Egregore

maxresdefaultEgregore (also egregor) is a collection of thoughts put forth from a group mind. It’s a simplistic explanation of a complex concept – at least to me. Psychologically speaking, an Egregore is that “atmosphere” or “personality” that develops among groups independent of any of its members. It is the feeling or impression you get when walking into a restaurant, store, or neighborhood that something feels… different. It’s not wrong or odd, just… different.

“The word “Egregore” derives from the Greek word egrégoroi meaning “watchers.” The word appears in the Septuagint translation of the Book of Lamentations, as well as the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch. Gaetan Delaforge, in Gnosis Magazine in 1987, defines an Egregore as a kind of group mind which is created when people consciously come together for a common purpose.” Think of groups coming together to build something, like Habitat for Humanity, or like the feeling of a synagogue that prays together for a common cause. No, those aren’t quite right. It’s more of the feeling that comes from doing the work in a group, of like-minded people. Being in the midst of the common mind working for a specific purpose, which feels powerful. Transformative, even. Egregore implies, by its definition, spending time and energy to create…something.

This word, egregore, came up recently in a conversation with a fellow Mason, and I wondered at its true meaning. It isn’t a word in my everyday vocabulary and not one I had heard or used more than maybe once. It was time to brush up. I found an astounding number of occult meanings and, to be frank, made up ones as well. I know that the word was first used by Victor Hugo, and the root is noted above. But, the idea of egregore is, I think, difficult to put into exact words. It’s kind of like other concepts of “good” and “bad” – you may not have the adequate words but you know it when you see it. Egregore is that same way for me: I “know” what it means and I have seen it, and felt it, in action. Yet, saying it feels, frankly, a little “woo-woo.” A little fluffy, new-agey, and weird. But, I know it exists.

There are some who feel that an Egregore is an entity unto itself; the being is a collection of spiritual, emotional, and mental energies put forth by a group of people with a single purpose in mind. I don’t know that it has a consciousness of its own; rather, I think it ebbs and flows as the group “moves” through its work. I think in well-done ritual, the Egregore can be felt moving among the members of whatever group is working toward the goal. When I think of Egregore, I think of the pinnacle of a Freemasonic ritual: all members working together to achieve the goal of promoting the best welfare of humanity, combating ignorance and hate, and striving to bring beauty and wisdom into the light. Think of a Masonic ritual that felt incredible and think of what made it feel that way – THAT is egregore. I think that Leadbeater alluded to it in “The Science of the Sacraments” in his discussions about censing the Church space.

A Masonic blogger, E.C. Ballard, wrote the following, “So, what does any of this have to do beehivewith Freemasonry? The symbols, rituals and meetings of a group, when repeated over time, develop an egregore or group mind which binds the members together, harmonizes, motivates and stimulates them to realize the aims of the group, and enables the individual members to make more spiritual progress than if they worked alone.”  This is why I think symbols all have meaning – more than the one we discern from their location or use in Lodge. We smell the Lodge incense and this brings our hippocampus to a place of Order and Structure – the temple room. It’s the shivers we all get up our spines during any initiatory ceremony, when certain names or elements are invoked. The Freemason’s ritual, by its very nature, followed correctly creates this egregore.

And… this is really what I mean about being able to identify a Masonic egregore. I once wrote, in a personal essay, “I don’t know exactly how Freemasonry works, but it does work. I am a far better person today than I was before, by applying Masonic principles and being open to learning. Had those two things not come together, Freemasonry would not have worked.” So, for me, egregore is the “work” achieved by a group mind, coupled with the willingness to receive that work. Sounds remotely like discipline, doesn’t it?

Interestingly enough, both group mind and willingness are addressed by the structure of Freemasonry. The willingness to work, well, that’s a given. We come to the group of our own free will, and we can leave of our own free will. Freedom of choice is the purest example of a willingness to work. If we don’t want to do the work, learn the lessons, or put in time, why do we stay? We shouldn’t. Freemasonry doesn’t or shouldn’t bend to our will. It’s not about us. It’s about us conforming to the rules and regulations and more than that, being willing to be honest with ourselves about being there. If we’re not willing to submit to Masonic discipline, why the heck are we there? Why spend the money, time, and effort to be there? It’s far better for the individual and the group if the person chooses one way or the other and then…just does it.masonicsymbols

The second piece, creating the group mind, is far more difficult to qualify… In articles I have been reading recently, on leadership, there is a concept called emotional intelligence. “Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goal(s)” The term has been thrown around psychologists for fifty years but it has only recently (1990s) been the subject of business and leadership roles. The basic premise is this: in order to build effective teams, everyone must be working at their highest level of emotional intelligence, which develops trust, and eventually creates a team that is able to do anything towards which they put their minds and efforts.

