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What is the Matter With Blue Lodges?
by Bro. Burr H. Mallory
This article appeared in The Master Mason - March and April 1926
This thoughtful and thought-provoking article should arouse a storm of discussion among those who will take the opposite side of the question from Bro. Mallory. Yet it is only by discussion and argument that the truth may be found. The Editor of THE MASTER MASON is glad to give space to this, even though he may not agree with all that Bro. Mallory says. He hopes it will result in some well-informed brother painting the other side of the shield, for presentation in these columns.
The great enemy of knowledge is not error, but inertness. All that we want is discussion, and then we are sure to do well, no matter what our blunders may be. One error conflicts with another; each destroys its opponent, and truth is evolved. That is the course of the human mind, and it is from this point of view that the authors of new ideas, the proposers of new contrivances and the originators of new heresies are benefactors of their species. Whether they are right or wrong is the least part of the question. They tend to excite the mind; they open up the faculties; they stimulate us to fresh inquiry; they place old subjects under new subjects; they disturb the public sloth; and they interrupt rudely, but with more salutary effect, that of routine, which, by inducing men to go grovelling on in the ways of their ancestors, stands in the path of every improvement as a constant, an outlying, and, too often, a fatal obstacle.
Do the Blue Lodges today hold the interest of the members as they should? Many will undoubtedly answer in the affirmative, others will want to, qualify their replies and some will unhesitatingly state that they do not, only natural as the views of each are the result of temperament, experience and surrounding circumstances.
That many lodges do have a problem in this respect is the consensus of opinion bourne out by the discussions carried on between lodge officers and others, both verbally and through the medium of various publications. Such a condition is not peculiar to the present day only. From old records regarding lodges before our time we find much evidence to the same effect.
Many, however, insist that the interest in Masonry is growing. They point with pride to the increasing membership, the great number of Masonic lodges and the many prominent men who actively participate in Masonic work. But what of the vast number of Masons who do not take any active interest, who never go near a Blue Lodge and who have not the faintest idea what Freemasonry means? That number is increasing and the percentage of Masons in that class is certainly growing. The distribution of magazines and books on Masonic subjects is increasing, but not in proportion to the increase in membership. Those who read the books are those who read the magazines. Grand Lodges can present books to new members or send them Masonic periodicals but they cannot compel them to read such literature carefully or at all for that matter.
In order that there may be no misunderstanding, just what is meant by "holding the interest of members?" Without attempting to, put any literal interpretation on the phrase, for practical purposes it resolves itself into the answers to two questions. Do the members attend meetings with any degree of regularity? Do they evince a reasonable interest in the activities and welfare of the lodge? "Attending meetings with any degree of regularity" certainly means coming out in goodly numbers on other occasions than when a third is being worked or some special feature has been arranged; and a "reasonable interest" in the lodge certainly ought to mean a willingness to do some of the work both inside and outside of the lodge room, as well as attendance at the business sessions.
Local conditions have a considerable influence on such interest. As a general rule, to which there are exceptions, the larger the center of population in which the lodge is located the more difficult it is to hold the interest of the members. This is evidently due to the many more demands upon spare time. The larger the center the more Masonic activities are carried on, such as Masonic Clubs, Fellowcraft Clubs, Tall Cedars, Grotto, York and Scottish Rite Bodies and the Shrine. They all more or less bid for and compete with each other and the Blue Lodges for the spare time of the members. These organizations have many social activities and other means of entertainment. Blue Lodges are considered by many as merely a necessary means for obtaining membership in some of the other organizations. As a result many take the Blue Lodge degrees and then drift away, to be seen seldom, if ever, in the lodge. The activities and interests of the fundamental body are neglected and members who are utterly ignorant or grossly misinformed on Masonic subjects, mislead themselves and others, both within and without the Craft; especially when they have taken the so-called higher degrees and are led to believe that they are advanced in Masonry.
This is not meant to be an attack on the organizations in question but a statement of the results of their influence on many members of the Fraternity. That their purposes are sincere is unquestioned and many prominent members of the Craft, the hardest workers in the Blue Lodges, are very active in such organizations.
