. That no man is better than another and that we can teach and learn from each other since we are on equal ground. The best way for us to teach Masonic principles is to understand and live by them. We go to lodge to learn all these things, so that in essence the lodge is a symbol of untainted purity:
And now my brethren, in all these things have we seen only a series of unmeaning rites and ceremonies; have we learned our ritual, our mystic words and signs, and there ended the lesson? If so, then to us Masonry is a failure, a delusion and a snare. But no intelligent Mason can take such a view, for in the science of Masonic symbolism the temple represented the world, purified by the Divine presence; and, as every Masonic Lodge is a representative of the temple, it is, therefore, a representative of the world purified. Hence to enter the lodge, to be made a Mason, is to become good, pure and noble. (Church, 1880)
As Freemasons we are charged to “render every kind office of justice or mercy to others, and to practice a prudent and well regulated course of discipline.” We are also reminded to be “directed by Prudence, chastened by Temperance, supported by Fortitude, and guided by Justice in all our actions.” Benevolence and Charity also play a key role in the teachings of our science. We hear these lessons over and over again, but when it comes down to it, it’s up to each one of us to figure out how to actually apply these lessons to our own lives. No one ever said it was going to be easy:
There is little doubt that living the life of a Freemason, according to its principles, is difficult, but it is well worth the effort. What a different world this would be if people followed our Masonic dictates. (Schwartz, 1999)
Even though a true mason will act the same no matter where he is, it certainly is a lot easier to practice morals within the lodge. It is a sanctuary from the profane world without and there is no need for worry when among brethren. Masons believe in several tenets and virtues that allow them to put their differences aside for the sake of what unites them. Not only that, but they also grow into moral characters that can fulfill any duties they might have:
What is required of every single one of us is the dedicated and devoted application of the high moral principles of Masonry. By these simple methods, we develop the character that guarantees our own self-improvement and discharges the duties of God, our country, our neighbors and ourselves.
– Grand Master Donald J. Flood at the annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, 1985.
For the sake of the fraternity, to discharge those duties is expected of all masons. A Freemason is told: “To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care.” If we are masons, we should act like it. Otherwise people won’t see any point in becoming a mason. Can we live up to every moral and virtue at all times? Probably not. It’s okay to falter at times, nobody is perfect. Like all other men, we are a work in progress:
Freemasonry – so we truly believe – is one of God’s bright tools for shaping of the rough ashlars which we are. (Unknown, 1930)
We are taught that we are but rough ashlars, waiting to be made into the perfect ashlars that are the ideal in beauty and form to which we hope to aspire to. Rough in the sense that our minds are still developing, and perfect in the sense that it’s how a man of morals should be. If we choose to live thusly, we will build ourselves into good people and will be able to handle any situation. The “temple not made with hands” is something we should constantly be working on:
Each of us are the living stones, which are to form the Temple not made with hands, and so that the Temple may be perfect, each one of us has to be so, for the Temple will only be as good as the stones that form it. Masonry is more than a ritual; it is a way of living. It offers us a method and a plan, by which we may build a character so strong and true that nothing, not even death, can destroy it. If we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God, then we can serenely await the solemn moment when we must quit this transitory scene with a clear conscience and a trust in the mercy of God. (Henderson, 1996)
People join Freemasonry for different reasons: a family history, a willingness to join a charitable organization, interest in esotericism or maybe just the need for brotherly fellowship. There are several organizations out there that offer these things, but Freemasonry is different because it is designed to make us better men. If we don’t see that, then we’ve missed the whole point:
And finally, my brethren, in our estimation of Masonry, let us look beyond its secret works, its rituals, lectures, ceremonies, signs, and symbols, for these are but the garment in which it is clothed – they are the visible body – Masonry is the invisible soul. The promotion of virtue, the practice of morality, and the relief of distress, are but the fruits of the vital active principle within. Masonry is more than mere signs and ceremonies. We may know its history, its traditions, its achievements, and its laws; we may be learned in its lectures and masters of its secret work; we may be able to understand and interpret its symbolism, and be termed “bright Masons,” and yet the whole volume of Masonry be to us a sealed and a silent book. We may admire its spirit, and refuse that spirit a dwelling within our soul; we may admire its wisdom, its strength, its harmony, (which is beauty,) the perfection of its ceremonies, its lectures, and its laws; and yet if we have failed to learn that these are but avenues leading up to the moral edifice beyond; that they are only emblems of like qualifies in the spiritual structure; then, indeed, have we labored in vain, and spent our strength for naught. (Church, 1880)
It’s incredible how vast the science of Freemasonry is with its history, symbolism, esotericism and ritual. I look forward to studying symbolism a lot more someday, but for now I felt that I should dive into the basic lessons that the craft dictates. Let us take an in depth look at some of the things Freemasonry teaches and how we should act accordingly.
Faith & Belief in a Supreme Being
A Freemason is recommended to his “most serious contemplation the Volume of the Sacred Law.” What that religious or philosophical text may be is up to each Freemason to decide for himself. We don’t tell others what to believe in. We meet around an altar that may have a few or more texts placed on it, knowing that we all have something in common. It’s not about what we believe in, but rather the fact that we believe in anything at all.
It’s vital for a mason to have a belief in a Supreme Being, but at the same time keep his religious opinions to himself, thereby allowing others to unite with him in friendship. Since antient times, masons have always been charged in this way:
A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance. (Anderson, 1723)
In regular Freemasonry belief in a Supreme Being is the number one requirement for joining. In order to be admitted, a man’s spirit needs to reach out to Deity, otherwise no obligation would be regarded as binding. Not just that, but belief is what creates an experience that feels real and leaves a lasting impression on a candidate.
Without the Grand Architect of the Universe, Freemasonry simply doesn’t make any sense. Take for example the following working tools:
The Twenty-four Inch Gauge represents the twenty-four hours of the day, part to be spent in prayer to Almighty God, part in labour and refreshment and part in serving a friend or brother in time of need, without detriment to ourselves or connections. This is a reminder to the Initiate that he is mortal, that he has so many years of life, with so many days to each year, and so many hours to each day. It is only the immortals that do not have to concern themselves with time, for to them it no longer exists; for us mortals each day has twenty-four hours. Later we may learn the secrets of immortality, but first we must make full use of our mortality. In other words, time and space are given to us with all their limitations to prepare ourselves for the ampler freedom of after life. Time is but the gateway to eternity, and by learning to use our time, we prepare ourselves for eternity. (Henderson, 1996)
With the Pencil the skilful artist delineates the building in a draft or plan for the instruction and guidance of the workmen. Our building has been delineated in a draft or plan for our instruction and guidance by the Great Architect of the Universe. It is for us to understand what is meant by each detail of the design, so that our life, when considered in the time to come, and in the light of that plan, will be judged by its conformity to that plan. (Henderson, 1996)
Without a Supreme Being, the twenty-four inch gauge and pencil would serve no purpose. It’s necessary that Freemasonry be theistic. We are constantly invoking the aid of Deity in our rituals and ceremonies, and we conduct our meetings in peace and harmony with the divine presence.
We are charged to give God that “reverential awe which is due from the creature to his Creator.” If Freemasonry was just a regular fraternity with no religious component, belief would not be important. But it is important. As candidates we are required to put our trust “in God,” thereby showing the brethren in lodge that our faith is sound. Just within moments of entering a lodge for this very first time, we must affirm our faith in Deity.
Freemasonry brings men from all walks of life together under one “starry firmament,” as we are all in pursuit of truth and brotherly love. Although it’s great having several Volumes of the Sacred Law on an altar, it’s not the differences that are important. What’s important is what we have in common as we are all brethren under the fatherhood of God. It doesn’t matter how we see Him. What matters is how He sees us – as children, all equal in His eyes. That’s what really counts:
It is universal religion, which it inculcates; that religion which is essential everywhere to the true character of man; that sense of obligation and final responsibility which affords the only security for the faithful observance of its own pure principles, and its solemn and sacred vows; a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, His justice and goodness, and the immortality of the soul are the elements of religion which it requires of its votaries, while it heeds not the dogmas and specific articles of faith which men have set up and called the only true religion. (Church, 1880)
Freemasonry allows for this universality of faith as all religions preach righteousness. Faith should be a constant focus in our lives. We don’t find faith in Freemasonry, but in whatever it is we believe in. Freemasonry offers no salvation, but it teaches that faith is important in order to have a good life. Faith secures our reasoning for being moral and upright:
For without the Belief of a Providence that takes Cognizance of, guards and guides and may favour particular Persons, there is no Motive to Worship a Deity, to fear its Displeasure, or to pray for its Protection … think how great a Proportion of Mankind consists of weak and ignorant Men and Women, and of inexperienc’d and inconsiderate Youth of both Sexes, who have need of the Motives of Religion to restrain them from Vice, to support their Virtue, and retain them in the Practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great Point for its Security; And perhaps you are indebted to her originally that is to your Religious Education, for the Habits of Virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it.
– Bro. Benjamin Franklin, Date Uncertain.
If man loses faith in God, then the basis of his moral conduct strays from the divine authority. When that happens, morality becomes man-made and divine law loses its effectiveness and meaning. People will have no standards, they’ll become unstable and eventually descent.
Freemasonry isn’t a religion; it simply builds faith and encourages interest in the nature of God and man’s relation to him. An atheist will declare himself as such without really knowing why and dismiss spirituality altogether, while Freemasonry makes us seriously consider these difficult questions that are important in figuring out who we are and whence we came. It allows for a journey that is personal for each brother, as he is able to choose his own path of faith:
That religion which requires us to recognize a “First Great Cause;” that religion which requires us to invoke the aid of Deity in all our laudable undertakings; that religion which commands and requires us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the widow and fatherless, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, and leaves us within the range of these duties and landmarks to adopt our own form of worship, to approach the throne of the Almighty in our own way, and adore him under whatever name we choose. (Church, 1880)
The lessons of the craft are based on the Volume of the Sacred Law, and founded on the principles of the universal brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, thereby acknowledging a Supreme Being. It doesn’t compete with religion and sets itself apart from any particular religion, requiring its members to respect and tolerate each other’s beliefs. Masonry unites rather than divides, but still allows each brother a right to his own opinions and truth. It basically all boils down to two things. Love of God and love of man. That’s why it has survived since antient times, as a meeting place for different minds and a reminder of that final union in the celestial lodge above.
A person of faith knows right from wrong, not because of some man-made laws but because of the direction they receive from their spirituality:
The moral laws are not man-made conventions but Divine commands, which man should be able to recognise as such by means of the Divine Light within him. (Ward, 1926)
Masonry cannot support and unite us without a shared belief in Deity. Masonry would not be a worldwide fraternity without that shared belief. Nor could a godless order help a man think about the true meaning of his mortal existence. Freemasonry is a way of life in a profane world that sometimes rejects its teachings. So we must ever remember to not only have faith in Deity, but also ourselves and others. As men of faith, we use moral truth to service others:
When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellow man, with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song – glad to live, but not afraid to die! Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world. (Newton, 1923)
Secrecy & Fidelity to Trust
In antient times, stonemasons protected the secrets of their trade so that only qualified, skilled workers were employed. They also developed passwords and signs so that members could travel to other guilds, even without knowing anyone. Those traditions are still practiced by today’s Freemasons. The idea of keeping a handshake or a password a secret is to prove trustworthiness and honor.
Things like honor and integrity are important in life. Life doesn’t mean much without them.
A candidate will take an oath of silence, reflective of trust and faith. As he goes through the degrees, he is exposed to more knowledge and more secrets. The teachings are universal and therefore are subjective, which is why it’s important not to rush through. The craft promotes learning and can help a man to uncover numerous amounts of secrets, although this should be done on his own. Freemasonry is about self-improvement and self reflection is private by nature. Therefore, we should remember that secrecy and silence are not simply for the benefit of others:
Among the ancients, silence and secrecy were considered virtues of the highest order. The entire fabric of the universe is founded on secrecy, and the great life force which vivifies, moves and beautifies the whole, is the deepest of all mysteries. We cannot fix our eyes on a single point in creation which does not shade off into mystery and touch the realms of eternal silence. In this respect, as in all others, we see that our institution conforms to the Divine Order of things. (Church, 1880)
A candidate is charged to look at himself through self-reflection and contemplation. That’s not something that can be done on a public platform. True secrecy consists of things like intimacy, emotions, aspirations and private opinions between brothers who have grown closer through the support and strength that Freemasonry imparts. Many different kinds of men are able to call each other Brother. Some of them truly do become like brothers, forming lifelong friendships through trust, sharing trials and tribulations, accepting one another and making, sharing and keeping secrets all the while. That’s life. That’s the secrecy of Freemasonry.
When an operative mason hews a stone it must be made square to support other stones placed around it. That way it can play its part as a piece of the temple. To check the work, he will use a tool called a square to determine if the stone is perfect. As Freemasons we use the term “on the square” to refer to our trust in one another. Any man who is on the square is honest and reliable and has a strong character to those around him. Sometimes “on the square” can also be used to describe a Mason telling another Mason something in confidence.
Masonic lodges often have matters which are private or personal and that are not disclosed outwith the lodge. These can often concern matters of members. For example: embarrassment about attendance, a tiff between two members, financial difficulties or difficulty in coming to lodge. As lodge brothers, we make these matters our personal business as well. Although in the case of rejecting an applicant, privacy is of the utmost importance; members may state their reasons for black-balling someone, but only to another brother in private, not in open lodge and never in public. Even though they were black-balled, we still respect and protect their privacy.
In Freemasonry we often use the word “fidelity,” which is Latin for keeping one’s word. Practicing fidelity helps a man to build character, because it’s only through honesty and promise keeping that others can trust him or that he will even be able to trust himself. Faith in others and ourselves is built on the virtue of fidelity, as is human society as a whole. Freemasonry takes fidelity to a new level, not only through trust of each other, but also the loyalty and faithfulness involved in that trust to make a bond that cannot be broken. This bond is often symbolized by the joining of two right hands – a handshake.
The way the craft is structured gives us opportunity to exercise fidelity and trust among the brethren. That may be something difficult to understand for someone who isn’t a mason. It would seem almost unnatural for secrecy to be a virtue, but the secrets themselves aren’t what are important. Handshakes and passwords are actually of little value, it’s the act of keeping those secrets that is important.
A man is considered rich if he has true character. Not all men can become well known leaders, but each man can have a pure heart and be faithful to his principles. One of the greatest influences the craft has is that of integrity. It has always taught self-respect and fidelity towards our convictions and standards, while giving spiritual strength and moral fortitude. Freemasonry wouldn’t be what it is without its principles; therefore we have the right to those principles and integrity rather than indifference and betrayal.
We see truth as divine and the basis for all virtue, so being a true person is more than just a charge – it’s a command. The Masonic teachings of fidelity are so frequent that it’s commonplace to refer to them, as we are supposed to be “inflexible in our fidelity.” We shouldn’t ignore rules, but rather learn and uphold them in our actions. We should always use reason and conscience when setting a good example for others, and it will also make us feel better about ourselves.