Emotional intelligence develops “corporate culture”, which is like Masonic egregore.  The ritual brings a physical demand in our lives; study and philosophical discussions bring mental stimulation. I think we forget the emotional component to Freemasonry and that is emotional intelligence – how we dispense justice, how we reprehend, our voices when speaking with people – things the ritual instructs us in on how to live. By combining the first two, physical discipline with study and mental exertion, with the third, well-regulated emotions, we get Freemasonic egregore. At least, it appears that way. Maybe the concept of the “Lodge” or maybe even “Freemasonry” is itself an egregore.

I think we have to test it ourselves. How does Lodge make us feel? How does well-rehearsed ritual sound and express itself? Do we feel satisfied when the pieces work well together? How do we feel when they don’t? How does it feel to stand in a Lodge room alone? What about with other members? What happens when there are three people attending a meeting versus fifteen? What happens to the Lodge when one or two members are not “hooked in” and trusting the Lodge, the Master, or the Order?

earthWith Freemasonry, it feels as if one needs to be “all in” in order to even start to build a true Freemason’s Lodge: a curated collection of people coming together in a thriving and growing group that finds, eventually, its own brilliant egregore. Perhaps that is what we are searching for and why Freemasonry appeals to us as human beings. The mystical experience that some members hope to find is really this egregore that, in some ways, we are all hoping to find. We all want to make a place in the world – leave our mark or our legacy. As Freemasons, that is a better humanity. Masons seem to be searching for that community that brings us hope, trust, and peace. Finding it takes a lot of work, it seems. But having seen it, I find it pure Beauty, pure Wisdom, and perhaps a brief insight into what the Divine really is like.

Discipline

selfdiscipline2Something I’ve been thinking about for a while now is discipline. We humans are funny beings. We value discipline and yet…not really. We need the structure but we, especially North Americans, value our “freedom.” We have funny ideas about freedom, too. Freedom isn’t do everything you want, and discipline is not don’t do everything you want. True freedom and true discipline are free from excuses. Both are situational, that is, each has its own breadth of structure applied to the situation you are in. For example, school rooms have a certain discipline but the recess yard has another discipline. They may overlap, or they may be 180 degrees from each other.  To have discipline is to be a disciple of something – that is, the discipline is applicable to the governing body, group, committee, or any other social structure. It may not even be social in nature – there are many solitary pursuits that have a discipline; think religions, sports, or even academia. To be free is to be at liberty, as opposed to being restrained or constricted. To be free is to enjoy your individual rights. Perhaps, even the individual right to pursue a personal discipline.

I grew up thinking that discipline was a dirty word. My parents, products of a Depression generation, felt that you provide moral and ethical discipline, hand, belt, or wooden spoon – didn’t matter. And you know what? I turned out okay. I might not have been OK with everything they did but I could see the value of that kind of upbringing, for the most part. I know a lot of people in my generation did not value that discipline and in turn, have made discipline a dirty word for their children. Today, any kind of spanking seems to result in a huge uproar of child abuse. It’s interesting that a Google search of “physical discipline” immediately comes up with the definition “corporal punishment” and images of fists and violence. Discipline is none of those. For humanity’s sake, there has to be a balance.

Where my parents did not have discipline was in the gaining of material things. It was a product of not having much as children; to compensate, they were unrestrained in their material desires. In turn, I have a tendency to succumb to those same desires – will the next “thing” make me feel better? I’ve come to find that spot in my consciousness that seems to feel a need and when I want to go fill the need, I have to ask what it is I really am looking for. Where I have moved beyond upbringing is the understanding of myself and the need to find the world beyond that immediate desire.

discipline1To me, this is a personal discipline. I need to invoke my own method, structure of analyzing a situation and put rules and guidelines down for myself to be able become better disciplined in this world. The discipline changes as I change, and as the world changes. In another culture, in another time, my upbringing might have been okay in the world. In this, my world, my desire to be a better person is driving my need to invoke this discipline for myself.

