There are three types of Freemasons I’ve found in my travels. Those who are new to Freemasonry and are confused by what all of this is supposed to mean to them; those who have been Freemasons for ages and are confused as to what all of this is supposed to mean to them; and those who are so egotistical as to think they know what Freemasonry means, and get visibly upset when you don’t understand what they’re talking about.
I’m the third kind. But if you’re one of the first two, or if you want to be a Freemason, let’s have a long conversation about Freemasonry.
First: Spoiler Alert. I’m going to talk about Freemasonry.
While every jurisdiction is different, I am really only charged to cheerfully conform to the rules of my own, which means that while I can’t talk about the words, signs, and other modes of recognition, etc, the philosophy of Freemasonry is an open book. In fact, it’s several open books, all of which you can get for free in the Kindle store. But while I’m not breaking any rules, I won’t lie to you. I’m going to let a few symbolic cats out of the bag, so my advice to those of you who aren’t yet Freemasons is to learn about the Craft, read what you’d like on this site, and the moment you think “Yup, I’m in,” STOP! Join a lodge, learn some stuff, and then when you get confused, come back.
Second: No Whiners. I’m aware I’m not the smartest guy on Earth.
This is for the existing brothers out there. You’re going to read some thoughts, and you’re just going to plain disagree. That’s OK. I’m not writing the definitive treatise on the ancient symbology of the Craft. I’m writing my opinions. We will disagree, and neither of us needs to be right, because Freemasonry is, after all, a personal journey, and you’re always going to gravitate to the things that speak to your inner thoughts.
Third: I have a strong belief that even though Freemasonry might be all alchemy and cryptoquips, I think that most of us could really benefit from a little practical freemasonry.
So what is Freemasonry?
It’s a system of moral instruction. This is actually something you hear pretty early on in the process, and then is sort of glazed over for the rest of your time.
Oh yeah, well of course it’s a system. Look at all these great outfits and degrees. This is really systeming like crazy over here.
See what you did right there? You made the first mistake that most Freemasons make. You looked at the wrong word. Yes, Freemasonry is indeed a system. There are Blue Lodges with three degrees, rituals, elected officers, appointed officers, committees, pancake breakfasts, etc. Yup, there are the Rites and other appendant bodies that “finish the story” or give you “more light”, etc. Yup, there are governing Grand Lodges who and custodians and monitors who maintain the integrity of the work, etc. It’s a pretty big, impressive system.
But then, so’s my digestive track, and the only thing that teaches me is to stop after my second bowl of chili.
The fact is that many Masons never get past the “system” of Freemasonry. They get caught up in it. They fall in love with it. They fall in hate with it. People love (or love to rebel against) order, and Freemasonry is a giant playground of emotions for people who throw themselves into it. But everything is a system. Systems form naturally, like mold, and they may teach you a lot, but they’re certainly not special.
Freemasonry is a system of moral instruction. It’s an operators manual for not being such a terrible person all the time. Better yet, even a good, happy person that benefits society and his fellow man. Doesn’t that sound nice?
But the thing is that all this instruction is confusing. It’s intentionally confusing. It’s all wrapped up into symbolism and allegory, wordplay and double meanings. And I’m pretty sure some of it is just plain made up. It takes a lot of thinking and doing in order to make sense of this stuff. And that’s intentional to, because the point is to study and to think about this stuff.
So many Freemasons, however, just don’t have the faintest clue how this stuff applies to them, because they’re so caught up in the system that they miss the instruction completely, and then when they’re sitting in the big chairs they’ve got nothing to teach but the system.
This brings us to the First Principle of Practical Freemasonry: Everything is an instruction; find out what it teaches you.
Symbolism is everywhere in our rituals. This is partially because our rituals were written by very intelligent, philosophical men in time immemorial.
This is also because human beings grasp for meaning in anything, and can fool themselves enough to believe that a cigar isn’t a cigar, it’s totally a metaphor.
You know what? That’s perfectly fine. It really is. Because whether you’re deciphering the cryptic message of God on High, or trying to extract the esoteric meaning of the list of ingredients on a box of Grape Nuts, the fact is that it’s the process of trying to understand it, and thus better understand yourself, that is the important thing. And whatever gets you thinking about yourself and how you fit into the world is a tool for teaching. And yes, this can literally be anything, as long as you take it seriously. And then that thing, that box of Grape Nuts, will be a constant reminder to do something or to feel something. And you’ve now given that thing the power to empower you.
So, just to see if you’re paying attention, in this post I’ve hidden five of the most important words describing your journey through masonry. Can you find them?