Freemasons believe in honor and integrity, as men of character who act morally and keep their word. We are a family. We rely on and trust each other through time honored values to live by. We should not say unkind things about a brother behind his back if we are to uphold the tenet of brotherly love:
The explanation is surely that Masonry aims at developing Brotherly Love and in order that this may be achieved one of the first essentials is confidence in each other. If one brother finds that another has been passing on unkind remarks about him, the fact is sufficient to mar the harmony of the lodge and destroy mutual confidence. It is not merely that a trifling incident passed by word of mouth from man to man tends to be distorted and exaggerated, although this is a fact which cannot be denied, but even more that as brothers we ought to avoid doing anything which may harm another’s reputation or hurt his feelings. (Ward, 1926)
If we are given information “on the square” about another brother then we should hold it in the repository of our faithful breast. But what if danger is approaching? Should we warn that brother or keep it secret? And what if it concerns the lodge? Should we warn them as well? Some serious questions indeed. Simply put, we need to remember that if we are trusted with a secret then we should not violate that trust, otherwise we will have violated our obligation and will no longer be considered trustworthy. Remember that a properly run lodge will work things out according to Masonic traditions and rules.
If the only fidelity we keep is handshakes and passwords then non-masons will see that trust as purely superficial. In order to show them what true fidelity and trust are, we must act accordingly towards ourselves and anyone we might endow that trust upon. We must reinforce our determination to keep our promises ever bearing in mind that we made such an obligation in the presence of God and our brothers. How are we supposed to be trustworthy in life if we can’t be trusted within the lodge?
Hiram Abiff is a great example of fidelity. Even in the face of death, he kept his promises and remained loyal. There are times when we are pressured or even tempted to break a promise or reveal a secret, but we must remember that no matter what the consequence may be, someone trusted us – and that trust must not be betrayed:
There is one important lesson on this subject which is apt to be overlooked, namely, that the opportunity for the display of this virtue seldom occurs except in times of sorrow and defeat. It is when the foemen ring the castle round, the last food is eaten, the last water drunk and the walls are crumbling before the assaults of the attacking party, that the soldier is able to prove his loyalty. It is when false friends forsake a man, when troubles creep in on every side, that the true friend shows himself in his real colors.
It is when a cause is lost, when victory rests on the banners of the enemy, when cowards fly and false friends prove traitors, that loyalty shines out as a glimmering ray amid the darkness. It is tragic, but true, to say that the real test of loyalty is usually on the brink of an open grave, and often the loyal man does not live to receive the reward of his virtue in this life, It is, therefore, in some ways one of the most unselfish of virtues, but it leaves behind it a fragrance sweeter than myrrh and a crown which is truly celestial. (Ward, 1926)
Brotherly Love & The Golden Rule
Brotherly Love, the Column of Strength, which binds us as one family in the indissoluble bond of fraternal affection. (Mackey, 1878)
Love is the best thing someone can give to another. We value others not for what we can gain from them or their usefulness, but for each one in our own person and our own sake. We service them, sacrifice for them and enjoy being with them. That is what is meant by love. The concept of brotherly love is clearly explained in the antient charges:
BROTHERLY-LOVE, the Foundation and Cape-stone, the Cement and Glory of this Ancient Fraternity, avoiding all Wrangling and Quarreling, all Slander and Backbiting, nor permitting others to slander any honest Brother, but defending his Character, and doing him all good Offices, as far as is consistent with your Honour and Safety, and no farther. (Anderson, 1723)
So then, brotherly love means giving another man high appraisal. Freemasons are told that “by the exercise of Brotherly Love, we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family.” We shouldn’t selfishly gain anything from one another. The friendship is its own reward. Without the virtue of brotherly love, life just isn’t the same. That’s a fact and not just an ideal. Freemasonry uses this fact to give us opportunities for fellowship and harmony, inspires us to practice it daily and to make it a way of life. Thus, brotherly love is one of our principal tenets.
Remember that “the great aim of the order is the attainment of the universal brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.” Since we all profess a similar belief, “our members are drawn from every race and from every creed.” Brotherly love is that expression of amity we have when assembled together.
Brotherly love also means that we should always treat others as we would like to be treated. It’s important to think about how easily we judge others, and whether or not we’d actually do the same thing if we were in their shoes. Therefore, as Freemasons we should always practice the Golden Rule. This rule is quite prominent in all faiths:
“Lay not on any soul a load that you would not want to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.”
Baha’i Faith – Bahu’u’llah
“Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
Buddhism – Udana-Varga 5:18
“In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law of the prophets.”
Christianity – Jesus in Matthew 7:12
“One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct…loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.”
Confucianism – Confucius, Analects 15:23
“This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.”
Hinduism – Mahabharata 5:15-17
“Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.”
Islam – The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith
“One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.”
Jainism – Mahavira, Sutrakritanga
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.”
Judaism – Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a
“We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.”
Native American – Chief Dan George
“I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.”
Sikhism – Guru Granth Sahib, pg. 1299
“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”
Taoism – T’ai Shang Kan Yin P’ien 213-218
“We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
Unitarianism – Unitarian Principle
“An’ harm none, do as thou wilt.”
Wicca – The Wiccan Creed
“Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.”
Zoroastrianism – Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29
We should always show consideration and concern not only for others, but their kin as well. Family comes first but this should expand into the community as well. Freemasons are taught “to aid, support, and protect each other.” The whole concept of brotherly love is what unites us:
By the exercise of Brotherly Love, we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family—the high, the low, the rich, the poor—who, as created by one Almighty Parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support, and protect each other. On this principle, Masonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion, and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance. (Sickels, 1868)
It’s vital to attain brotherly love with other masons. We have to be willing to forget or overlook petty gripes and oddities. It’s important to see the good things in our brothers that will make us love them. Remember, all men are brothers who should throw away any resentment or animosity they might have. In this sense, we will be much more successful in aiding, supporting and protecting our human family:
More than one man has gone into a lodge and curled his lip when he learned that he was supposed to be a brotherly lover, and turned around and wept when he found that he was being loved like a brother by men he didn’t know cared what became of him.
Masonry works miracles all the time, and the commonest of them and the one she works oftenest is teaching hard-hearted citizens to be soft-hearted Masons; teaching men the real meaning of the words ‘brotherly’ and ‘love’ until they, too, become teachers. (Claudy, 1924)
It’s important to show enough love towards our brothers so that they will, in turn, show love towards others. The longer we know someone, the more we enjoy their company. Mutual enjoyment should always come into consideration when practicing brotherly love. Ergo, teaching brotherly love to others involves establishing and maintaining that mutual enjoyment.
It’s vital for leaders within a lodge to adopt an attitude of brotherly love. There are times when problems arise, but they are not so difficult and can be much more quickly resolved if everyone approaches these problems with brotherly love. Leading with brotherly love will go a long way in retaining harmony within a lodge:
When we forgive a brother, we give him the opportunity to renew his oath and his obligations to the brotherhood. By forgiving, we demonstrate that we have Faith that our brother, who may have wronged us, will want to rectify his actions. We always have Hope that brotherly love will prevail against all odds. In part, our lodge needs to be a place of refuge where one can commit a human failing and still receive forgiveness. We are taught to “whisper friendly counsel” in an erring brother’s ear. Yes, the brother may have erred toward us personally, but are we not guiltier of tearing the fabric of our mystic tie by being unforgiving? Do we not act less dignified when we are unwilling to extend the hand and heart of brotherly love to a brother? A brother who has wrongfully hurt us is still a brother who needs to know that we are compassionate. (Schwartz, 1999)
Indeed – compassion, forgiveness and counsel will go a long way in making “good men better”, and in turn we ourselves will become better men. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s only human. Remember that brotherly love means helping each other so we don’t repeat those same mistakes, and that we’ll support each other when confronted with difficulties.
A real Freemason will always respect and tolerate the opinions of others and act with kindness and understanding towards them. There are times when we may get upset at something that had been said or done and jump to making harsh reactions. Rather, we should stay calm and remind each other to walk uprightly:
It is human to want to “get even.” Our brother wrongs us; it is only natural to wish him taken before the bar of lodge opinion, and, perhaps, punish him for his infraction of his obligation. Brethren often see no further than the immediate present; the immediate wrong doing; the immediate lodge trial and its results. A word of wise caution may make him look further. No man, unless suffering wrong of the most grievous character, but may be caused to stop and think by reminding him of the many obligations and duties he assumed when he, too, became a Mason. (Unknown, 1930)
It’s important to remember that we are all on the level and should treat each other as such. That’s what we are taught through ritual. We are to naturally respect our brethren by always offering help without questioning motives. As Freemasons, it’s always critical that we demonstrate that mutual respect for each other, whether or not we are in the presence of others.One may be familiar with that rite of destitution that we all experience at some point in our Masonic lives:
For one impressive instant, in which many emotions mingle, he is made to feel the bewilderment, if not the humiliation, which besets one who is deprived of the physical necessities of life upon which, far more than we have been wont to admit, both the moral and social order depend. Then, by a surprise as sudden as before, and in a manner never to be forgotten, the lesson of the Golden Rule is taught – the duty of a man to his fellow in dire need. It is not left to the imagination, since the initiate is actually put into the place of the man who asks his aid, making his duty more real and vivid. (Unknown, 1923)
Brotherly love is one of the greatest things to have between two people. We love family simply because they are family, not because we hope to gain something from them. And were they to offer something, we would refuse them. We spend time with them just for the pleasure of being in each others company. We help not because we must, but because we want to – and without expecting to have any favors returned. Being with them satisfies us like nothing else can. We don’t care about their faults and would aid them even if we thought they were in the wrong. We ignore any small gripes we have about them. For what exists between us is an unbreakable bond which can’t be easily explained. It is because we are brothers that these things are possible:
Brotherly Love or Friendship is regarded by Freemasons as the strong cement of the Order; without this high moral virtue, the Fraternity would soon cease to exist. By Brotherly Love, we are to understand that generous principle of the soul which regards the human species as one family, created by an All-wise Being, and placed on this globe for the mutual assistance of each other. The man who is actuated by the pure principle of Brotherly Love, will not desert his friend when dangers threaten or misfortunes assail him. When he is calumniated, he will openly and boldly espouse his cause, and endeavor to remove the aspersion. When sickness or infirmity occasion him to be deserted by others, he will seize the opportunity, and redouble all the affectionate attentions which love suggests. No society can exist for any length of time, unless Brotherly Love prevail among its members. To “dwell together in unity,” is the life and support of the great Masonic institution. (Sickels, 1868)
Without brotherly love, Freemasonry wouldn’t be what it is and thus would not have survived since time immemorial. Indeed, the bond that exists between brothers is an aspect that attracts others to our honorable society and what allows us to live moral, upright lives.
Relief & Charity
Relief, the Column of Beauty, whose ornaments, more precious than the lilies and pomegranates that adorned the pillars of the porch, are the widow’s tear of joy and the orphan’s prayer of gratitude. (Mackey, 1878)
As Freemasons we are taught that relief or charity is “that virtue which may justly be denominated the distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason’s heart”. It’s true that one mason may know another by certain signs, tokens and words, but a true Freemason is known by his heart and actions thereof. We are also taught to help people who are in distress without causing material injury to ourselves, and to support outside charities as well – that it’s a “duty incumbent on all men”. Showing compassion, treating everyone in a just and upright manner, committing random acts of kindness; these are the true marks of a Freemason:
To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all men, but particularly on Freemasons, who are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. To soothe the unhappy, to sympathize with their misfortunes, to compassionate their miseries, and to restore peace to their troubled minds, is the great aim we have in view. On this basis we form our friendships and establish our connections. (Mackey, 1878)
When we usually hear the term “relief” we automatically think of charity. An organized charity is set up in a community to relieve distressed people. These are usually supported by the public, and thus it is the duty of the public to contribute to this form of relief. Citizens are obliged to help in order to pay their lawful debt to society. People need to give more than their share for it to be considered relief and not obligation. Masonic relief goes well beyond that:
All about us, among our neighbors, are examples of what we term “a beautiful life.” Such beauty is almost wholly composed of unselfishness. He who walks in beauty thinks of others before himself, of stretching forth his hand, not for personal gain, but to help, aid and assist the poor and the unfortunate.
It cannot be had by wishing. It is not painted by the brush of desire. No musician may compose it upon any material piano. The poet may write about it, but he cannot phrase it. For it is of the inward essence which marks the difference between the “real good man” and he who only outwardly conforms to the laws and customs of society. (Unknown, 1930)
A man may give all the money he possesses and yet fail of that Divine grace of Charity. Money has its place and value, but it is not everything, much less the sum of our duty, and there are many things it cannot do. (Unknown, 1923)
Any man, no matter what his status in life, may suddenly come into a situation that he has no control over and require assistance. Giving that assistance isn’t necessarily charity, but rather an inevitable act of brotherhood. Brotherhood means the willingness to give a helping hand. Ergo, Masonic Relief is a tenet. We must extend that relief to the best of our ability, and continue to do so in whatever manner is necessary – whether that be monetarily or simply putting in the time necessary. This spirit of helping one another is central in being a member of a lodge:
Charity is a law because our conscience is not satisfied nor at ease if we have not relieved the suffering, the distressed, the destitute. It is to give that which he to whom you give has no right to take or demand. To be charitable is obligatory on us. We are the almoners of God’s bounties. But the obligation is not so precise and inflexible as the obligation to be just. Charity knows neither rule nor limit. It goes beyond all obligations. Its beauty consists in its liberty. (Unknown, 1925)
When a candidate is initiated he is charged in the North-East about the importance of Charity. Even during higher degrees candidates are reminded about it. In this sense, we are constantly to remind our brethren about this virtue through practice. Remember that this tenet is preached from the very first day one becomes a Freemason. We have a natural tendency to relieve the distress of a brother whom we have shared experiences with:
As Masons come together in the lodge room and outside of it for the discussion of Masonic truth, a strong feeling of companionship and brotherhood naturally results. The friendships formed in Masonic work and study carry in themselves a desire to relieve the necessities of unfortunate brothers. (Frazer, 1915)
Freemasonry has no place for the little, selfish side of man. Its secrets are as the dead to him who looks at life that way. It looks for the man with the bigger soul, with the more universal spirit; it stops and stay with him only who sees man’s mission in the betterment of the human race, who can take by the hand the fellow who is down and out, and put him on his feet and send him on his way a better man. (Unknown, 1925)
It’s a divine commandment. In any holy script, the practice of charity is always recommended. As we all know, fulfilling any such divine commandment can give one piece of mind and inner strength, while easing the soul. Robert Farley- a poet, in his collections says: “Charity is a blessing- chance to serve others. Think of the service you may render, not of serving self alone, think of happiness of others and in this you will find your own.”