I don’t know that I would have recognized discipline if it weren’t for Freemasonry. Perhaps it would have taken a very long time. Freemasonry allowed me windows into my own psyche and in others experiences  which I might not have been privy to without its influence. I remember a new member a very long time ago who seemed to fight the discipline of Freemasonry. She was in her late 30’s and a long time practitioner of many mystery schools and esoteric teachings. She presented herself as self-confident and perhaps a little angry at the world. In her first four or five months of Masonry, she bridled at the need to discipline her body to sit for long periods of time, to keep silent and not provide her opinion at every turn, to quiet her mind and be still. During her reading of a personal essay, before she was to go through another ceremony, she burst into tears while reading. She opened her soul to us. She felt as if all of the previous work she had done, the disciplines she had followed, were not fully there for her. Freemasonry was the first order she belonged to that had provided her the structure she needed for who she was at that time, to begin a new life. She taught me that if we the Lodge had not strove to be disciplined in Freemasonry, she would not have had that experience. How powerful a transformation for all of us because of Masonic discipline.

Every degree, every step, every office in Freemasonry we obligate our selves to follow Masonic discipline. Literally. We vow with our heart and soul to do what needs to be done to be good Masons. Discipline has two sides: the discipline that is invoked by the individual and the group, and the recipient’s acceptance of that discipline. It is a cycle, in Freemasonry, and in this cycle, we reap as we sow.

discipline-quote-and-photoI shake my head, and find it a little funny, when people tell me that I have high expectations, or that I should “cut some slack” or “have compassion.” I find it funny because I was there. I had excuses. I was that undisciplined fool. I have been the talker in the study hall during a ceremony that I could not attend. I have not learned the lines that I should have. I have shown up with sloppy clothes, dirty aprons, too much jewelry. I have talked in lodge meetings, made faces at people, told people what to do when I should not have, and not done my own job. In each case, someone corrected me. In each case, someone had to care enough to invoke the discipline necessary to correct me, to make me think about what I was doing, to help me become better at knowing myself and my own life. Without that structure, without their strength, I would not be who I am today. I accepted the discipline and they provided the discipline to me. It comes full cycle. I hope that, today, I have been of service to those who provided me with the Masonic structure, and I hope I provide that to the Masons with whom I share Lodge.

I also have the view that it is unfair to ask of my brothers less than I would ask of myself or anyone. Why would I assume that someone can’t be disciplined if they are a Freemason? Why would I assume someone couldn’t do something physical, mental, or emotional if they have taken the same path I have taken? To me, that is demeaning and rude, discriminatory, and frankly, un-Masonic. My brothers are level with me, square with me, and fully capable of following Masonic discipline. My brothers are strong, capable, and striving to be better, just as I am. I want to be the best Freemason I can be. I am sure all Freemasons want that. Don’t be easy on me. Consider me worthy of the discipline and help me be that better person.

Discipline is not punishment. Discipline does not have to be guided with a harsh voice, a sharp tongue, or violence, especially not in Freemasonry. We are human, and sometimes frustrations come through. We are all a work in progress. Invoking discipline in and of itself is not mean, harsh, or cruel – quite the opposite. It says we care enough about our fellow members and the institution of Freemasonry to speak up and not be silent. Are we not to reprehend with mercy? Judge with candor? Discipline guided with brotherly love – where else can we find that?

discipline3Discipline is no longer a dirty word in my vocabulary. To me, it means following some guiding principle, some Light to make me a better human being and a better citizen and friend. It has helped me learn the value of my words and commitments, of the virtues of fairness and integrity, and hopefully the knowledge that I have far, far more to learn. I can only hope that my fellow members continue to share discipline with me, in a sort of joyous sacrament that brings us all to better community and Masonic fellowship. Discipline is safety. Discipline is Love. Discipline is success.

