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THE PROPER BALANCE OF MASONRY: THE GREATER AND THE LESSER MYSTERIES
The American Freemason - May 1912
"I THINK you are making a mistake," writes a kindly brother, "in unsparingly condemning that phase of Masonry that is concerned with ritualistic performance. Is it not true - an unpalatable truth, perhaps - that for most of us this ritualism must remain as chief aim and purpose of our connection with the Fraternity? We know that there is an intellectual side to the Institution, where the scholar and the student find highest satisfaction. But why should those who have not yet reached that high plane, or who may not be able to appreciate the full value of these advanced studies, be denied such pleasure and such profit as is available to them in lower paths?"
My kindly critic gives opportunity to discourse briefly upon the proper balance of Masonry, It is true that in these pages, as elsewhere, the editor has urged insistently the higher imperatives, as those which should have dominating force in the world of Masonic thought and action. He would hold out to all brothers the intellectual promise, rather than show in grosser terms the rewards and satisfactions of the Craft. He would have every Mason enter upon the quest "for that which was lost," though convinced that few there be who shall achieve to complete object of the search. As from King Arthur's table many valiant knights arose, with high resolve to seek the Holy Graal - men bold of heart and true of soul - though only to the few was granted vision of the chalice sacred, mystical. And yet, if so I read aright these meaning stories of the past, the knights that travailed long in places perilous, doing bewhiles great deeds of fealty and of faith, although denied the precious thing for which they fought and prayed, were made the better, braver, nobler, even because they were accounted to have failed.
The properly balanced Masonry is that which gives full place and scope to all the workmen. The Master who draws designs upon the trestle-board may not speak with contempt of those who labor faithfully in the mountains and the quarries. He may indeed seek for disciples and scholars among the more eager and ambitious, who are most likely to profit by his instructions. These, indeed, he will urge to higher things, knowing full well that the great cause is to be advanced most surely and speedily by men trained to highest capabilities of head and heart. But in Masonry, as in the world without, there must ever be the greater number content with tasks of lesser thought. Yet to them - to all - should be unrolled and explained the full plans and meanings of the structure to which their toil and skill are dedicated. They should gain significance of the timbers and the stones upon which their labor is expended. Such brethren are not mere wage-workers, put by task-masters to their various toil. They are free Craftsmen, and should receive instruction, increasing ever with their understanding. So for the Temple of Humanity and Brotherhood should Wisdom put forth ever nobler effort, with Strength evident in the mass and Beauty showing in every detail.
I know of no other comparison for Masonry than the great religious systems of the world, past and present. From them we may, perhaps, learn where proper balance lies, where associative effort before has failed and where and how best purpose has been served. So we find that wherever in the world's history an organized system has made successful appeal to the masses of men, there has ever been ample allowance for the varying capacities of adherents. The exoteric, outward showing is for the greater number - for that larger body of worshipers content to remain in the outer court. Where subtler wants are not felt, the higher spiritual sufferings would be unmeaning. It is enough for such exoteric religion that the norms of conduct be established, and that fear of punishment or hope of reward shall be so adjusted to unawakened intelligences as to enforce compliance therewith. I know that this will be called superstition, and in no way to justify comparison with aught in Masonry. But superstition, as I take it, has two distinct meanings. To the man who has advanced beyond the necessity for grosser compulsions, the term represents no more than do the old definitions and enforcements of the common law, altogether superseded by higher mandates. The outworn things are for him valuable as records of the spiritual evolution through which he himself, or his ancestors, have passed. But for the unlearned and unleashed radical the word "superstition" stands for such things as he will not and can not seek to understand, which he is concerned only to revile ignorantly, and to proclaim his refusal of obedience. For him the commands of ancient force no longer hold, not that they are without reach or meaning, but that his soul has gained only to a stage of irrational rebellion against authority. Like an immature boy, such a one seeks only to express a newly-sensed independence, being altogether unaware of the eternal compulsions, When I hear "superstition" cried the loudest, in matters of faith or symbolism, l am inclined to linger longest, that so I may hope to discover something more of what has been preserved from an ancient time, and is today found worthy of the adherence of men. For whatever endures has in itself the heart of truth.
And, likewise, what is true of religious symbolisms and observances, is true of Masonry in its exoteric form. There is a superstition, perhaps, of the fraternity, and it may be regarded from the same standpoints as mentioned above. The radical by condemning and rejecting indiscriminately, loses much of highest value. It is only by providing and maintaining the proper balance, by serving the needs of the greatest possible number of men, embracing the broadest range of intellectual capacities, that this or any like institution can hope, to achieve and hold real meaning in the world. The brother who can only grasp the outward phases of Masonry will certainly receive all that can have use for him. Go into your anterooms after the conferring of degrees, and answer if this is not true. Hear those who are grateful and appreciative after receiving the Master's degree, and have been impressed for good, though no hint even of the esotery has come to them. The true learner will from that point still seek and find, will ask and receive, will knock thereafter at many doors, hidden oftentimes, and these will be opened to him. But also for him who chooses to remain in the outer court, to be satisfied with sensuous observances, there is gain, nicely calculated to capacity. For those having ears to hear, there are things cryptic, mystical; well worth the hearing. For those who are content with the ringing of bells, the bells will ring, and in beautiful harmony. It might perhaps be permissible to compare Masonry of the Lodges - the Masonry of routine and of ritual - with those old chthonic religions, while the real esotery of the Craft rises to the region where subtle inspirations are received and understood by highest processes of thought.
In answer to my brother, I esteem very highly that one who finds in ritual his best enjoyment, though I will not cease to urge upon such a one that he should use this ritual as a guide to upper paths. But Masonry, even in its simplest requirements, demands more than that one should go and remain upon the tread-mill of verbiage, making no advancement upward or forward. If advancement is made, whether by means of ritual, or by study or by intuitive process, be that advancement less or more, in so much is Masonry honored and benefited, and by so much has the individual brother made his gain.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014