When we as Freemasons adopt this practice to our fellow brothers it helps us to shape each other’s futures. It’s not just about fulfilling our obligations, but also realizing that helping a member of the human family is a key part of the equation relating us to the divine. Does Deity give us things, or rather shares things with us? Donations are all fine and good, but at the end of the day sharing or donating ourselves leaves a much more lasting impression:
The Holy Supper is kept indeed,
In what so we share with another’s need;
Not that which we give, but what we share,
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who bestows himself with his alms feeds three,
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and Me!– James Russell Lowell, 1849
Charity and relief have no substitute in Freemasonry, as they both have much deeper roots in the Freemason’s heart. This practice will always receive divine blessings as we are “wise stewards of the manifold gifts of God”. Not only is it an ornamental part of Freemasonry, but also an essential part:
Relief flows from brotherly love, as free, pure, and refreshing as the mountain air. It dries up the gushing fountains of grief, banishes want from the abode of a distressed brother, and pours the oil of joy into the wounded hearts of the widow and the orphan. (Sickels, 1868)
Every action has a reaction. Contributing to charity and relief bears fruit and allows those less fortunate to rise in life. We are remembered for the things we do, and Freemasonry teaches us to “live respected and die regretted”. In its broadest sense, charity is about attitudes and relationships, respect and tolerance – not just giving money. Attitude is everything:
We must not fall into the too common error that charity is only that sentiment of commiseration which leads us to assist the poor with pecuniary donations. Its Masonic, as well as its Christian application, is more noble and more extensive. The word used by the apostle is, in the original, love, a word denoting that kindly state of mind which renders a person full of good-will and affectionate regard toward others. (Mackey, 1873)
Having that attitude doesn’t mean waiting until a brother needs it. On the contrary, we are to constantly extend the hand of fellowship, friendship and fraternity. There should never be a moment in time when a Mason feels lonely, friendless or forgotten. May the invisible arms of the brotherhood surround him no matter where he is:
From all this one can see at a glance what brotherly aid really is. It is the substitution of the friend for the stranger. It is a spirit which throws round a man the comforts and securities of love. When a worthy brother in distress, or his family, is helped, it is not as a pauper, as in the fashion of public charity, but the kindly help which one neighbor is always so glad to lend to another. Masonic charity is strong, kindly, beautiful and tender; and not charity at all in the narrow sense of the word. Nay, it does not wait until a brother is in distress, but throws about him in his strength and prosperity the affectionate arm of friendship, without which life is cold and harsh. Friendship, Fraternity and Fellowship – this is the soul of Freemasonry, of which charity is but one gesture with a thousand meanings. (Unknown, 1925)
We are taught to “extend relief and consolation to our fellow creatures in the hour of their affliction”. Again, this is referring to something much deeper than a cheque book. It’s not just the physical acts we do for others that is important. What really counts is the empathy and love we show to each other:
We are taught not only to relieve a brother’s material wants, the cry of hunger, etc., but to fellowship with him upon our own level, stripped of worldly titles and honors. When we thus appeal to him, giving spiritual advice, lifting him up morally and spiritually with no sense of humiliation to him, we set him free from his passion and wants. (Unknown, 1925)
Therefore we should always know that when we are with Freemasons we are in good company, because we know that in order to create a better world relieving human suffering must come from the heart. It is not enough to “give until it hurts”. We must give until it helps. This is what it means to be a true Freemason:
Guided by this sentiment, the true Freemason will “suffer long and be kind.”
He will be slow to anger and easy to forgive.
He will stay his falling Brother by gentle admonition, and warn him with kindness of approaching danger, He will not open his ear to the slanderers, and will lose his lips against all reproach.
His faults and his follies will be locked in his breast, and the prayer for mercy will ascend to Jehovah for his Brother’s sins.
Nor will these sentiments of benevolence be confined to those who are bound to him by ties of kindred or worldly friendship alone; but, extending them throughout. the globe, he will love and cherish all who sit beneath the broad canopy of our universal Lodge.
For it is the boast of our Institution, that a Freemason, destitute and worthy, may. find in every clime a Brother, and in every land a home. (Mackey, 1873)
In its truest sense, empathy is the best example of Masonic charity. To a Freemason, it’s one of the working tools to build up that “temple not made with hands”, and eventually becomes a natural part of his life:
Once a Mason has really trained himself to regard every man as his brother, it becomes natural for him to feel the impulses which prompt him to relieve the distressed, whether they suffer physical wants, fears, sorrows, wrongs, or bitter grief. This is where the individual Brother plays his part in creating a favorable image of the Craft. (Hahn, 1964)
There are those who tend to pay more attention to the suffering itself rather than its cause. We should remember that helping others carry their burdens involves the sharing of feeling and emotion, and involves giving attention to both pain and cause. In this way, Freemasons usually have a tendency to flock towards other Freemasons:
In a lodge a man need no longer be a stranger; he finds there other men who, like himself, are eager to establish friendships, engage in social intercourse, and pool the resources of all in behalf of the needs of each. (Unknown, 1925)
We take pride in knowing that we are part of such a great brotherhood. We share in each others pain, we remain loyal to our obligations and we never refuse to extend the hand of relief and charity – whether or not we are called upon to do so. A wise brother once said:
The Charity that is swift of foot, ready of hand, in the cause of a common humanity.
The Charity that writes a Brother’s vices in water and his virtues in enduring brass.
The Charity of which He who spake as never man spake was the illustrious exemplar.
– Address by M.* W.*. Edward M. L. Ehlers, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge F. & A. M. of the State of New York. June 24, 1913.
We all know that charity and relief are essential in Freemasonry, but in the normal run of things they have their limits. Sure, they alleviate sufferings here and there but obviously it goes far beyond putting our hands in our pockets. We need to show that we actually care:
Freemasonry not only inculcates the principals of love and benevolence, it seeks to give them actual and living presence in all occupations and intercourse of life. It not only feels, it acts! It not only pities human suffering, it relieves it! Nowhere in the world can a good Mason feel himself alone, friendless or forsaken. The invisible but helpful arms of our Order surround him, wherever he may be. (Unknown, 1925)
Masonic charity should be practiced in everyday life – restoring faith, confidence, love and dignity in one another. We should forget what we give and always remember what we receive. We should not only pity those less fortunate, but show compassion for them as well.
Freemasonry teaches us to render our neighbor “every kind office which justice or mercy may require, by relieving his distresses and soothing his afflictions; and by doing to him as, in similar cases, [we] would that he should do unto [us].” Therefore when we give a helping hand we need to keep in mind not to shame or disgrace anyone. Recipients deserve their dignity. The highest form of charity is actually to prevent someone from becoming impoverished in the first place, by offering considerable favors in a manner that is dignified or by lending things, or by helping someone to get a job or start a business. In the end that person is lifted to a point where they no longer need to become dependent on others. Everyone deserves to be prosperous:
It is enough if you understand that the larger ideals of Masonry mean freedom, and therefore, average prosperity of soul, and mind, and body to its members, We must not forget that the fundamentals of Masonry, the simple and accepted things, are the makers of welfare–the truest and surest expression of Masonic charity. (Frazer, 1915)
The most important thing to remember about charity and relief from a Masonic standpoint is that it’s not about what you do or even how you do it, but the feelings that go into and come out of it:
“Charity is a virtue of the heart and not of the hands.”
– Joseph Addison, 1713.
Truth & Honesty
It may be said that Truth is the Column of Wisdom, whose rays penetrate and enlighten the inmost recesses of our Lodge. (Mackey, 1878)
There is more to truth than just the idea of searching for it in the intellectual sense. Truth is taught to us from the very beginning of our Masonic life, used as a base in which other teachings are derived from. As Freemasons our character and actions must be truthful at all times. We have to be dependable and honorable, faithful and reliable; otherwise our brotherhood will not endure. Indeed, truth is a vital requirement in becoming a Freemason:
A divine attribute, and the foundation of every virtue. To be good and true, is the first lesson we are taught in Masonry. On this theme we contemplate, and by its dictates endeavor to regulate our conduct. Hence, while influenced by this principle, hypocrisy and deceit are unknown among us; sincerity and plain dealing distinguish us; and the heart and the tongue join in promoting each other’s welfare, and rejoicing in each other’s prosperity. (Sickels, 1868)
In several Volumes of Sacred Law we read that The Great Architect of the Universe represents truth, as all of His attributes are eternal and absolute. Therefore truth, being divine, is the foundation of “that temple not built with hands”, from where all other virtues are built upon.
As we go through Freemasonry we are taught that being true and seeking truth are good objectives, but to go even further we must be true to ourselves. In other words we should take the advice that is inscribed on the Tyler’s chair all throughout the world – “know thyself.” In better understanding ourselves we better understand our relation to the Deity, partly constituting “divine truth” – the other part being the nature of that Deity. As we are only human we cannot fully comprehend this divine truth until we “pass through the gateway of death and stand in the court of life”, but as Freemasons we are taught to search for that truth right up to the day we are raised to the celestial lodge above:
While we know that the search must be as fruitless as it must be endless, we find joy and usefulness in the effort, not in the results. Important to the Freemason is not the comprehension of the idea of the Absolute, but that he seeks it in his conception of the Most High. (Claudy, 1932)
The basis of a stable lodge is truth and mutual respect of each other’s opinions. We can still disagree with each other, but instead of being confrontational we try to understand one another so we’ll be better enabled to work together. The one truth all Freemasons share is the belief in a Supreme Being, as we always open and close lodge meetings in His name.
When we are initiated we are assured that having trust in God will keep us from harm during any praiseworthy undertaking. We are also recommended to consider the Volume of the Sacred Law as the “unerring standard of truth and justice” and to regulate our actions by the “divine precepts it contains” with respect to our duties to God, our neighbors and to ourselves. In order to receive truth and wisdom from these divine precepts, we are taught to first purify our hearts “of every baneful and malignant passion”. We cannot “be true” unless we first “subdue our passions”; therefore every Master of a lodge must be true and also have an interest in truth seeking:
Truth, which is called a “Divine Attribute, the foundation of every virtue,” is synonymous with Sincerity, honesty of expression, and plain dealing. The higher idea of truth which pervades the whole Masonic system, and which is symbolized by the Word, is that which is properly expressed to a knowledge of God. (Mackey, 1878)
Not only do we look within ourselves for truth, but as Freemasons we also strive for truth in our dealings with others. We have high moral standards and try our best to uphold those principles in both our public and our private lives. Truth is the highest virtue of Freemasonry because it is considered divine and is where all other virtues stem from. To be true is to act with fidelity to the standard of these virtues. Instead of trying to fulfill our own goals, we should be sincere when dealing with others and stand for truthfulness. Men who are good and true, who have strength and integrity, are the ones who bring harmony.
This is one of the first lessons taught in Freemasonry. If someone can’t be considered good and true, he cannot be admitted into our order. In order to be a good citizen one has to be truthful, and without truth there is no foundation for trust and friendship. It has to start with truth:
In this sense Truth really is the foundation of every virtue. There is no justice without truth; there is no philanthropy without truth; there can be no self-sacrifice, no bravery, no rectitude – no virtue of any kind – without a foundation in that which is sincere and honest, as opposed to that which is lying and deceitful. (Claudy, 1932)
There are times in and outwith the lodge when there are heated discussions among the brethren. The outcome must always be determined by the circumstances surrounding each individual case. We should never deliberately misrepresent the views from opposing sides, and condemn any and all who use half-truths and falsehoods, especially those who accuse others of bigotry and intolerance as a means of attack. Such actions cloud the issues and only serve to confuse everyone. As good and true men, we need the calmness to see and the honesty to say what an opposing brother’s opinions really are. This doesn’t mean exaggerating their opinions to discredit them, but at the same time we shouldn’t hold back any information that might support them.
When we have a civilized discussion, the only result can be “further light” as we get closer to truth. This can be applied not only in lodge, but anywhere. Schisms in lodge can be avoided by searching for “light” in a manner that is courteous and fair. As masons we are taught that “hypocrisy and deceit are unknown among us, sincerity and plain-dealing distinguish us, and with heart and tongue we join in promoting each other’s welfare and rejoice in each other‘s prosperity.” In a place where truth prevails, everyone will come together to offer their service and help each other. In order to accomplish this we must all be good and true men and assist those who would falter, as we are only improved by each individual’s success.
Truth creates harmony and falsehood creates discord. It’s our responsibility as Freemasons to practice being good and true among ourselves and in society as well. Men join the craft because they have a favorable opinion of our honorable institution, therefore we must lead by example in how we act towards others:
Truth is the foundation of all Masonic virtues; it is one of our grand principles; for to be good men and true, is a part of the first lesson we are taught; and at the commencement of our freedom we are exhorted to be fervent and zealous in the pursuit of truth and goodness. It is not sufficient that we walk in the light, unless we do so in the truth also. All hypocrisy and deceit must be banished from among us. Sincerity and plain dealing complete the harmony of a Lodge, and render us acceptable in the sight of Him unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid. There is a charm in truth, which draws and attracts the mind continually towards it. The more we discover, the more we desire; and the great reward is wisdom, virtue, and happiness. This is an edifice founded on a rock, which malice cannot shake or time destroy. (Sickels, 1868)
As Freemasons, we often refer to honest dealings as “acting upon the square”.
The Square, as used in Freemasonry, is an instrument with two legs that intersect at a right angle. Though there is debate regarding the exact instrument envisioned in the early rituals, there is no doubt that the square was used to measure the accuracy of angles, to ensure that they were indeed right angles. As such, it is natural for the Square to be an emblem of accuracy, integrity, and rightness. As building materials are cut to fit the building in the proper dimensions, we must also build our character, which must be tested by a moral and ethical standard represented by the Square.
– The Grand Lodge of Texas
The square has always been considered right and true. To Freemasons, it represents morality and ethical conduct that all our actions will stem from. A real Freemason is recognized not by the ring on his finger, but by how he acts towards others:
The real Freemason is distinguished from the rest of Mankind by the uniform unrestrained rectitude of his conduct. Other men are honest in fear of punishment which the law might inflect; they are religious in expectation of being rewarded, or in dread of the devil, in the next world. A Freemason would be just if there were no laws, human or divine except those written in his heart by the finger of his Creator. In every climate, under every system of religion, he is the same. He kneels before the Universal Throne of God in gratitude for the blessings he has received and humble solicitation for his future protection. He venerates the good men of all religions. He disturbs not the religion of others. He restrains his passions, because they cannot be indulged without injuring his neighbor or himself. He gives no offense, because he does not choose to be offended. He contracts no debts which he is certain he cannot discharge, because he is honest upon principle.
– The Farmer’s Almanac, 1823
One of Freemasonry’s aims is to always search for “more light”. This is a never ending search, as the universality of the lodge has no confining walls. In this sense truth cannot be taught much the same way ritual and secrets are, it must be self-taught as the life-long search for divine truth is something very personal to each and every brother. It’s interpreted differently by everyone, always taking into consideration the teachings of the craft as they progress through life. When a new member is initiated, parts of the ritual seem strange to him. He is a “poor blind candidate” seeking light. In a Masonic lodge the East is a source of light and also represents the “origin of intellectual light” and the “symbol of spiritual light” as well. Each candidate must discover that light on his own, “stumbling over the stony ground” in front of him; to be in darkness is to be ignorant and unaware. Nothing exists within Freemasonry itself that gives an ultimate truth, however it does inspire individuals to search for knowledge on their own:
The search, then, after this truth, I suppose to constitute the end and design of Speculative Masonry. From the very commencement of his career, the aspirant is by significant symbols and expressive instructions directed to the acquisition of this divine truth; and the whole lesson, if not completed in its full extent, is at least well developed in the myths and legends of the Master’s degree. God and the soul–the unity of the one and the immortality of the other–are the great truths, the search for which is to constitute the constant occupation of every Mason, and which, when found, are to become the chief corner-stone, or the stone of foundation, of the spiritual temple–“the house not made with hands”–which he is engaged in erecting. (Mackey, 1882)
As Freemasons we are taught to question things that those outwith the temple wouldn’t normally question. Those seeking truth have more influence in the world, applying what they learn to their jobs, their families, and how they evaluate things.