Why are these bodies more interesting to so many Masons that they detract from the attendance of the Blue Lodges? The York and Scottish Rite Bodies detract little from the interest in the Blue Lodges, because they are so much alike and those who will take an interest in one usually take an interest in the other for the very same reasons. But the Clubs, the Grotto or the Shrine are an entirely different story. That many take the prerequisite degree just to be eligible for them is an undebatable fact. That many are attracted to them to the exclusion of other Masonic activities is also an established fact. That the meetings and other affairs of such organizations are much better attended than those of most Blue Lodges cannot be disputed. A big percentage of such attendance is made up of Masons who attend a Blue Lodge, or even a York or Scottish Rite meeting, so seldom that when they do the surroundings are so strange they do not know how to conduct themselves and would be utterly unable to take even the most insignificant part in the ceremonies. And yet many of these parade the streets wearing big emblems that lead the uniformed to believe that they are the new plus ultra of Masonry!
One reason seems to be that the sincere seeker after Masonic light can never be entirely satisfied with what he receives. After taking the Blue Lodge degrees he is led to believe that there is more to be learned. He wants to know more, and so, he takes additional degrees. But there seems to be something lacking, something that he hasn't attained and after going as far as possible and still not reaching his goal, he loses interest. Then he is attracted by the good-fellowship and informality of the play grounds not realizing that hidden under the redundance of ritualistic jargon in the Blue Lodge is the very thing for which he was seeking.
It may be answered then that because he doesn't search diligently enough or isn't qualified to understand the real lessons of Masonry, he should be excluded from a knowledge of them. Why? Wouldn't it be better to put the lessons within reach of the earnest seeker after truth, rather than hide them from all but a few who are temperamentally suited to understand them, allowing the vast majority of the members either to remain in ignorance or else carry wrong impressions through life? In admitting members into the lodge is it the intention merely to open the door for those who can find the real secrets of the Order while the others pass on and merely become members in name only? Or is it the purpose to, help in every way possible to teach those fundamental principles upon which the institution is founded? Those who fathom the idea without help would do so anyway, even if they never stepped within a tiled door, because it is part of their temperament. Masonry can do nothing more for them than furnish a little added interest and inspiration. Men like Abraham Lincoln did not need the teachings of a Masonic lodge to help them understand their duties to their fellow men and the part each man plays in the vast scheme of creation. The others, who constitute the vast majority of us, do need and are benefitted by such help. Why not help us to find it instead of leaving things to chance?
In days gone by I wandered over many Western States where today gold and silver mines and oil wells produce wealth for the present owners of the land. I didn't know how to find those things and would not have recognized them in their natural state even if I had. Nobody told me how to look for them or pointed them out for me. And yet they were there all the time. So it is often in the Blue Lodge. The new member takes his degrees, he tramps all over the most beautiful lessons of the human race without even recognizing them or realizing that they are there. Nobody helps him to find them, principally because the others don't know they are there, either. Why? Because facts are understandable by people of average intelligence but principles are not so, obvious; to many who do not grasp them thoroughly. They have an illusionary appearance and their influence is consequently weakened. An immense majority are incapable of applying general principles to their daily affairs. The average man possessed of reasonably good sense relies on experience far more than principles, however accurate and scientific the latter may be.
For every person who, can think there are a hundred who can observe. While accurate observers are rare, accurate thinkers are far rarer. Most men are influenced far more by their experience in observing facts than by all the beautiful principles enunciated. Men are honest, because from observation they have learned that it is to their advantage, not because it is immoral to be otherwise. When real temptation offers they often lean as far away from moral honesty as their judgment, based on experience and observation, considers safe. In only a small percentage of cases is such judgment based on moral principles.
It is tiresome to, listen to a repetition of the same old words and phrases, repeated in the same old way; many of them meaning little if anything today and some being absolutely misleading. Does anybody believe that surmounting the two pillars at the entrance of King Solomon's temple were two globes with maps of the earth and heavens delineated thereon, at a time when, according to popular belief, the earth was supposed to be flat and the sky covered it? Does any member who knows anything at all about Masonic traditions and history believe that eighty thousand Fellowcrafts went up into the Middle Chamber of the temple every Saturday afternoon to receive their wages of corn, wine and oil? An attempt to visualize such a scene by anybody with even a hazy idea as to the size of the temple cannot but impress them with the absurdity of such statements. There are beautiful lessons conveyed in these legends and at the time they were introduced into the ritual they were probably well suited for the purpose for which they were intended, but conditions have changed.
Consider some of the time wasted by superfluous ritualism outside of the actual degree work. Take one illustration only; ceasing labor in one degree to commence in another. The W.M. tells the J.D. and he informs the Tiler. The W.M. then causes everybody to rise and he then tells the S.W. who in turn tells the J.W. who then informs the brethren. And after the S.D. has performed his duties the W.M. again instructs the J.D. to inform the Tiler, after which the lodge is seated. All done for the purpose of making the meeting solemn and impressive, and maybe it does, but it also makes the ordinary member who is attending rather weary. It is all very nice to have the orders of the W.M. conveyed to the brethren by the J.W. in order to carry out a certain traditional idea but the effect is almost immediately lost when the W.M. very soon shows that there is nothing to prevent him from addressing individual members directly from the East.