 

Change

1-changeintroThe definition of change is to “make or become different.” I like that – simple, clear, clean. We know what change is when we see it – it’s different than it was. Change is inevitable, constant, and unrelenting. We think we are static, that the world, processes, and life is static day to day. A building there today will be there tomorrow. We barely notice the change that goes on around us. This is why when big change comes, we balk. We fail to recognise that we are changing all the time. Our world round us is changing all the time; plants are growing and dying, people are growing and dying. Human-made artifacts change when we will them to change – streets, buildings, water ways, processes, web sites, banking practices, laws, consumer products. Change occurs because of need. There is the creative need of humans and the biological needs of living beings.  The universe itself is in a constant state of change – building up, decay, breaking down. Time moves because we perceive change; change occurs in response to time. Time, space, and change. It’s all connected in our minds.

This begs the question, why are we humans so resistant to change? We throw tantrums, ignore emails, fight for the “old way” of doing things in response to the changes that occur on or near us. I think that it’s self-change, or change that imposes itself upon our own lives/egos that is the challenge. Self-change seems to be so difficult that we have whole books, classes, and therapy sessions dedicated to it. We feel the need to change, to grow, to be better than we were – we just lack “something” to get us there.

Change is, I think, why we want to become Freemasons. I think that somewhere, deep
inside or maybe not so deep, we want to be better than we are – different in the ways that are truly, authentically “us.” Maybe we joined to “change the world.” Or, maybe we joined for camaraderie; but, that is change, toomarketing-and-climate-change-thumb. Who we place in our environment, where we place ourselves – all of that affects us and is, in and of itself, change. We cannot expect to become Freemasons and not change, nor not be able to learn how to embrace change. Indeed, even as we pass many degrees and think “I’ve been a Freemason for a long time now… there’s nothing new,” we find ourselves to be wrong. Our Orders, our Lodges, who passes to the Grand Lodge above and who remains – everything constantly changes. We have to learn to adapt and thrive else we die. Drastic? Sure. True, nonetheless.

In the past year, I’ve seen plenty of Masonic change. I’ve seen opportunities for growth presented, and I’ve seen them seized and brought to life, left to wither and atrophy, disregarded, overwhelmed, or frightened off. I take this time of year to reflect on what I’ve seen and what my own challenges have been. I think that the Temple of Apollo inscription of “Know Thyself” is the first step in overcoming the challenges of change. Interestingly enough, Apollo was god of the Sun and Light. To find the Light, and enter into its presence, metaphorically in the Temple, we need to know thyself. What I found in all the situations where change presented has been change retarded, all of the people involved may not have known themselves, including me. If we had, we might have spoke up and regulated the change, or made compromises, or adjusted our lives to fit the change. I’ve seen people who realize that change is coming, or arrived, and when they know they cannot meet it, stay silent. I, too, have stayed silent. We believe our silence will keep the rest of the world from knowing we cannot meet the change as we supposed. The real lesson is not that the individual failed to change and grow; the real lesson is that they didn’t know themselves enough to speak up, speak out, ask for help, or negotiate the change better. It seems to me, in Freemasonry, no one will judge harshly the ones who speak up and know their own limitations, who are honest with themselves and others; at least, it is so in my Order. It is far better to speak up and ask for assistance than to bury our heads in the sand and ignore what is happening. Burying our metaphorical heads not only hurts us but it hurts our fellow Freemasons, our families, our promises and obligations, and maybe even our Orders. Silence, incorrectly embraced, kills.

Freemasonry has, this past year, presented me with challenges to change and become better. I have not met those changes well and challenges still abound. I’m learning when it’s okay to become angry and vocal, and when I should just observe things unfolding and wait. I’m learning to let go of the need to be “right” and to let the mistakes and errors take place, and then see how the changes occur. If they do not, then I assist. I’m learning what is ego, and what is not, and what the truth of a situation might be – then take the next step to participate in the change. The U.S. election process this year taught me to speak out more. My Masonic participation has taught me to speak out more. eraseMy brothers and family have taught me to speak out more. I always thought that I was able to speak up; what I found is that on paper, I can. Verbally, I struggle with communicating clearly and understandably to larger groups of people. As we move into the new year, I see more challenges for this activity coming as my duties continue to change. I need to improve here, or else things will become more difficult for me and everyone else. Hopefully, knowing why I struggle and where I struggle, I will be able to set myself up for success and achieve some measure of it. It is the journey, and not the destination. That is, perhaps, what I’ve learned from the 32nd Degree most of all – it IS a lifelong journey, fraught with all kinds of challenges and change. I need to remember to dedicate myself to that fight – to have my heart set for whatever comes and to prepare my mind and body for it as well. It is the balance between spirit and matter, eternal and corporeal, and the fact that the journey is completed with the help of my fellow Freemasons.