Someone must believe in truthfulness if they are to use intellect to promote morality. To say it but not to actually do it is dishonorable, and will cause you to question yourself and create discord in your mind – thereby rendering yourself unable to take part in the light that Freemasonry has to offer:
The aspirant enters on this search after truth, as an Entered Apprentice, in darkness, seeking for light–the light of wisdom, the light of truth, the light symbolized by the Word. For this important task, upon which he starts forth gropingly, falteringly, doubtingly, in want and in weakness, he is prepared by a purification of the heart, and is invested with a first substitute for the true Word, which, like the pillar that went before the Israelites in the wilderness, is to guide him onwards in his weary journey. He is directed to take, as a staff and scrip for his journey, all those virtues which expand the heart and dignify the soul. Secrecy, obedience, humility, trust in God, purity of conscience, economy of time, are all inculcated by impressive types and symbols, which connect the first degree with the period of youth. (Mackey, 1882)
Temperance & Resignation
Temperance. She pours a measured amount of refreshment into a cup. It may be water or wine, but her careful attention displays temperance, reserve, and moderation.
– Bro. Richard D. Marcus, P.M.
A Freemason will often say that he comes to lodge so he can “learn to rule and subdue [his] passions”. This is a vital part of being a Freemason, especially when in open lodge. It is expected that every mason will have a “modest and correct demeanor” when sitting in lodge. Temperance is taught to the candidate when he is initiated as having restraint and moderation. A good example is moderation of alcohol, but it goes well beyond that. We must learn to temper not only our actions but our thoughts as well. A lodge can be temperate by conducting business within its own by-laws and through the strict investigation and initiation of candidates as well. As Freemasons we must constantly practice temperance and guard ourselves from undesirable passions:
Temperance is that due restraint upon our affections and passions, which renders the body tame and governable, and frees the mind from the allurements of vice. This virtue should be the constant practice of every Mason; as he is thereby taught to avoid excess, or contracting any licentious or vicious habits, the indulgence of which might lead him to disclose some of those valuable secrets which he has promised to conceal, and never reveal, and which would consequently subject him to the contempt and detestation of all good Masons. (Sickels, 1868)
The Freemason must show restraint and control his passions and desires. He should avoid excess and always exercise caution in everything – actions, words, thoughts, feelings, judgements and life in general.
Temperance means restraint, but in a Masonic sense it’s really talking more about the moderation of all things, in both body and spirit. In order to live a balanced life we should avoid excessive habits and control our tempers. Indulging in drink can cause lapse in judgment and cause us to be controlled by emotions. Observing temperance allows us as Freemasons to freely share with each other, confident that everyone can be trusted and that no one will judge harshly:
The temperance of every Freemason is in this respect of importance to the Order as well as to himself; but far more important even to the Order — to the maintenance and advancement of its honour — is the temperance of every brother, which gains for him the respect and esteem of his fellow-men, and most beneficial it is to him who practises it, greatly contributing to his happiness ; for without it a man can have no feeling of self-respect ; he cannot enjoy the sweets of domestic life ; he cannot enjoy the true and pure delights of social intercourse; he cannot possess serenity of mind or have peace of heart, and he must be subject to cares and anxieties of the most distressing kind, whilst even his worldly prosperity is likely to be marred, if indeed he does not sink into irretrievable ruin. (Paton, 1873)
As we must be cautious and always in control of ourselves, we should put conditions on what our habits and passions are. To “tame the passions” allows our minds to be free from the allurements of vice, so that we will be more open to the reception of truth and wisdom. A true Freemason doesn’t use foul language, boasts or is rude, but is tempered with humbleness, politeness and reservation.
Someone who is temperate will always ask themselves if something they do will properly express their true dignity as a rational human being. Remember that temperance doesn’t mean abstinence, but moderation rather. It’s up to each individual to decide how to temper their actions:
In a general sense it means that one must exercise a degree of self-restraint and self control at all times, in all the activities of life, including both words and deeds. The key idea is “moderation in all things.” The idea is well illustrated in the old statement: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It does not mean abstinence except in matters which are inherently bad or harmful.
The word “temperance” comes to us from the Latin, which means to temper or harden according to the use intended. As a consequence, we must recognize that there cannot be hard and fast rules in this subject. Each person must decide for himself how much restraint and self-control must be exercised in a particular situation. (Cerza, 1977)
There’s nothing wrong with food, drink or sex, but in excess they can be escapes from our responsibilities and therefore should be tempered. To desire is human, but to moderate and control those desires is virtuous. The temperate Freemason practices moderation in all things, and has a balanced life. Our passions may also include our personal goals in life, but a Freemason will not allow himself to get caught up in the pursuit of those goals at the cost of neglecting other things, like his family.
Being over-emotional can affect one’s health; however keeping one’s emotions under too much control can also affect said health. This is why we say “due” restraint, as in properly measured – and not complete suppression. Indeed, practicing moderation can be difficult but it is also necessary in order to achieve a healthy mind, body and spirit that will enjoy all the blessings Deity has bestowed upon us. Freemasonry can only make recommendations, and in the end it’s up to us:
But the law of Freemasonry authorizes no such regulation. It leaves to every man the indulgence of his own tastes within due limits, and demands not abstinence, but only moderation and temperance, in anything not actually wrong. (Mackey, 1878)
Someone who isn’t able to exercise restraint might lose sense of their judgement, be unable to keep any promises they’ve made, and thus be “scorned and detested” for it. Loss of judgement can also lead to dangerous situations, situations that could have been avoided if we just tempered our thoughts and actions:
The Freemason who properly appreciates the secrets which he has solemnly promised never to reveal, will not, by yielding to the unrestrained call of appetite, permit reason and judgment to lose their seats and subject himself, by the indulgence in habits of excess, to discover that which should be concealed, and thus merit and receive the scorn and detestation of his Brethren. And lest any Brother should forget the danger to which he is exposed in the unguarded hours of dissipation, the virtue of temperance is wisely impressed upon his memory. (Mackey, 1878)
Some condemn intemperance to the point of preaching abstinence. However, Freemasonry leaves it to every brother to allow him to indulge himself within his own limits, demanding not abstinence, but rather moderation and temperance. Take the compasses. They are used to determine limits and proportions and remind us to do the same with all things in our day to day lives:
The Compasses remind us of His unerring and impartial justice, who, having defined for our instruction the limits of good and evil, will reward or punish us as we have obeyed or disregarded His divine commands. They remind us to so limit our desires in every station of life, that, rising to eminence by merit, we may live respected and die regretted. (Henderson, 1996)
A lot of people think of abstaining from alcohol when they hear the word temperance. But in the Masonic sense it’s really about the moderation of our thoughts, words and actions. People prefer those who are like a calm day without any crazy weather, that is, temperate weather. Part of that is also learning to tolerate others who we might not necessarily agree with, and never losing our temper.
Toleration is being respectful of others – their beliefs, opinions and even disposition. As Freemasons, we are part of a society that promotes the right to opinion and belief. No lodge or grand lodge has the right to dictate matters of religion or politics. However, remember that being tolerant does not mean accepting things that are in conflict with divine law. As Freemasons, we must always practice toleration in our dealings with others in regards to their beliefs and opinions and also defend this important principle.
From ancient times Freemasonry has stood against tyranny, which is why in many cases it has been banned in some countries where people might not have the same liberties. Freemasons believe that no one has the right to tell another what to think or do. We all have the right to political, economic, spiritual and intellectual freedom. This is given not by man, but by the Deity alone. Oppression in any form is never considered to be legitimate.
Freemasons can be passionate about anything – political, religious or whatever. But rather than risk a heated argument in a place where Masons are meeting (open lodge or not), it’s much better to resign and simply respect the opinion of a brother than pressing a disagreement. This is one of the many reasons why men have come to enjoy our society.
It’s all a matter of self-control, opening our hearts to receive divine wisdom rather than giving into our human passions. This is not done with ease. A violent man must not get angry, a selfish man must be charitable, a quitter must persevere, a hated man must love, and a foolish man must be taken seriously – because he is human and entitled to respect and dignity.
In the 18th century temperance played a big part in Freemasonry, as lodges were also considered schools for gentlemen, teaching decorum and virtue. They saw these as tools for peace and harmony between class and religion, because at that time not all denominations were recognized and there were also various political views. Early on they decided that religion and politics not be discussed in open lodge, which is also why temperance is the first of the four cardinal virtues:
A group of men constantly meeting together are only too prone to indulge in idle chatter and mild scandal-mongering. It is not necessary to assume that when Bro. A relates to Brother B the latest stories he has heard about Bro. C he is actuated by malice. As likely as not he is merely passing the time between lodge and refreshment, and hardly realises that he may be doing a real injury to a brother by passing on some tale which reflects no credit on the victim. It is clear that the reorganisers of Freemasonry in the 18th century realised how easy it was for petty scandals to pass from month to mouth, to the detriment of real brotherly affection, for there is little doubt that the moral lesson that you should speak well of a brother or else remain silent is dramatically taught on two occasions during the ceremony. (Ward, 1926)
Above all, we should never lose our tempers in open lodge. Way too many lodges have had fractures and schisms over trivial things when someone has acted with intemperance, causing certain brothers never to return. And often enough, brothers are threatened with charges of unmasonic conduct. There are ways to get your point across without attacking a person. If you don’t have anything nice to say, simply don’t say anything at all:
While there may be good reasons for reproving a brother to his face, there are none for telling tales about him behind his back, and the very school boy’s code which lays it down that one must not sneak shows that Masonry is not unique in stressing the fact that we should speak well of a brother absent or present, but when that is unfortunately impossible should adopt that excellent virtue of the Craft, which is silence. If this were always done much bitterness and bickering which at present disfigures the social life of the world would automatically vanish. (Ward 1926)
Our brothers put their trust in us, so it’s up to us not to lose our tempers and blurt something revealing out in the heat of the moment that might cause them to lose faith in us. How can we trust one who is intemperate in his words and actions? If you’re entrusted with something in confidence, you are expected to keep it concealed – no matter what or how you’re feeling at the time.
As we should moderate what we eat and drink, we should also moderate what we think. Every day we come across choices which may lead us to doing good, or tempt us to engage in vice. In this sense, vice can be anything that will lead us off the path to becoming better men. To have a temperate mind means not choosing a path that can be harmful to yourself or family.
If earlier Freemasons like the founding fathers of America were aware of the importance of temperance not only in the lodge but also the world, we as Freemasons should also conduct ourselves as such within our own lodges and in our everyday lives. We are taught that this virtue should be our “constant practice”.
Happiness is a goal central to everyone, everywhere. To be happy we must lead productive lives, therefore it makes sense that we gain control of our passions and vices that are within our nature in order to accomplish that goal. Only by liberating himself from the temptations of vice, conquering extravagance, and checking his actions can man gain knowledge, wisdom and light:
Men of intemperate passions cannot be free; passion forge their fetters. It is passions in the larger sense; intemperance, excess temper, unjust judgement, intolerance, selfishness, that the spiritual compass circumscribes.
– Edmund Burke, date uncertain.
As mortar must be properly mixed or “tempered” in order to hold up a temple wall, so should we as Freemasons practice combination and balance in the right proportions. Everyone is different, so each must choose what is appropriate for them and act accordingly. Actions reflect upon us, our brothers, our lodges, and the Craft in general. Therefore temperance is taught in the first degree and should become a habit of moderation, restraint and discretion.
Temperance is only the beginning:
All of us are human, and all of us, therefore struggle against the same enemies. All of us have within us a Something to subdue as well as a Something which subdues. As Freemasons we are taught that we came here to subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Masonry; we accomplish the former only as we succeed in the latter. “Passion,” my brother, does not mean merely anger or lust. The passion of selfishness, the passion of self interest, the passion of avarice, of deceit, of unneighborliness, of cruelty, of carelessness; these, as well as all the other enemies against which man’s spirit struggles are to be subdued and conquered; the more easily as we bring the fighting ranks of Freemasonry’s militant teachings to engage them. (Unknown, 1925)
Fortitude & Courage
Fortitude has the attitude and wears the Helmet of a soldier; she is clear-eyed and calm, her right arm swings free and she looks and marches steadily forward.
– V. W. Bro. W. H. Taine
Fortitude is “that noble and steadfast purpose of mind whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril, or danger, when prudently deemed expedient”. In other words, fortitude means courage. As Freemasons, this applies to us as more of a moral courage for us to overcome difficulties and act upright when we face opposition or discouragement. This is taught in many different degrees. Fortitude isn’t a standalone virtue. It goes along with the other virtues and is always on the right side. When we show courage and do what is right, we’ll always be able to take on any trial or opposition and see it through to the end.
Take for example, the founding of America. Those involved, many of them Freemasons, performed great feats of both moral and physical fortitude and showed incredible courage in gaining independence and freedom. Throughout history there are many examples of fortitude that we should follow.
As Freemasons, we are taught that fortitude allows us to be strong and remain loyal to each other:
This virtue is equally distant from rashness or cowardice; and should be deeply impressed upon the mind of every Mason, as a safeguard or security against any illegal attack that may be made, by force or otherwise, to extort from him any of those valuable secrets with which he has been so solemnly intrusted, and which were emblematically represented upon his first admission into the Lodge.
In the absence of this virtue, no person can perform his duty, either to GOD, his neighbor, or himself, in an acceptable manner. He will be too much overwhelmed with the cares and troubles of the world to find leisure or resolution to protect himself from the enticing machinations with which he will be continually beset during his progress through life; and may be led unintentionally to rend asunder the sacred ties of brotherhood which unite men of all parties, religions, or politics, by forfeiting the confidence trustingly reposed in him, and thereby becoming the victim of his own weakness. (Sickels, 1868)
It is because of this virtue that Freemasonry has survived for so long. We have high principles and stand by our convictions to do what is right no matter what the cost may be. It is considered unmasonic to quit when times are tough. Fortitude and courage are what make history.
There are times when even society might look unfavorably upon moral principles, and that is when a Freemason should have the fortitude to stand by those principles to the very end. To back down in cowardice towards popular opinion shows no integrity, and also makes one appear to be unreliable. People will respect and follow one who has clear conviction rather than someone who frequently changes their minds:
It implies a steady purpose of mind to maintain a right course, in the midst of all difficulties, dangers, and trials ; with a resolution of heart to endure to the utmost all that may be appointed in the providence of God, without swerving from that course, on the one hand or the other, to seek shelter or relief by any unlawful means. (Paton, 1873)
Will there be unforeseen problems? Will the outcome not be the anticipated one? It’s not easy to always be consciously moral. It requires a great deal of mental strength and resolution that one is doing the right thing. The moral courage that a Freemason demonstrates is a beacon for others to follow. To be able to stand up to opposition when things are not right; albeit there is a line of foolhardiness that we should not cross, ever bearing in mind the virtue previously mentioned that teaches moderation:
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
– Bro. Winston Churchill, date uncertain.