Why is it so necessary to conform to established customs and usages? New members are admonished and Masters sworn not to deviate there from. Why? Are they so ancient and sacred that they must remain immutable? Then why are there so many differences in the ritualistic work in the various jurisdictions that a member from one can frequently recognize very little in some of the others he may visit?
The causes are not hard to find, but the point is that the ritualistic work cannot be above criticism and alteration as circumstances require. If the fundamental principles permeate all systems in all Jurisdictions what is the objection to making alterations in the details? Some slight changes are, made from time to time but they are seldom of any consequence and the manner in which they are announced is usually ludicrous. As a rule the brethren are advised at some lodge of instruction. From the manner in which such changes are promulgated one would be led to believe that they are the result of the most profound study of Ancient Craft work on the part of some learned brother or else are the result of direct advice from the spirit of King Solomon himself communicated to the M.W.G.M. at some special seance. To boast, as many Grand Lodge officers do, of strict and careful adherence to the ritualism of Preston, Webb and others, is to admit of a narrow conception of the institution in which they claim to be so vitally interested or else impute an omnipotent wisdom to the learned founders of the work which, despite their great merit, is unwarranted. Masonic ritualism must have something more than its antiquity to recommend it, especially when that antiquity is largely a. matter of viewpoint. Churches today are learning the same lesson to their sorrow.
Every Mason with even a most superficial knowledge of Masonic history knows that our present ritualistic work is not over two hundred years old, and much of it less than that, but we are led to believe that the fundamental, underlying principles are many centuries older. If we take a really literal view we can consistently believe that those principles have co-existed with civilization. Nobody who gives the subject a second thought believes that Masonic lodges have been conducting their work in the same manner for even two hundred years; if he has the opportunity to visit a little he will find that frequently they do not follow the same procedure for a radius of two hundred miles.
Ritualistic work as conducted today is merely a reflection of the conditions that existed in England in the middle of the 18th century. There was a craving after knowledge by those classes from whom knowledge had hitherto been excluded. Before the close of the century schools had been established, newspapers and literary reviews published, societies formed among tradesmen for t he purposes of purchasing books and holding debates, and the proceedings of Parliament appeared in print for public information. Clubs were formed and the idea of class distinction was gradually broken down, as men came more and more to realize that ability and knowledge were superior to ancestry and social position. Lectures on scientific and other subjects attracted interest. It was natural that Masonry followed the trend of the times in the formulation of the ritualistic work and incorporated to a large extent the didactic ideas which at that time were so popular. As a result Preston and others responsible for much of the work endeavored to incorporate instructive and useful information. This is particularly noticeable in the Middle Chamber lecture.
At the same time the custom of wearing the insignia or decorations of various orders conferred by the monarchs, was also changing. Instead of wearing such decorations prominently displayed, men found it more in accordance with the spirit of the times to wear such ornaments more or less concealed or else to leave them off entirely, except on state occasions. The innate human desire to be distinguished above our fellows was not lessened however. In European countries ornaments are usually conferred by government authority; in this country, where such things are unknown, our desire for distinction finds expression in fraternal and commercial organization emblems the right to wear which can usually be acquired by the expenditure of a larger or smaller amount of money. The more prominent and exclusive the organization the prouder the wearer. And we wear them; all the way from the pin given by the insurance company to its policy-holders and the button of the Benefit Society on up to the Indian heads, helmets, sword and similar and many animal heads or teeth or claws, and others whose design and appearance defy all description. We wear them on our coat lapels, our watch charms and our fingers. We decorate our autos and our women with them and display them promiscuously around our homes and offices, all to awe the natives into silent adoration. And the pity of it is that of all the vast army of the decorated, probably less than one in a thousand has even a faint conception of what the emblem means or what his organization really stands for.
To none does this apply more fully than to those who are considered Masons. But how nice it is to have people say "Jones is a big Mason you know." "Yes he's taken a lot of degrees and things, he's way up to the top." "Big man in Masonry." "Must be much smarter than he looks." And the chances are that Jones can't get into any Blue Lodge but his own unless somebody vouches for him and his knowledge of Masonry is confined to a lively recollection of the menus and other enjoyable features of the various social affairs he dutifully attends.