Change is necessary. I’ve heard people say “we shouldn’t change for change’s sake.” I think random chaotic change is not helpful, true. I agree with that. Yet, if change is happening all around us, it cannot help but affect us. Those effects will be felt, whether we want to feel them or not. Change not embraced does not mean change is absent. Oh no. Change continues without you; it simply happens TO you and ON you rather than WITH you. Why would we want to give up that control, to flow with and embrace the change in our own way, rather than fight it? Or worse yet, why would we fight it only to know we will be worse off in the end? We cannot stop change…but we can affect it.

Change is coming. It’s a new year, with new Lodge formations, new officers, new challenges, new members, new ritual changes, new laws, new process, and new procedure. If we Freemasons do not learn to deal with change, we cannot be of service to ourselves nor to the world around us. Many, many things will change and we Freemasons need to be ready for the change – whether they are Masonic, political, legal, physical, or emotional. We need to continue the process of understanding and knowing ourselves. We should recognize that the most interesting of human studies is contained with us – the knowledge of ourselves. If we do not know ourselves, we know nothing at all. This is the perfect time of year for turning inward and and examining, critically but without malice, those things inside of us that should remain to die on the vine, what we want to keep to encourage for the New Year. It’s this time of year I finalize what I want to achieve in the coming year; mbfspI’ve done this for 30 years and I’ll continue to do it. I seem to change my format every year, even though I do the act every year. Change within a constant. A constant that continually changes. “We can never step into the same river twice.
That river isn’t the same, moment to moment. Water is experience and memory, the flow is time. It is filled with life of all sorts – that which goes with it and that which sits firmly in its embrace, unmoving. Grasses, fish, or rock. I think it’s good to remember that the river also changes the rock sunk into its bed. The river smooths, polishes, and yes, changes the stone. The stone wears down and adds itself to the river. Over time, change happens, whether we will it to or not. We can be the stone, or we can be the river grasses, or we can be the water. We know what fits us best. What we need to keep in mind is that we are all, cognizant or not, changing to flow with that river.

Blessed Solstice, everyone! And a very Happy New Year!

The Mind of a Mason

I remember back to my very first visit as an officer to a Grand Lodge workshop. I was a freshly minted M.M, fresh off the proverbial “training” boat. My mother Lodge was small at the time, and I learned to do more than a few officer positions at the same time – trying to fill multiple offices to the best of my ability. In a small Lodge, you have no choice. You learn quickly and you learn variety. Most of all, you learn flexibility.

Now I was finally going to the “source” of ritual learning, where the meetings were not only full but full of officers. I was so nervous. I had heard stories of the people who had gone to workshops before me – be ready, learn your lines, make sure you are used to living in dorms, etc. I worked hard to prepare and be there the entire time, ready to suck up all the learning I could. My first office was something that I thought was “easy.” I showed up at rehearsal, lines memorized, ready to go.  Continue reading

The Importance of Social Capital

empty-mindA phrase came into my head, recently, about some of the things I would like to do with my life. Let me back up a bit… about this time of year, I always sit down and write my goals for the coming year. I call them goals, but let’s call it… a theme, a direction, some things I’d like to see, do, and maybe achieve. They aren’t goals, per se – more like guidelines. This year, I am trying a different tack, one from a company called The Dragontree Apothecary. It’s a book to walk through your year, interactive – kinda of hipster, but it’s something different. I’ve been doing this exercise for thirty years; sometimes a girl has to find something new.

Continue reading

Ego and the Freemason

ego-kissI have to say, I love my Lodge’s Study Groups. They bring up all kinds of interesting subjects in relation to all aspects of life, and more particularly, life as a Freemason. We recently discussed how Ego affects our lives, and what our particular work is as Freemasons in regards to the Ego. These study sessions give me an opportunity to explore not only my own experiences with the topic but also what I think about it objectively – form an opinion, as well as be able to articulate that opinion. Since we all have an ego, it’s easy to have experiences with it. It’s harder to form objective opinions. After all, isn’t the ego involved in forming those opinions?