In the Masonic sense, fortitude also teaches us to keep sensitive information in confidence no matter how tempted we are or how painful the cost may be – we have been trusted with this information and those who would betray that trust are considered worse than scum. The ceremony of the 3rd degree is pivotal in teaching this lesson. To be able to stay true to one’s convictions without faltering is a quality every Freemason strives for:
Fortitude, therefore, is that quality of character which gives a person strength to withstand temptation and to bear all suffering in silence. Fortitude is a virtue, for it permits one to do his duty undisturbed by evil distractions. It is in great measure a frame of mind to regulate one’s words and deeds with courage and with determination. It is both a positive and a negative quality in that it creates courage to do what is right and also creates strength or character to withstand intemperance. Above all else, it also creates the mental attitude to bear one’s burden bravely when all other remedies fail. (Cerza, 1977)
There are times when we are faced with the choice of either doing what is appropriate or doing something immoral in order to accomplish a greater cause, where “the end justifies the means”. However, fortitude does not allow for this and gives us an opportunity to identify ourselves as Freemasons by always doing what we know to be right.
Take for example, the skirret. It marks the ground for the foundation of a structure and also “points out that straight and undeviating line of conduct” by which we should act. To always do the right thing is to keep on the straight and narrow, and avoid deviating on a path that would lead us astray:
The Skirret is an implement which acts on a centre pin, whence a line is drawn to mark out the ground for the foundation of the intended structure. Symbolically, the Skirret points out that straight and undeviating line of conduct laid down for our pursuit in the Volume of the Sacred Law; and so to “square”, “level” and “upright” we must add “straight”. “Straight” is defined as the shortest distance between two points; and in our dealings with God, our neighbour and ourselves, we find that the shortest path is that which is straight. We can easily be tempted to take an easier path and so forsake the straight, perhaps at first just a little, but that “little” can become a habit. To keep on the straight requires restraint, which is rarely easy.
Life does not consist of one moment of impact by one solitary force, it consists of very many moments with the influence of a great number of forces, each one pulling away from the straight and narrow path, but, if our direction is rightly set, our path will be safe. With the Skirret to guide him, the Mason works with a spiritual balance; accidental influences, however powerful, will be overcome and the goal will be reached. (Henderson, 1996)
To have fortitude is to be powerful and strong, like a fort or stronghold. If we can fortify our minds from external attacks then it will build our character into a great force that can withstand any suffering. It also goes back to where strength is derived from our spiritual faith to support us in all our undertakings, like the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God”. And like a fortress we are able to withstand any ills, dangers or pains:
It not only instructs the worthy Freemason to bear the ills of life with becoming resignation, “taking up arms against a sea of trouble,” but, by its intimate connection with a portion of our ceremonies, it teaches him to let no dangers shake, no pains dissolve the inviolable fidelity he owes to the trusts reposed in him. Or, in the words of the old Prestonian lecture, it is “a fence or security against any attack that might be made upon him by force or otherwise, to extort from him any of our Royal Secrets.” (Mackey, 1873)
Real fortitude cannot be deterred by anything, and allows us to resist temptations and face opposition with resolution and spirit. A man with fortitude is neither rash nor a coward, but is undisturbed and cannot be conquered by negative forces. There are times when having a clear, cool head will help you to succeed in difficult times and is a quality people look for in communities. It’s also important to note that in times of difficulty a man who has fortitude will never complain about the situation he faces, nor does he worry about what others think – true resolution will ensure that the right thing will always be done, no matter what:
True courage is an attribute mustered by individuals during moments of crisis. A courageous act is made without weighing its popularity or unpopularity. Instead, it relies solely on the belief that the act must be done because it is the right thing to do. In all cases, courage is being brave enough to take a stand, regardless of the outcome, regardless of potential praise or criticism.
– Bro. Edmund G. Ross, date uncertain.
At times having fortitude means to stand up and be counted, but at other times it also means having the courage to simply sit down and carry forward. We should know our limits and have the courage to be open about those limits.
Fortitude helps us to remain honest in signs of distress, when we may be tempted to stray from the righteous path. We cannot use the convenience of struggle as an excuse for taking shortcuts or acting inappropriately:
Want of money and the distress of a thief can never be alleged as the cause of his thieving, for many honest people endure greater hardships with fortitude. We must therefore seek the cause elsewhere than in want of money, for that is the miser’s passion, not the thiefs.
– William Blake, date uncertain.
Great leaders always embody fortitude. Take Washington for example, at Valley Forge he persisted in times of trouble and showed courage when it was most needed. He remained true to his ideals and is a model for courage in action. Obviously this virtue is an important quality for leaders, as it’s pretty hard to succeed without it. Even life in general can be difficult at times and it might be easier to throw in the towel, but as Freemasons we need to stick it out and overcome any obstacles in order to accomplish our goals.
There are even times when we are scared. Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone gets scared at one point or another. Having courage doesn’t mean not being afraid, but rather keeping it under control:
Courage is resistance to fear; mastery of fear – not absence of fear.
– Bro. Mark Twain, date uncertain.
Fortitude has more purpose when it is reasonable and genuine. Great things can be accomplished without being reckless while at the same time not being hesitant either. Someone might have clear conviction but not the courage to match it. Having the courage to stand up to do what you believe in is inspirational and invites others to search within themselves to discover that they are also capable and together progress can be made.
Whether it’s something big or small, fortitude is fortitude. It may be as simple as whispering counsel in a sensitive brother’s ear or as difficult as making a speech in a lodge where your opinion may not be so popular. The important thing is to always stand for truth, no matter what personal opinion you or anyone else might have. Even if you don’t agree with something that you know is right and true in your heart, you need to have the fortitude and courage to support it.
That is what makes us better men, and leaders among men who embody fortitude every day and in every way. As Freemasons, let us be beacons of courage whose actions match their convictions – because there are many times in life when we need the courage to face the world of the profane:
The winter comes because the ruffian forces of the world strike down and slay the gentle spirit of summer; and this dark tragedy is reflected in the life of man – making a mystery no mortal can solve, save as he sees it with courage and hope. (Unknown, 1929)
Prudence & Wisdom
Prudence is looking very intently into a Mirror; it was an ancient belief that in a mirror one could see both the past and the future. Prudence here is seeking wisdom from the experience of the past and thinking cautiously of the future.
– V. W. Bro. W. H. Taine
Prudence teaches us “to regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictates of reason”. In dealing with anything, we should always have sound judgement. Sounds simple enough, but it can prove to be difficult at times. Obviously we shouldn’t put ourselves in situations where we’ll harm ourselves, our family, our reputation or the integrity of the craft. What’s difficult is that we often find ourselves in these situations anyways because we didn’t think it prudent enough to consider what was said or done earlier. There are times when we’ve all regretted things we’ve done or said, and had we the judgement and insight to know the proper action to take we wouldn’t find ourselves in such situations.
Prudence is extremely important in lodge. It must be exercised in all matters; otherwise unfortunate situations that might be difficult to change will result. It’s all about thinking ahead:
Prudence is that habit by which we wisely judge and prudentially determine on all things relative to cur present as well as to our future happiness. This virtue should be the peculiar characteristic of every Mason, not only for the government of his conduct while in the Lodge, but also when abroad in the world.
Prudence is among the most exalted objects that demand every Mason’s special attention, for it is the rule which governs all other virtues. She directs us to the path which leads to every degree of propriety, inciting us to the performance of worthy actions, and, as a guiding-star, lighting our steps through the dreary and dark-some ways of this life. (Sickels, 1868)
In Freemasonry, prudence helps us in acquiring knowledge through education and experience. A prudent man uses good judgement and reasoning and always seeks and lives by truth. With prudence, the Freemason has a clear mind – open to receive wisdom and knowledge. In this sense, prudence can also be synonymous with truth.
Prudence can also be represented by the chisel. In the same way that the chisel turns a rough ashlar into a perfect one, so does prudence polish our minds with wisdom and education:
As the workman, with the aid of a chisel gives form and regularity to the shapeless mass of stone, so education by cultivating ideas and polishing rude thoughts transforms the ignorant savage into the civilised being.
The Chisel furthermore demonstrates the advantages of discipline. The mind like the diamond in its original state is unpolished, but by grinding away the external coat we are enabled to discover the latent beauty of the stone. Thus education discovers the latent beauties of the mind, and draws them forth to range over the field of matter and space in order to display the summit of human knowledge, our duty to God and man. (Henderson, 1996)
It’s all about having common sense and being careful. As Freemasons we need to think things through. What’s the best way to do things? Prudence means not only making the right decisions but also acting on them. We ought always to be reasonable and learn from our mistakes. Being aware and realizing what is going on around us is the insight that helps us decide what course of action we need for the future. One important element of this is being able to ask for advice from other wise and prudent people.
It’s important to look back at mistakes to know where we’ve been, but at the same time we shouldn’t dwell on such things but look to the future, ever bearing in mind the present situation we’re in as well. To seek truth, or light, is also about learning to use reason:
Prudence leads us to act according to the dictates of reason, but it is of reason availing itself of all the light which it can obtain, and therefore above all of the light of revelation, so that our conduct may be regulated in accordance with the divine law, and may be such as to ensure our highest and eternal happiness ; for prudence has respect to the interests not only of the present life, but of that which is to come. (Paton, 1873)
We can say that prudence involves the use of common sense, reason and logic. But to go further, we can also say that it implies caution as well as foresight in determining the consequences of certain actions beforehand. It also refers to the wisdom of our conduct in the activities of thought, study and discretion. It brings us closer to the Creator in that we reflect on the moral consequences of our actions and on our relationship to Him as well. Eventually we come to a point where we realize our own ignorance, and in turn humble ourselves to seek more light:
We all know that in the erection of a building, just how easy it is to misread the plan, and how we need a good light. We have only to seek, and we will find the light that we need. The light of a Master Mason is but darkness visible, that is, ignorance realised, for there is no greater darkness than ignorance not realised. (Henderson, 1996)
Prudence is a virtue that needs to be constantly practiced when in the company of others. It helps us to understand each other better and also allows us to determine what to do at any given time, as well as how to avert crisis and overcome adversity:
Prudence is the true guide to human understanding, and consists in judging and determining with propriety what is to be said or done upon all our occasions, what dangers we should endeavour to avoid, and how to act in all our difficulties. (Mackey, 1878)
In terms of Freemasonry, prudence is usually applied when keeping discretion over certain matters. There are the obvious secrets of signs, grips and words but those are only symbolic secrets as a means to teach prudence. The true Freemason will know when, what and how to say certain things when in the company of certain brethren. This is especially difficult for the Master of the lodge, who is privy to a lot of sensitive information and uses the utmost prudence in how he uses that information. Therefore as Freemasons, we should follow that example in our own dealings and use discretion as well as good judgment, self-control and intelligence:
The application of Prudence to our everyday life means that we will use discretion in our acts and words; that we will use good judgment in what we say and do; and that we will use self-control and foresight in all such matters. It also means that we will act intelligently and with conscious regard of what the consequences will be. (Cerza, 1977)
Although there are days when we don’t require the use of prudence, indeed it is used a lot in Masonic ritual as a reminder to us of how we are obligated to act. We can use the blazing star as an example, as prudence and wisdom are considered intellectual light in this sense and lead us through the dark path of life:
In Hutchinson’s system, the Blazing Star is considered a symbol of Prudence. “It is placed,” says he, “in the center, ever to be present to the eye of the Mason, that his heart may be attentive to her dictates and steadfast in her laws;-for Prudence is the rule of all Virtues; Prudence is the path which leads to every degree of propriety; Prudence is the channel where self-approbation flows for ever; she leads us forth to worthy actions, and, as a Blazing Star, enlighteneth us through the dreary and darksome paths of this life” (Spirit of Masonry, edition of 1775, Lecture v, page 111).
Most importantly, we should remember that there’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom. To have knowledge of Masonic symbolism and ritual is indeed a worthy endeavor to strive for, but without the wisdom and understanding of these elements it is but all for naught:
A Mason may know every word of our ritual from the beginning of the entered Apprentice Degree to the final words of the Sublime Degree of Master Mason and still have no wisdom, Masonic or otherwise. Many a great leader of the Craft has been a stumbling, halting ritualist; yet possessed in abundance a Masonic wisdom which made him a power for good among the brethren, by whom he was well beloved. (Unknown, 1930)
Justice & Judgement
Justice holds a scale. The scale assures fairness in all actions. In the marketplace, a businessman gives fair value and a true accounting. But resting by her side is Justice’s sword. Injustice should meet swift and sure punishment.
– Bro. Richard D. Marcus, P.M.
We are taught that justice is “that standard or boundary of right which enables us to render to every man his just due without distinction”. We shouldn’t take things that we’re not entitled to, and we should give to others what is rightly theirs. For example, give credit where credit is due – don’t take credit for something you didn’t do, for that is the act of denying justice. As Freemasons, we must never deny justice.
This virtue is not only consistent with divine and human laws, but is the very cement and support of civil society; and as justice, in a great measure, constitutes the really good man, so should it be the invariable practice of every Mason never to deviate from the minutest principle thereof. (Sickels, 1868)
Justice determines what is right and what is wrong. The true Freemason will always do what is right, and act upright towards all others:
The exercise of this principle incites us to act toward others, in all the transactions of life, as we wish they would act toward us; and as, in a great measure, it constitutes real goodness, it is therefore represented as the perpetual study of an accomplished Freemason. Without the influence of justice, universal confusion would ensue; lawless force would overcome the principles of equity, and social intercourse would no longer exist. (Sickels, 1868)
Usually justice is depicted as blind, indicating impartiality. But in Freemasonry her eyes are wide open. In the world of the profane, justice is impartial based on the laws of the land. In Freemasonry however, it always favors righteousness because it is based on divine law. Likewise, we should consciously act in an unselfish manner and be self-sacrificing to do and stand up for what is right, while at the same time acting honorably towards others. A man who demonstrates this virtue is of high moral character:
Justice consists in rendering to every man his due, and is a virtue which gives an especial nobility and excellence to the character. Justice, indeed, is one of the glorious attributes of God himself. (Paton, 1873)
Not only does justice imply a strict interpretation of divine law, but it also reflects the greater good of mankind. For the Freemason justice symbolizes equality. We should govern our actions, be openly judged by others and never lead them into deception. We should do things not because we have to, but because we want to and adopt a selfless attitude.
We must do what is right, fair, appropriate, and deserved – all without prejudice. To give someone another’s due simply because we favor them more is unjust. We also need to remember to always settle our debts. To give something that is deserved, not just in the material sense but also in a moral sense. Equity, honor and fairness should be constantly practiced when dealing with others. It’s easy to look for weaknesses and flaws in others, but rather we should look for the good in everyone and believe that they are honest and sincere in their actions. Justice is balanced, it is not critical nor does it detest evil so much as to disregard man. We should be upright in everything and deal with others in a just manner.
As Freemasons, we’ve all been charged to be upright and act justly towards ourselves, our brethren, and the world – thereby showing others that we and our Fraternity are honorable. Not only that, but justice will also bring about truth and peace – inner peace, communitarian peace, and peace on a much larger scale as well. We need to remember to live by our Masonic obligations and morals in all things, and allow them to guide us within and outwith the lodge.
It’s also important to note that we cannot make sound judgments based on loose information. If justice is truly to prevail, then the truth needs to be brought to light in an appropriate manner:
You can never get all the facts from just one newspaper, and unless you have all the facts, you cannot make proper judgments about what is going on.
– Bro. Harry S. Truman, date uncertain.
You can’t really make an informed decision about any issue when you only hear one half of the story. As Freemasons, it’s extremely vital that we listen to and understand each other, educating ourselves before reaching a consensus instead of surrounding ourselves only with opinions that we agree with. Truths and solutions always lie somewhere in between two opposing sides.
The black cube is a thorough test of our understanding of the Masonic teaching of the cardinal virtue Justice, which “enables us to render to every man his just due without distinction.” We are taught of justice that “it should be the invariable practice of every Mason, never to deviate from the minutest principles thereof.”
Justice to the lodge requires us to cast the black cube on an applicant we believe to be unfit.
Justice to ourselves requires that we cast the black cube on the application of the man we believe would destroy the harmony of our lodge.
Justice to the applicant–we are taught to render justice to every man, not merely to Masons–requires that no black cube be cast for little reasons, small reasons, mean reasons.
And justice to justice requires that we think carefully, deliberate slowly, and act cautiously. No man will know what we do; no eye will see, save that All Seeing Eye which pervades the innermost recesses of our hearts, and will, so we are taught, reward us according to our merits. Shakespeare said, “O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant!” (Claudy, 1929)
When in deadlock, it’s better to concentrate on what is agreed upon rather than arguing over different opinions in order to move forward. It’s really not all that hard as long as we use some common sense to do what is right and do no harm. If something is questionable, whether it is lawful or not – it’s better to simply just not do it. As Freemasons we are charged to always do right. Our ceremonies and rituals teach several virtues to the candidate who we believe to have basic moral character and whose heart is open to the reception of those lessons.
There are few tools we can use to teach justice and judgement. For example, the gavel reminds us to ever be mindful of knowing what is right and what is wrong:
The Gavel, we are told, represents the force of conscience, which, of course, is the voice of our own soul, or as our ritual puts it “the voice of nature” and the “centre from which we cannot err”. It is this inner voice that is ever ready to warn us when without it we would err. If we let conscience guide us, and are prompt to heed it, we will find its voice becoming stronger and clearer with every day of our lives; but, if we fail to heed it, failure becomes a habit, and its voice will eventually become so weak that it is barely audible, so that finally there is no warning at all and its owner becomes a really evil person.
Conscience, like the Gavel, will “knock off all superfluous knobs and excrescence’s” so that the rough stone of our character will become the Perfect Ashlar fit for the Temple. (Henderson, 1996)
And then there’s the plumb rule, which teaches us to act with integrity in all our dealings:
The Plumb Rule is the emblem of integrity, and with the man of integrity we can entertain no doubt. We know how he will act, and what he will do, because he stoops to nothing mean or petty, a debt of a few cents is just as sure to be paid as one of a thousand dollars; where his attendance is expected there he will be. The man of integrity is ruled by duty and loyalty, and will never take an unfair advantage.
The Plumb Rule consists of a weight hanging freely at the end of a line; the principle that actuates it is the influence of gravity. No matter where it is placed, it always points to the centre of the earth. So it is in the spiritual world, but here it points unerringly to God.
A man of integrity does not envy the wealth, the power, or the intelligence and good fortune of another, nor does he despise those less fortunate than himself. He harbours no avarice, injustice, malice, revenge, nor an envy and contempt of mankind, but holds the scales of justice with equal poise. (Henderson, 1996)
And Also the compasses, which reminds us to have balance in order to secure good judgement:
They are not drawing, but measuring, instruments and their function is proportion and symmetry. By means of the compasses, a distance of one side of a centre-line can be readily marked off on the other side of the line, and thus the designer is enabled to maintain balance and symmetry in his design.
Symbolically, a balanced viewpoint and a sense of proportion are essential attributes of good and sound judgment and of the mature, sterling character which is our Masonic ideal.
We are told in our ritual that the Compasses “remind us of His (God’s) unerring and impartial justice.”
The ideal Master Mason is a well balanced and just man, and one in whom, to quote Shakespeare, “mercy seasons justice.” (Croft, 1974)
Knowing right from wrong and having common sense is naturally inherent in people as divine law that was given to us from the Deity. Freemasonry helps us to understand and put into practice its lessons and precepts. Using common sense and doing what is right should be our constant rule and guide when exercising judgement. In this way we can set good examples for our brothers and inspire them to practice justice as well.
Remember that we are charged to “neither aggravate nor palliate the offenses of our brethren” and to “judge with candour, admonish with friendship, and reprehend with mercy.”
Respect & Dignity
Freemasonry is probably one of the earliest forms of tolerance, freedom of religion and respect for the opinions of others within society. Mutual tolerance and respect have always been key aspects in Freemasonry’s system of morality. As it is an international order, a brother can go into any regular lodge in the world where beliefs and backgrounds differ and share in the peace and harmony that prevails. In this way, trust and brotherly love begin with respect:
Every person has a basic need for both self-respect and the respect of others. When our friends show, by word or deed, that they hold us in low regard, we may react as strongly as if we were threatened. On the other side, we would do almost anything for a person who holds us in high esteem. Thus, respect is both the least honor that we require and the highest honor that we can hope for in our dealings with our fellow men. It encompasses our words, our actions, our appearance and even our thoughts. Inside the Lodge and outside of it, we should strive to demonstrate in every way our respect for a Brother’s honor, feelings, efforts, hopes and any other part of his life that we may contact.
– Committee on Masonic Research and Education of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota, 1986.
As our members are drawn from every race and from every creed, we commit ourselves to respect one another and work together to achieve common goals. We are even able to become good friends with those who have opposing opinions from us, because we never demand them to conform to our personal beliefs. The only beliefs we don’t condone are those that include intolerance, tyranny and lack of respect. Rather, we promote things that are common, good and true, and accept differences of opinion in all things, including religion and politics. No matter what we believe, we all meet upon the level:
So Masonry teaches us equality of regard. On the floor of the Lodge all men are equal and brothers – equal in our regard, and brothers in the great brotherhood of man. (Henderson, 1996)
Our ritual teaches us that it’s the “internal and not the external qualities that recommend a man to Freemasonry”. That’s because sometimes we may be the same on the outside, but it’s inside that makes us who we are and gives us a nature unique to ourselves. That in itself gives us the right to respect and dignity. In a free society this is essential, as it is that which the rights of humans rest on. We can survive on basic needs, but in order to thrive we need to be able to satisfy our curiosity and spirit. Freemasonry allows for this freedom of growth:
Freemasonry stands and has always stood for freedom of political thought; for freedom of religious thought; for the dignity, importance and worth of the individual. In Freemasonry there is neither high nor low-“We meet upon the level”. (Claudy, 1949)
We are all members of the same human family, under the fatherhood of the Deity. Therefore, as brothers and sisters, we need that entitlement and consideration for our thoughts and feelings. That “temple not built with hands” is a universal theme among humans, and when we see it not only in ourselves but also in others, human dignity becomes not only essential but natural as well.
To give someone the dignity they deserve we need to recognize their freedom to choose their values as they see fit, and also to recognize those values which we have in common that transcend the material world. This lesson is critical if we are to evolve as Freemasons:
Liturgies and creeds, articles of faith and rules of discipline, stain the rubric pages of history, and speculative points of doctrine have occasioned more misery in the world than all the crimes for which nations have been punished and recalled to their duty.
We arraign no man’s political opinions, nor do we interfere with his religious creed.
To himself and his country we leave the one, and to his conscience and his God we commit the other. To the altar of Masonry, all men bring their votive offerings. Around it all men, whether they have received their teachings from Confucius, Moses, Zoroaster, Mahomet, or the Founder of the Christian religion; if they believe in the universality of the Fatherhood of God and of the universality of the brotherhood of man, here meet on a common level.
The rich man, the poor man, the sovereign, the subject, are lost in the common Brother. The Christian returns to his Temple, the Jew to his Synagogue, the Mohammedan to his Mosque, each better prepared to perform the duties of life by the association of this universal brotherhood. It is to this Institution, born of heaven in the gray of the world’s morning, before poets sang or historians wrote, that I am privileged to accord you a Craftsman’s greeting.
– Address by M.* W.*. Edward M. L. Ehlers, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge F. & A. M. of the State of New York. June 24, 1913.
Self Sacrifice & Service to Others
In our ritual we are taught “to encourage industry and reward merit; to supply the wants and relieve the necessities of brethren” to the utmost of our power. As Freemasons we are to serve the lodge and others as best as we can:
Men differ in nature, heredity and opportunity, but above all, in the ability to make full use of their talents or to overcome their disabilities. We can all, however, do our best with what means we have; the greater a man’s wealth, or the greater his intelligence and ability, then the greater his responsibility. We must work with the full length of our cable tow. (Henderson, 1996)
Universal brotherhood under the fatherhood of the Deity is one of the aims of Freemasonry. Therefore, we have no barriers as to creed or race when admitting members. This essentially means that we forget about ourselves, sacrifice any prejudices we may have and join with the true Freemasons in love, faith and friendship. As Freemasons we should stand as real men, true and willing to serve others while abandoning our own pursuits. There’s nothing wrong with having personal ambitions and goals, but we should be willing to put them aside in the true spirit of service:
Indeed, this willingness to slow down one’s own spiritual progress to help another is the essence of self-sacrifice, and has been the guiding principle which has inspired all the great spiritual teachers of the world in their efforts to advance the well-being of struggling humanity. Now it is important to realise that this spirit of self-sacrifice succeeds to “square conduct.” In other words, it is only when a man has learnt to be just to his fellow men that he can realise the next lesson, which is that he must be more than just, he must give up his own rights to help others. There would be nothing unjust in his outpacing his companions, but it would be selfish, or at any rate self-centred. (Ward, 1926)
One of the aspects of Freemasonry is that age old theme of how to die and be reborn into something more. Self-sacrifice is most apparent in Masonic ritual and also leads into five points of fellowship that all masons should observe – greeting each other as brothers; supporting each other in all our laudable undertakings; the posture of our daily supplications shall remind us of each other’s wants; our lawful secrets when entrusted to each other as such, we will keep as our own; and we will support each other’s character in absence as well as in presence. It’s a sad day when a candidate goes through the motions, becomes a master mason, but fails to service others because the other lodge brothers neglected him:
In our modern civilisation, with its speed and turmoil, men are often extremely isolated. It is no longer as easy to make friends or to get to know each other intimately as it was in the days when people were born in small towns and lived there most of their lives. Unless someone makes it his special task to bring the members into close touch with each other the new initiate is likely to remain a brother in name only, for the rest of his life. (Ward, 1926)
Brotherhood means service to each other and the lodge. Whenever possible, we should join in with whatever activities or causes the lodge promotes. How can we wear a ring and call ourselves Masons if we don’t live like it? It’s true that you have to put your job and family first, but whenever possible we should choose to help our brethren in their endeavors as well:
It is so easy to put off doing the altruistic deed which our conscience tells us is required but which necessitates some self-sacrifice of time, if not of money. There is much to be said for the maxim of the boy scout, that we should not be content to lie down to rest at night unless we have at least one fresh good deed to our credit, but we should remember that not only is this a minimum qualification, but it is one intended for boys, not men. The Mason, if he is sincere, should strive to do his duty and, if that were possible, a little more than his duty, on every day which he lives. (Ward, 1926)
One of the reasons Freemasonry exists is to promote the progress of society and serve humanity. When a lodge meeting finishes we feel positive, and that is when we should take that positive feeling and put it towards the benefit of mankind. A lot of people are missing that kind of feeling in their life, which is one of the reasons they go to lodge in the first place. For how can we help others if we can’t even help ourselves:
To serve and do good to as many as possible – there is nothing greater in your fortune than that you should be able, and nothing finer in your nature than that you should be desirous to do this. The true Freemason must be and must have a right to be content with himself; and he can be so only when he lives not for himself alone, but for others also. (Unknown, 1925)
The initiate pledges to service and assist their fellow creatures and members of the human family. They are reminded of serving others throughout all three degrees in the lectures and obligations. Especially when they go through the office bearing chairs of the lodge, they learn how to service the lodge as well. We all have our own talents. Some are better at ritual, some are better at charity, and some are better at fellowship. We must find our talent and use it to serve our brothers and mankind as well:
It may be asked what is our allotted task? Until we have satisfactorily answered that question we cannot successfully perform that task. The simplest answer is to do whatever our hand findeth to do and do it with all our might, not for our own advantage, but to the glory of the G. A. O. T. U. and for the welfare of our fellow creatures. But every mason should consider that as a member of the Craft he has a special piece of work to do. He hopes to be a perfect ashlar in the Temple of the Most High, and every ashlar in a building has an allotted place and a definite function. (Ward, 1926)
We are all laborers within the lodge. Some of us bear burdens, some of us execute designs, and some of us plan and organize. No matter what we do, big or small, it all matters in the end. Service to others is likewise service to ourselves:
Gifts of Freemasonry are the opportunities she provides for service other than charity; service in friendships, service to the ill, service to brethren in trouble, service to the Lodge. Nor care that the service to be rendered may not be great. Wordsworth sang: “Small service is true service while it lasts The daisy, by the shadow that it casts, Protects the lingering dewdrop from the sun.” As all know who have lived, service to others generates the greatest happiness. He who lives for himself alone, lives miserably. He who lives somewhat for others finds that peace which passeth understanding. (Unknown, 1934)
Always remember that as Freemasons we are charged to lead the world and guide men to the Throne of the Deity, “the highest source of light, so aptly symbolized by the Fire in the Burning Bush that was ever ablaze but never consumed”. A true mason will feel compelled to serve, and people will remember that true service:
But this compelling power of Masonry had taken root in his heart and blossomed into deeds redolent of the sweet odors of charity, and blessed in the sight of Heaven. The influence of this spirit – I might almost say this INSTINCT of brotherhood – in mitigating the horrors of war, is attested by many well known instances, and many more are known only to those who were parties to them. (Robbins, 1869)
Sharing Strength and Wisdom
Freemasons are constantly at labor, making the world a better place. We are to do good and make the lives of others as fulfilling as possible, not to get anything out of it, but because it’s our duty. Masonry is a lifelong journey. As we teach brothers who have just been initiated, passed or raised we ourselves are still learning, and we might not be that far ahead of them either. You can never learn enough about Freemasonry, what with all the morals, symbolism and history. However, it’s not just about learning but also about teaching and guiding your brothers, whether they be young or old. Mentorship leads to understanding and growth.
It’s our job to develop and strengthen each other as leaders in order to move forward as a lodge, correcting weaknesses and building on existing strengths. Every brother has potential, so he needs to take every opportunity available to learn from his brethren in order for that potential to grow. In order for Freemasonry to have vision and move forward, mentoring is vital in supporting individual and organizational growth. No man reaches the East on his own; he is put there and supported by his brethren. Your brethren will help you move forward, so it is your duty to return the favor and service them as well:
Now one of the great advantages of a lodge is that men rub shoulders with each other and learn that each is not the sole person in the lodge, but that others have their rights and are entitled to consideration. The friendly intercourse possible therein is undoubtedly of inestimable value in helping to mould the character of every member of the lodge. We are taught to subordinate our wills to the general good and to think unselfishly and for the interest of the lodge as a whole, rather than to try each to go our own way careless of the interests of others. In short, we not only polish our own characters but have them polished for us by the other members, while we in like manner render them a similar service. If, therefore, at any time some incident should occur which hurts our feelings or ruffles our equanimity, let us remember that this may be a well-directed blow of The Master Builder, which is intended to remove some excrescence from our character and thereby mould us hearer to the perfect ashlar. (Ward, 1926)
Sharing wisdom with our brothers allows us to learn to appreciate the wide range of opinions they may have on any subject. Outwith the lodge in the world of the profane, we use this education to try to make the world a better place – even if it’s just our small corner of it. The beautiful universality of Freemasonry allows brothers from different backgrounds to meet and perform labor together in the spirit of understanding and cooperation.