One of my first college classes as a fresh-faced 18 year old, was Psychology 101. This was predated by Western Philosophy, both having an extremely big pull for me. These were classes that my high school did not offer, a whole new world of living that was and still is exciting. We learned all about Freud and Jung’s theories of the Ego, amongst other things, but nothing really “stuck” with me after that class. I never really went back and explored ego until it came up so often in religious and metaphysical studies years later. I identified most closely with Jung’s writings and I often go back to read up on him when questions of psyche were, and are, involved.

In his writing about ego, “One of Jung’s central concepts is individuation, his term for a process of personal development that involves establishing a connection between the ego and the self. The ego is the center of consciousness; the self is the center of the total psyche, including both the conscious and the unconscious.” The reference goes on to say, “For Jung, there is constant interplay between the two. They are not separate but are two aspects of a single system. Individuation is the process of developing wholeness by integrating all the various parts of the psyche.”

ego-face-masksThe most interesting part of that statement is the fact that the ego and the self are different entities that must be integrated. How did they get dis-integrated in the first place? How did something that was whole become separate, linked, and our goal is to try to integrate the two? Is it birth that separated them? If so, what are we before? And is that the state we are trying to achieve? It makes my head spin to think that we might have been integrated in the womb (or before?) and dis-integrated at birth, and we spend our whole lives working toward integration. What happens, then, if you integrate earlier than dying? Is that perhaps our goal? Do we evolve as a species if that happens?

Hurts your head, right? Well, it does mine.

I imagine a binary star system, two bright points of light circling each other, embracing each other as only two fiery systems of gas and elementals can – never touching and continually burning each other. Love that consumes and renews itself. Yes, that must be the ego and the self, in Jung’s world.

If the ego and the self are inseparable, then it seems to me we have to learn to live with both, separate and equal parts, calling and screaming at one another all the time. How do we reconcile? Do we even try? Since we cannot unequivocally say where the mind resides, perhaps these two things are part of the overarching mind that controls us. And, logic gives us, that if as above, so below is representative, does that Divine mind have a self and ego, too? Does the Divine even have a mind? Maybe that’s a weird question, but maybe not.

I do know that Freemasonry simultaneously chooses to subdue our egos and find our “self.” Perhaps one of the binary stars must be dominant, and in that dominance is where we find the traits of a person – arrogance or humility, graciousness or rudeness. In the balance between the stars, we find the nature of the gasses they put off. It is difficult to be of service to your fellow Masons and at the same time be immodest and arrogant. There’s little room for others when you fill the room with your ego. Perhaps that is also why we learn to subdue passions – the passions of the ego – and develop the passions of the self – the connection to the divine. One star must dim to have the other shine. The Roche Lobe of Personality. I kinda like it.

whitedwarfIn the past, I wondered why we, as Freemasons, pin medals on our chests
and put numbers at the end of our names, or added titles when we attain certain Masonic
degrees. I think this is another of those tests – do we do it for prestige? Do we wear our outward jewels as a “brag rag,” as I heard one brother call it long ago? Or do we wear them to honor the Work we’ve completed and bring to the gathering? Do we shine our ego brightly to make our “self” fade? Intent is everything and nothing; we must be clear about what the outward trappings mean in order to not fall into the trap itself, yes?  Is one degree better than another? What have we really attained? I think about these things often. I do my best to remember the duty and cautiously regard the glitter. It seems to stick to everything.

Does Masonry feed the ego? Or help one subdue it? Maybe it’s an ongoing dialogue rather than a simple, solitary question.

Whence come you?

eleusinianI detest it when English-speakers misuse the word “whence.” In very basic terms, it means “where from” or “from where.”  Yet, English speakers and writers, even the highly educated, continually use the word “from” with “whence.” You will hear “from whence did it come?” Argh. We are being redundant. “From where from” is improper English grammar, people. Stop it.

Why the grammatical rant? Because I think that we Freemasons are faced with many archaic English words and we have no idea why they are in our rituals. How many times have we heard someone say “in-da-fa-tee-gable.” No. It is “in-de-fatiglble.” We modern Masons struggle with these words falling out of our mouth, trying to make them give the ritual heart and meaning. Why these archaic words and what purpose do they serve? Can’t we just “fix” it?