A Freemason cannot be a Freemason by himself. He needs a place in the lodge to be able to interact with his brothers, where he can be educated and prepared to do Masonic labor in and outside the Lodge. The initiation of a candidate is a lot to take in the first time around, so it’s important that the lodge assists him to understand the ceremony, reflecting on its meaning and determining how it affects his life.
Mentoring should be the responsibility of the entire lodge, and not just one person. Education doesn’t end after the 3rd degree, it’s part of a Mason’s lifelong journey – and it’s not one that can be walked alone. The important thing is to make sure a brother’s expectations are met while at the same time making sure that our own values are getting across to him. This is what true brotherhood is about:
In real life some men are more spiritually evolved or more intellectual than others, but we are taught hereby that instead of selfishly hastening on, such men should stay and help the weaker brethren, lending to them something of their intellectual ability or their spiritual insight so that they may keep pace with those more richly endowed. The spirit of esprit de corps is a high virtue and one which should particularly distinguish a Masonic lodge, and the spirit which will lead a more evolved brother to pause on his journey to help a weaker one is deserving of cultivation. Moreover, it brings its own reward, for such an action is in the highest sense unselfish, and thus further increases the spiritual evolution of the man himself and brings him yet another step along the path which leads to the goal towards which we are all striving. (Ward, 1926)
Understanding one another doesn’t simply happen overnight. It requires contemplation and reflection. Throughout life, we develop our outlook on things; we and those around us evolve and change, to the point that Freemasonry itself can take on a new meaning. Remember that “there is nothing static in either life or Freemasonry”, so that not only do we receive light, but yet more light later on in life. Some people would say that life and Freemasonry are linear, but I tend to think of them more as cyclical – we are constantly re-learning and re-teaching the lessons that are imparted, and hit new points of realization each time. As life evolves, so does Freemasonry; when we change, our perspective of Freemasonry also changes.
It’s always said that we have “privileges” in being Freemasons. However, these privileges are not monetary in value. Neither do we receive these privileges simply because we are Freemasons in name, hold sway in the lodge, or have some mentionable rank. Having a commonly shared goal, desiring improvement, sharing experiences and wisdom – these are the true privileges of the craft. They can’t be expected nor demanded, but rather kept, shared and demonstrated through our actions. Rather than receiving privileges from Freemasonry, it is simply a privilege in itself to be a Freemason.
One of the things Freemasonry teaches is “mouth to ear”, in that “…you might whisper good counsel in his ear, gently admonishing of his errors, and in a most friendly manner, seek to bring about a reformation.” If you see a brother failing to live up to the standards of the craft, you should take him aside in private and counsel him with friendship. The key part of this is that it needs to be friendly and not assaulting; otherwise you should simply keep quiet. Too many times in our lives are we criticized outright in full view of others. Freemasonry teaches us to do this discreetly and in a beneficial way:
The Freemason is taught by an expressive symbol, to whisper good counsel in his Brother’s ear, and to warn him of approaching danger. “It is a rare thing,” says Bacon, “except it be from a perfect and entire friend, to have counsel given that is not bowed and crooked to some ends which he hath that giveth it.” And hence it is an admirable lesson, which Freemasonry here teaches us, to use the lips and the tongue only in the service of a Brother. (Mackey, 1878)
Sometimes whispering good counsel doesn’t always work. If you know it won’t be well received then it is better to remain silent, conforming to what was taught in the first degree. Some obligations require us to “give due and timely notice of approaching danger”, however sometimes danger cannot be avoided and thus whispering counsel ends up just being a complete waste of time. At that point it becomes a judgement call.
In addition, it might be wise to give the benefit of the doubt before approaching a brother and consider his side of the story as well. Remember, we are all trying to do what we think is right – which may or not be what is truly right. We always have to take into account all the facts, interpretations and viewpoints.
It’s our responsibility as Freemasons to whisper good counsel, just remember to use prudence and discretion. It should be between just two brothers, and nobody else. A third brother may seem a little intimidating, the brother in question might feel cornered, and the counsel might not be well received. Remember – impact, not intent.
Receiving advice also requires an amount of charity as well; we should remember to act by the golden rule and consider each other’s feelings. We need to listen to what he has to say, especially if it’s in response to our actions. He has considered us so we in turn should consider him, even if we don’t agree with him. It’s our duty as brothers to hear each other out, to think about what everyone says and more importantly, thanking each other for their time and effort in offering wisdom. If a brother has offered you words that you don’t agree with, justice dictates that you should at least think about what was offered, because some things may be harder to realize than others.
This is a vital part of Freemasonry. A friendly reminder of one’s obligations should never lead to a point of contention. Never put another brother down, and remind him of what it means to be a Freemason. Help him as much as you can, and be receptive at all times. Although no one is a perfect ashlar, we should always strive for the ideal in beauty and perfection, and the best way to do that is to help others do the same:
To whisper good counsel in the ear of an erring brother is sound Masonic teaching. To prevent tarnishing the reputation of the Fraternity we must not only endeavor to live up to the high level of our teachings, but strive to help our brethren do likewise. The best way, the brotherly way, the way of Freemasonry is by kindly caution, the friendly word of admonition, the hand stretched out to assist and save the worthy falling brother. (Unknown, 1930)
Setting a Good Example
In our monitor we are taught “to inculcate universal benevolence and, by the regularity of your own behavior, afford the best example for the benefit of others.” This is a vital part about being a Freemason. We should always be conscientious of our actions, but even more so when we are in the presence of our brethren:
You are to salute one another in a courteous Manner, as you will be instructed, calling each other Brother, freely giving mutual instruction as shall be thought expedient, without being ever seen or overheard, and without encroaching upon each other, or derogating from that Respect which is due to any Brother, were he not Mason: For though all Masons are as Brethren upon the same Level, yet Masonry takes no Honour from a man that he had before; nay, rather it adds to his Honour, especially if he has deserv’d well of the Brotherhood, who must give Honour to whom it is due, and avoid ill Manners. (Anderson, 1723)
We have a responsibility to be moral, upright men and to follow both divine and worldly law. If we are to make a difference in this world, it needs to be done in a manner that conforms to our science, but also to current times. Setting a good example in this sense doesn’t mean acting like we’re better than everyone else. On the contrary, we are no better than the brother next to us; as Freemasons, we meet on the level. Naturally we are only human with our own vices and desires, but setting a good example in this sense means showing that you have what it takes to exert self control and who can withstand troubles, all the while remaining humble. Take the level, for example:
The true Level is the surface of a fluid at rest, and we shall find the true Freemason when we find a man who has passions and desires like our own, but who is master of his own soul, who can endure the worst calamities of misfortune and not become bitter, and who can meet the greatest good fortune and still keep his feet on the ground. (Henderson, 1996)
It’s easy enough to do when we are just with our brothers. But when in mixed company we have to remember to maintain that demeanor and try not to conform to the world of the profane that is outwith the temple. It’s our jobs as Freemasons to be beacons of light to those around us. When you apply Freemasonry to your day to day life, that’s when you truly begin to understand it. It’s unfortunate, but there are those that are embarrassed to be Freemasons for fear of being ridiculed or alienated. If you truly know and understand what it means to be a real Freemason, then you will constantly advertise it so others will see how a Freemason lives his life:
Masonry separates a man from the crowd. The most incredible fact about being a Mason is that you can never, never forget that you are one. You can forget your wife’s birthday, but you can’t ever forget that you are a Mason. Show me a group that can make such an indelible impact on a man’s life?
As a Mason, I can never forget that I have a responsibility to live and conduct my business according to the tenets of Freemasonry. I can never be lost in the crowd. For a man to say, “I’m a Mason” sets him apart from other men. (Graham, 1993)
When we open lodge we set the tone of the meeting and how we should conduct ourselves. When we close we usually invoke Deity with words like “may brotherly love prevail and every moral and social virtue cement us”, which also sets a tone for how we should conduct ourselves outside the lodge room. It’s a reminder that we are to continue to act as proper masons until we open lodge once more.
In order to make men better, we ourselves need to be better and show younger masons what it truly means to be a Freemason:
Masonry gives a man a positive picture of what it means to be a man. In a time when numbers are more important than a man’s name, this is a message that makes sense! No group or organization gives recognition to the worth of a man’s life as does Freemasonry. The Masonic message is simple: “You’re important.” As Masons, we make one thing clear. “As a man, you have tremendous potential and we’re going to show you how to become the best.” Masonry never looks down on a man. Masonry denies that a man is basically “bad.” Masonry sees the possibilities in a man and gives him a way to reach for the stars. (Graham, 1993)
We can never allow our moral standards to fall in the presence of our brethren. We are sworn to not only be inflexible in our fidelity but also to study and uphold the morals of Freemasonry, all the while acting in accordance with them. Not only will we be setting a good example for other brothers but we’ll also be helping our own self esteem in the process. How can we expect our brethren to conform to the ideals of the craft if we ourselves are unable to? And more so, if we cannot be beacons of light outside the lodge room, then why should we expect prospective candidates to join and study Freemasonry? Everything has consequences.
It’s all about passing on and leaving behind what we have learned, and the best way to do that is to live what we learn. “May all these principles and tenets be transmitted pure and unpolluted from generation to generation.” Not everyone can be a great leader; that is well understood. But every single one of us is able to lead in our own way and usually the simplest way is to just set a good example:
Our leaders must possess imagination. Our leaders must be able to bring a sense of excitement to the Fraternity. Leadership means being able to move men’s hearts, to make them proud of their Masonic membership. Leadership means being able to motivate men to action. It means getting Masons to come out of the closet and demonstrate their enthusiasm for the Fraternity. Masonic leadership means a willingness to take bold steps. Our leaders must possess a new vision for our Fraternity. If a man does not have this kind of vision, if he does not possess the skill to make things happen, then he should not be elevated to a leadership position. (Graham, 1993)
It might be difficult to follow a leader who is lacking in several things, especially when they are set in their ways. I like to think that whatever flaws we see in them can also be an example of how we shouldn’t be. It sounds harsh, but perhaps if our senior masons see us living up to the moral standards Freemasonry provides, they yet may be inspired to become better men still. “What you observe praise-worthy in others you should carefully imitate, and what in them may appear defective you should in yourself amend.”
Whether or not we are in the presence of our brethren, we should always set a good example; if not for them, certainly for ourselves. Even if we are certain that no one is looking, remember that we can never escape the All Seeing Eye. Thus we should be ever mindful of not only how we act but also how we think:
Always commit an act as though the world were looking at you.
– Thomas Jefferson, date uncertain.
Harmony & Conduct
In our monitor it talks about how we are to treat our brethren, and we are charged to “view their interests as inseparable from [our] own.” We should never dismiss another brother’s view, no matter how differing it may be. This should also be prevalent between lodges. Different lodges have different traditions and methods, which is part of the beauty of Freemasonry. We should respect and even embrace those differences when dealing with other lodges. We should also remember that birds of a feather flock together, and certain lodges will also have particular views on society. Naturally they’ll keep religion and politics out of the lodge room, but that doesn’t stop them from acting a certain way based on those particular views.
For example, some lodges remain secular while others prefer to be religion specific. Some will wear their religion on their sleeve while others are simply unchurched. Some will pray to a specific Deity, while others will have several holy books on the altar. Some will have strict dress codes, some are monolingual, and some let others use their lodge space. Some permit alcohol, while others don’t even allow the handicapped in. Some prefer to use the Masonic Trial system, while other lodges simply expel without due trial. It’s also interesting to note that some Grand Lodges have more control over the lodges than others. The differences can even get down to the color of one’s skin when it comes to admittance.
These differences have often divided the craft and caused each lodge to adopt a “tribal mentality”, which of course is only human to do so. We naturally feel more comfortable around those who share the same views as we do. However, as Freemasonry is universal and knows no creed, race or rank, we are thus charged to take that extra step and examine the mentality of the lodge. Do we really profess the morals of the craft by exploring and developing the lodge consciousness, or would we rather subject outsiders to our views and pass judgement if they have differing opinions?
Yes, it’s okay to uphold the traditions of a lodge that is rich in history. Always be proud of your Mother Lodge. Freemasonry allows for many things; we just need to remember that it’s a big world out there and we should always respect each and every lodge that we visit and hold communications with.
Things like strife, discord, ill feelings and unmasonic conduct do exist in Freemasonry. This often leads to rivalries and lack of cooperation. Lodges should share commonality and reduce opposition, but at the same time they should also allow each lodge to maintain full control of their own affairs. It’s important to be able to bridge the gap between different lodge mentalities, so that we can properly promote the Freemason way of life and embrace free thinkers, creative minds, principles and virtues as well.
When we have harmony we are able to share knowledge and work together to raise the level of our society. As Freemasons, it’s our job to be pillars of the community. But how can we hold up a community if there are disagreements, bitter feuds and refusal to change methods? Discord will prevail, the pillars will crumble and there will be no hope for an enlightened society.
Of course, in the long run history won’t remember all the little arguments and discords we may have. So then, would all the disagreements even be worth it? Freemasons in the future will be too busy reaping the benefits of what we can build for them to notice any schisms there might be presently. Honestly speaking, not many people actually care about petty squabbles other than the few who happen to be directly involved. It is simply better to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, rather than dwell on any discord.
Moreover, it is vital to not let any news of discord within a lodge to get out. Dirty laundry is not meant to be viewed in plain sight, and it is our responsibility to fix problems at the lowest possible level. There’s a big difference between simply whispering good counsel in a brother’s ear and holding a Masonic trial, and the latter is to be avoided unless deemed absolutely necessary. Every lodge needs to maintain a good reputation:
It is one thing to fail in any Masonic duty; it is another to fail so publicly that the reputation of the Fraternity is hurt – that reputation of which we are taught that its preservation is of vital importance. Occasionally, more’s the pity, it is necessary for a Masonic organization to take practical steps in regard to some brother who has failed to live up to the Masonic teachings. Masons are only men who have solemnly agreed to do certain things; sometimes they are foresworn. Sometimes our committees do not do their work aright and we are given cracked stones to work upon. Sometimes a good man changes as he grows older, and even the sweet and gentle influence of the Craft cannot hold him in the straight and narrow way.
The lodge in which someone holds membership may well be advised to do little rather than much. There are times when something must be done; when the reputation of which we think so much is hurt by failure to do. Then we have all the misery and pain of a Masonic trial; the sad washing of dirty linen in the lodge; the grief of seeing our good and great Order dragged to some extent into public notice; when ever a Mason receives the worst Masonic penalty – expulsion, or Masonic death – the world at large usually hears of it. Few are the Masons who have no friends! Hence a Masonic trial is very apt to create tense feelings in a lodge, if not worse, and the harmony which is “the strength and support of all well regulated institutions” is made into a discord. (Unknown, 1930)
There’s different things that draw men towards Freemasonry, one of which is that it provides a platform where we are all “on the level” and treated fairly. Isn’t there enough contention in the world? Do we really need to add to that contention? It’s true that politics do exist within our Masonic system and that it can indeed affect membership and attendance as well. It would be nice if there were no politics within Freemasonry, as it ought to exist well above such superficial things. Unfortunately, that is not the case. But that’s okay because we’re only human after all, and politics only play a natural part of our lives. The real key is to follow rules and regulations that we can all agree upon in order to be more effective in our labor as a whole.
Lodges need to unify, rather than separate. Constant bickering and dissension will only lead to disharmony and discord, and no one will want to be a Freemason after that. Although, you have to really think about the term “harmony” and what it can mean in some situations. For example, lodge harmony can often be used to exclude people. How many times have we seen or heard tell of a prospective member getting black balled for the “harmony of the lodge”? And not because he was a bad man, but because he simply didn’t “fit in”:
We know a man we dislike. He has different ideas from ours. He belongs to a different “set.” He is not the type we admire. Our dislike does not amount to hatred, nor is it predicated upon any evil in the man’s character. He and we are antipathetic; we rub each other the wrong way. When he applies to our lodge we must decide this question: will the unpleasantness to us, in having him as a member, be greater than the good to him which may come from his reception of the Masonic teachings? Are we sure that we cannot accept him as a brother merely because we “have never liked him?” (Claudy, 1929)
And then there are those brothers who choose to leave the lodge simply because they can’t stand all the bickering and squabbling; in my opinion, those brothers give up way too easily. They would rather turn their backs on the lodge than work together to come up with a viable solution, and that’s not how Freemasons should act. Yes, heated arguments can be a bit unsettling at times; however there should be some leeway for such noisy debates during those times. Sometimes in order to keep the harmony within the lodge, we need seek out the cause of the discourse and try to fix it. There may likely be some ruffled feathers in the process, but if we are sincere enough in our actions we can avoid any desertion:
At times it is necessary to stand pain to get rid of a cancer. But the best surgeon does not use a knife until all other means fail. That lodge, that Master and those brethren who seek to compose differences, win the erring back to the path their feet should never have left, do a real service to their lodge, to their offended brother, to their erring brother and to the Fraternity whose reputation “should be our constant care.” (Unknown, 1930)
So what does real harmony mean anyways? Causing some brethren to simply “go with the flow”? Disregarding any rights or justice that is due? Shunning or even expulsing those who would go against the grain in order to keep what some would believe to be harmony within the lodge? Trust me brother when I say, that is not real harmony.
To be perfectly honest, it can be a real tricky thing at times. Here’s another way to look at it: we have the world of the profane outwith the temple, and then we have the world of Masonic light within. Outside the lodge we are separated by things like politics, religion, rank, status and wealth. However, inside the sacred walls of the lodge all those things are left at the entrance. Remember that when we pass through the entrance of the lodge we are “purified by the divine presence”, otherwise we cannot truly meet on the level. One of the reasons we don’t solicit membership is because it might result in a clique or cliques within the lodge. If we are to experience the true spirit of the craft, we have to be reborn into a world where selfishness and ego don’t exist:
The lodges of Freemasonry are not political organizations; they are not business syndicates; they are not social cliques. (Frazer, 1915)
And what of discord? Can it be completely avoided? Probably not. Although from an optimist’s stand point, conflict can also be seen as an opportunity for growth. Let’s think for a minute about the twin pillars at the entrance to the temple. One of their great lessons is the “equilibrium of the opposites”, where the “ferocity of hate is counterpoised by the tenderness of love” and “hope tunes anew the broken notes of despair”. Without discord, we would have no conception of the value of harmony. Conflict is a natural part of human life. It’s how we choose to deal with that conflict that determines whether a lodge will flourish or collapse.
If a brother says something we disagree with, we remain tranquil. Escalation never solved anything. Things like ganging up, belittlement, abuse of power and strong tactics are unmasonic and only leads to more contention. We are not warriors but laborers, and thus must use our thoughts, words and actions as tools – not weapons. Instead of focusing on winning an argument, what we should really be doing is putting our energy towards whatever common goal is shared. If there is no goal, and all you’re trying to do is get your point across then perhaps resignation wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Is all the discord even worth it?
Always remember that the tenets of the craft should be our constant care. We can’t lose sight of them, otherwise we lose perspective. Simply avoiding discord doesn’t really help. A rough ashlar requires some destruction in order to become a perfect one. If all you’re going to do is try and maintain harmony at whatever the cost, then you’re not much of a laborer are you? As Freemasons we need to build a better world, and we can’t do that without moderation and stability:
“Our life is full of discord; but by forbearance and virtue this same discord can be turned to harmony.”
— James Ellis
Nobody likes being in a situation that is uncomfortable, that much is certain. It’s a lot easier when everyone is in agreement, and nobody argues. But there’s a clear difference between remaining silent and being silenced. It’s true that if you don’t have something nice to say you shouldn’t say anything at all, but you can still make an argument in a civilized manner so that whatever is on the table can go forward in the right direction. A lot of lodges tend to have inner circles, where things are discussed and agreements are reached, after which they bring forward to open lodge and force those opinions onto others. Anyone daring enough to oppose that inner circle would be deemed “unmasonic” and accused of causing discord. Who could blame those people for leaving? That kind of activity should never be condoned, yet it happens more often than a lot of us would like to admit.
What if the other side is correct? Then the rest of the lodge has to choose between rational thought or being labeled “unmasonic”. Actually using the word “unmasonic” is unmasonic in itself. The last thing a Freemason wants to hear is that he is “unmasonic”, whether that be in open lodge or even mouth to ear. It’s tricky, learning how to be a gentleman and at the same time having constructive arguments. The important thing is to be constructive, and not focus on trivial things that really don’t matter in the end.
So true harmony then is actually an atmosphere where discussions can take place without resorting to derailments or attacks, where disagreements are not frowned upon but welcome, and where we can still stand at the end and call each other brothers, whether or not an agreement was reached. If we open our hearts to the reception of another’s thoughts and opinions, we will gain more perception, wisdom and truly learn to understand one another. Remember that above all else, brotherly love must prevail:
That unhappy Brother whose “proposal for the good of the lodge” has been rejected by an overwhelming negative vote – has anyone realized the taste of ashes in his mouth and tried to lessen the hurt and embarrassment to his feelings? To soothe the unhappy is not only incumbent on Masons in charitable programs; it is a necessary chord in the harmony of the lodge. It is not enough to reject a Brother’s well-meant but undesirable proposal. He must be helped to understand that his zeal for the lodge is truly appreciated, but that his suggestions are presently unwise or impossible of achievement. In this sense it can accurately be said, “Relief begins at home.” (Hahn, 1964)
It’s no wonder that Freemasons prefer the company of other Freemasons. There are times when we are troubled and going to lodge helps to soothe the soul, as we are in a place where there is no discord but only peace and harmony. If there is such discord in your lodge you have one of two choices: either leave and go elsewhere, or stay and try to overcome said discord, which will lead to having a stronger, more harmonious lodge in the end. Obviously the latter is the better decision, but many a brother will choose the former because they simply lack the fortitude. And there’s nothing wrong with that, really there isn’t. Maintaining peace and harmony can be one of the most daunting tasks as a Freemason. I think as long as effort is put in, we can only go forward from whatever situation we may find ourselves in:
“Harmony being the strength and support of all well regulated institutions, especially this of ours.” This phrase, or one similar, is familiar to all Masons. Harmony–oneness of mind, effort, ideas and ideals–is one of the foundations of Freemasonry. Anything which interferes with Harmony by so much hurts the Institution. Therefore it is essential that lodges have a harmonious membership; that no man be admitted to the Masonic home of any brother against his will. (Claudy, 1929)
The last thing anybody wants is to make a brother feel uncomfortable or even cause him harm. A lodge is a sacred place where we come to feel safe, and loved by our brothers. A brother should never be subjected to things like berating, slander, cursing, vulgarities or racism. Maintaining peace and harmony is also the reason why the topic of religion and politics is forbidden within the walls of the lodge room, when the master has banged his gavel to indicate the opening of the meeting:
There are probably no other topics of discussion that have caused as much ill will, alienation and contention as have politics and religion. In the interest of harmony among Brothers, it is considered un-Masonic to introduce any religious, political, or other divisive topic into a Masonic discussion.
– Committee on Masonic Research and Education of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota, 1986.
Anything that might cause discord within a lodge is left at the door. We’re free to believe what we want and to have our own opinions, but in the spirit of brotherly love and peace we need to check whatever argumentative attitude we may have, and suppress the urge to correct brothers in a manner that is undignified. In order to make the world we live in a more peaceful society, we have to start at home, in the lodge room. The lessons we teach and learn are to be practiced within the lodge, so that each and every brother can see that universal societies can exist – where peace and harmony are a means and not just an end, and where everyone is accepted no matter what:
The “camaraderie” of the social hour of the Lodge cannot be equaled elsewhere. Within these portals where men upon the level and part upon the square, the “good time” is not confused by questions of “who is he?” or “what does he do?” Men enjoy Lodge functions not only because of the “innocent mirth” which the Old Charges enjoin, but because of the freedom and happiness; one must accept all others in the Lodge at face value. (Unknown, 1934)
The old prayer that often accompanies the closing of a lodge is there for a reason. We are to remain harmonious with our brethren not only within the lodge but outwith as well – “May the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us” – cement meaning that we should carry that spirit of Freemasonry with us until it’s time for the Master to rap his gavel once more.
As Freemasons, we should remember that without discord, there cannot be harmony. A lodge needs to be balanced, and peace cannot be forced. Sometimes things may present themselves in a way that is unknown to us. If we remember the dictates of the craft, we can get through any storm that may surprise us – so let’s not turn away from problems, but rather embrace them and see them as opportunities to grow:
All nature is but art unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.
— Alexander Pope
So Mote It Prevail
So there you have it, the things we must do as Freemasons in order to make men better. I know it’s a lot to take in, but that’s okay – it can take a lifetime to be able to practice all the virtues of the craft with poise and balance. And some of them aren’t easy for a lot of people, which is why the true Freemason will remain diligent in his labors:
These are the standards of Masonry. It is not easy to apply them to ourselves. But then, being a master of any craft is never easy, and being the Master of oneself is perhaps the most difficult of all.
– Committee on Masonic Research and Education of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota, 1986.
Is it possible to be able to practice every virtue at every moment? After all, we are not supermen. Maybe it’s not about the times that we falter, but rather about the times we remain steadfast and upright in our actions, so that others can see how a Freemason is:
If “every” Freemason lived up to “all” these teachings, what an Utopia the world would be!
But what is remarkable is not how many Masons fail, but how many succeed! That they do succeed is evidenced by the reputation of the Fraternity in Non-Masonic circles. Were Masons as a class false to their teachings, lax in their conduct, forsworn as to their obligations; Freemasonry would not posses the fair reputation she has. (Unknown, 1930)
Indeed, Freemasonry has maintained that reputation of being an ancient and honorable society among men under the fatherhood of God. It’s true, there have been many a Freemason who has failed to live up to the teachings of the craft – but that is only because we are human, and it is only natural for us to do so. If everyone was always upright in their actions, there would be no need for Freemasonry:
It is expected of men that they will fail, otherwise they are not men, but Gods! If no man ever failed, Freemasonry would be unnecessary. When a building is completed, the workmen depart. When the House Not Made With Hands is perfectly erected, the Craft is no more use. (Unknown, 1930)
That being said, it’s even more important that we strive to live up to those standards, and be perfect ashlars. We are building that temple not made with hands right up until the day we die, therefore these lessons must be etched into our minds and the minds of our brethren through education and example. Probably the most difficult part of all is to be able to act as a Freemason should in the world of the profane. It’s easy to remain moral and upright in the lodge room, where peace and harmony prevail and we are surrounded by like-minded men. It’s a completely different story when we go out into the world on our own. It’s at that point that Freemasonry becomes not just a science, but a way of life for us, as we work in improving ourselves, our brethren, and the world:
Freemasonry is one of the great moral forces remaining in the world today. But if Freemasonry is to achieve its honorable purpose—that of building a better world—it must first build better men to work at the task.
No man has any right to claim to be a Freemason unless he has endeavored to put into practice the lessons received when he was Entered, Crafted and Raised. A Mason should never entertain the thought that he must go to a Lodge Room to practice his Masonry. Masonry must be practiced in daily life where human kindness and helpfulness and honesty are so much needed. The surest way to make Freemasonry useful, is to make use of Freemasonry. Every Mason is charged with the responsibility of keeping the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied. (Carpenter, 1984)
If we are to go out into the world and wear a square and compass on our finger, it is our duty to represent Freemasonry in a manner that is exemplary and true. It’s a cardinal rule that we cannot solicit membership into our order. How then, can we attract men to our fraternity? Simply put, it’s our conduct in our dealings with business, professional relationships and non-masonic friends, and how we raise our families in the public’s eye. What’s the point in talking about morals and ethics within a lodge if that’s the only place where they’re going to be used:
Until the tenets of the Craft are demonstrated in our daily life we are but Ritualists only and not Freemasons. (Wright, 1924)
I’ve been a Freemason for 8 years now, and I’m not afraid to admit that for more than half that time I was a just a ritualist and Freemason in name only. It’s only within the past few years that I’ve begun to grasp the true importance and value of the craft’s teachings. And I can safely say that yes, in applying these precepts in everyday life I have had an effect on those around me. Some brethren are a little embarrassed to identify themselves as Freemasons, and that’s okay. It’s not exactly the easiest thing to explain to someone who has little or no knowledge about it. But personally, I’m proud to be a Freemason, and I’m not afraid to represent the craft in my everyday life:
We must constantly remember that in every moment of our life – in public – at work – at pleasure – with our families – even when you are alone – You are a Mason!
The non-Masons who know us will judge each of US, and Masonry itself, by the way in which we conduct ourselves. We have in trust the reputation of Masonry. Let us not betray that trust! Masonry will flourish if we follow these precepts.
– Grand Master Donald J. Flood at the annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, 1985.
In some constitutions a newly installed Master is usually charged to teach and encourage the brethren of the lodge to “practice out of the Lodge those duties [they] have been taught in it”, so that they can prove to the world the “happy and beneficial effects” of Freemasonry. Also, as Freemasons we should show others that we are men who have big hearts, “to whom the Burdened Heart may pour forth its sorrow”. Benevolence and charity may start with a brother, but it shouldn’t end there. How else are we to grow and expand our hearts:
We should always remember that the good name of Masonry is not the result of what we do not do, but instead is the result of the good things that have been done in practicing outside of the Lodge those great moral duties which are inculcated in it, and with reverence studying and obeying the laws which the Supreme Grand Master has given us in His Holy Word. (Hemphill, 1999)
In closing, I’d like to remind that the Freemason may have rank in life, but in the lodge, whether it be Masonic, symbolic or celestial, we are all on the level and how we truly see each other is by the way that we act – right here, right now. To be able to take someone at face value, to know that they too, share the same morals and values that we do – is what true beauty is, and enables us to labor away together, and build something greater than anything we could possibly dream of:
For these things endure. Material things pass away. The Temple of Solomon is but a memory. Scattered are the stones, stolen is the gold and silver, destroyed are the lovely vessels cast by Hiram Abif. But the memory, like the history of the beauty and the glory which was Solomon, abide into this day. So shall it be with our “house not built with hands,” so be it if we build with the Beauty which Masons teach. (Unknown, 1930)
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