Ah, that is the Freemason’s contradiction: to follow Landmarks and never make innovations to the ritual, and yet understand that the ritual has been altered and changed dozens if not hundreds or thousands of times over the course of time. Think on it: every Grand Lodge, Supreme Council, or other Supreme Freemasonic order has their own Blue Lodge or Craft ritual. Between antients and moderns, between schisms and amalgamations, the Freemason’s ritual has changed dozens if not hundreds or thousands of times. Yes, I said it – changed. It has changed words, symbols, colors, officers, and clothing. Even Landmarks, which are those items that help us identify what Freemasonry is have changed. Here’s one set. (Side note, interestingly this one does NOT prohibit Freemasonry with women…) You should read your own, if you’re a Freemason.

Did these landmarks spring out of thin air, in 1717? Well, no, actually, they did not. After a loose confederation of Lodges got together in 1717 and called it “Speculative Freemasonry,” there was a need for codification of that which distinguishes Freemasons from other groups, and creates some sort of recognizable body and organization. Membership of Lodges within this confederation was optional but in order to be recognized as a Freemasonic Lodge and body, rules and regulations were necessary. Reverend James Anderson was one of the first, and certainly is the most recognized, person to have created a constitution applicable to Freemasonry. If you’re not familiar with it, I encourage you to read it.  I am not going to get into a long and lengthy discussion of the origins of Freemasonry. Truth is, no one really knows. We speculate. It’s what we do. However, we can trace some of these documents to our own rituals, by way of the words used, the ritual form and substance, and the legends that come out of it.

Knowing the origins of the documents that have led to a basis of modern Freemasonry, we can understand the words that pop up in our ritual, why they are archaic and odd-sounding on our modern tongue. So, why don’t we just change them? Why won’t our Freemasonic leaders just “get with the times,” and revise what needs to be revised? I think the answer lies in what ritual is, what specifically the Freemasonic ritual is trying to convey.

Ritual is important to the human being, as many scientific studies have concluded. It helps the human focus on whatever is at hand, alleviate many of the concerns that creep into everyday lift, and perhaps provide us a way to continue on a healthy journey through life. Freemasonry’s use of ritual is perhaps an embodiment of ritual for how to “be” in the world. Freemasonry, as one fellow member has often told me, doesn’t tell you how to think; it teaches you how to be. There is a richness within the ritual of Freemasonry that provides us individuals guides in our life situations. We can see or not, as we are able. An interesting essay entitled Ritual – Its Importance and Meaning by Wor. Bro. Victor Popov, says “Our Freemasonic ritual conveys important truths and is a rich and a valuable portion of every Mason’s journey toward light.” I think the words that our forefathers brought to the table is one way those truths are conveyed.

It’s interesting to note that of those organizations who have revised their ritual significantly from the earlier Masonic periods (> 200 years ago), there has been a distinct drop in membership numbers. In fact, many Lodges and Masonic orders are striving to repair their rituals to an earlier age, become more in line with what their forefathers were doing in Masonic Lodges. Some of that is embracing the “weird” words we find in Freemasonry? Why?

circeWords do have power. They have the power to make us think, to reflect, to trigger an emotion, and to dream. They spark the imagination. If nothing else, they force us to go the dictionary and learn what they means. Humans communicate on many levels: to me, the way our ancestors and teachers of the past communicate to us is via words. How can we learn their lessons without learning the words that they used to communicate? “Whence” becomes incredibly important, not because of its current meaning but because of how our Masonic ancestors used it. “Whence come you?” has a very different rhythm and flow than “Where do you come from?” – not to mention, the former is proper English. By understanding these archaic words, we learn more history, grammar, language, and symbolism, and perhaps these will guide us in our journey of self discovery. You will probably not walk up to your co-worker and say “hey, whence come you?” I think that is the point – Freemasonry lifts us out of the mundane and helps us to think differently. Do we really want to bring that mundane world into Freemasonry? If the answer is yes, I would ask towards what ends?

Brother Popov, from his essay noted above, I think brings the idea of the importance of ritual to bear in this statement: “I tend to think that when most of us enter the Craft we respectfully submit to the demands of membership and its unusual ritual without immediately reflecting upon its meaning. Few ever make the effort to realize the historical and philosophical dimensions of Masonic ritual or what it may impart to an individual. I submit that this is most dangerous, especially when desire to change ritual, caused by our fast paced culture to make it easier to memorize or deliver more ‘effectively’ may harm the essence of what the ritual is- Freemasonry’s heart, mind and spirit.”