The English have always been much more given to ceremony that we are in this country. They were and still are more inclined to respect precedent and ancient custom. Courtesies and formalities are more important to them. They hold in much veneration and regard the so-called nobility. Every effort was made to interest some of this class in Masonry during the 18th century with the result that it was not long before a titled member of the Craft became G.M. and the custom has been continued, with few interruptions, to the present. It is doubtful if Masonry would have survived, or at least become popular, if this had not been done. It is natural that regardless of the Masonic doctrine of the equality of the members, they should be influenced to a large extent by the ideas of class distinction which were only just beginning to lose some of their force.
Class distinction, the ideas of autocratic authority and the popularity of didactic discourses can be easily discerned in the organization and ritualism as it has come down to us from the 18th century. The English will undoubtedly deny that the first plays any part in their Masonry today, but a moment's reflection will refute such denial. Regardless of the "Meeting on the level and parting on the square" the deference shown to Grand Lodge Officers, Masters of Lodges and other dignitaries certainly denotes class distinction which is in no wise consistent with the democratic principles of the fraternity. Our cousins see to it that the members of the tipper class or nobility are enabled to obtain the offices necessary in order that they may receive such homage. Undoubtedly, as our illustrious visitor from the other side, Brother Robbins, assures us, such members have to follow Masonic procedure in their advancement, but that is not hard to accomplish. The point is that they get there and it is seen to that they do.
That there is a certain element in this country with similar proclivities is evidenced in one instance at least. Our late Brother Harding was induced to take or accept all the Masonry we could consistently confer upon him . He happened to be the first President of modern times who was temperamentally and favorably inclined that way, but not our first public man by any means. We don't make Grand Lodge Officers of them here because that takes too much time and trouble and we have what we consider equally satisfactory short cuts to glory in the Fraternity.
The idea of autocratic power is carried out in the authority vested in Grand Masters and Masters of Blue Lodges. It is the result of the monarchial habits of thinking inherent in Englishmen two centuries ago, and which only gradually gave way to the more democratic ideas which characterize them now.
The instructive idea is also plainly discernible but today the conditions which made it advantageous to incorporate this idea in the ritualistic work do not prevail. Public and private institutions for the dissemination of knowledge are amply adequate to meet the demands placed upon them; at least they do not need to be supplemented by the very elementary information contained in the Masonic lectures.
Except for a small minority, we have very little respect today for ceremony per se and not much more for ancient customs and usages. We have no nobility on this side of the pond and even our men prominent in commercial or political life are respected more for their money and influence than because of any inherent feeling of regard for their lineal descent. The idea of imperialistic power is absolutely repugnant to us.
Every institution, political, social, commercial or religious represents, in its actual working, the form and pressure of the age in which it exists. It may be very ancient, it may bear a venerated title; its aims and objects may be of the highest but to continue its existence its practice and procedure must be successively modified by successive generations. This has been the history of all such institutions because there is an order of natural sequence which can never be reversed. All such institutions no matter what their names and pretenses may be, are the effect of public opinion far more than the cause and are controlled by contemporaneous society. While a limited few receive a certain amount of culture and are influenced by the literature of antiquity the vast majority of people are controlled by the ideas of the generation immediately preceding. Usually unconscious of the fact we nevertheless build nearly all our conceptions on the basis used by our immediate predecessors: our fathers, not our forefathers. We are influenced by their ideas which we modify, just as they modified the ideas of those before. This gradually results in an almost complete change in the views held on any subject. It is for this reason that the ideas entertained several generations ago see in almost foreign to us today. Those older ideas may be interesting and instructive but they are never properly assimilated because our understanding of and our sympathy with them is incomplete. Only the fundamental truths, truths based on the most incontestable facts, can withstand this gradual mutation of time.
Masonry is no exception. The wonderful truths which have come down to us from ancient times have invariably been communicated in a manner consistent with the times. Each precursory institution has in turn given way to its successor but the truths have remained unchanged. So today, unless modern Masonry adapts itself more closely to the spirit of the times its force will be gradually weakened and those sublime doctrines upon which it is founded will find expression through some other medium, better adapted to enable them to reach mankind. The spirit of Masonry has existed for ages and will live as long as the human race inhabits this little grain of dust in God's great universe, but Masonic lodges as now conducted must mend their ways to keep pace with the changing conditions or else eventually give way o something else that will.
Why cannot our present ritualistic work be amended to conform to present-day conditions? Other institutions keep pace with the times or fall by the wayside. Churches are coming to a realization of that fact. Theological ideas and ceremonies are gradually changing, although if they do not do so faster, the ever increasing complaint regarding the lack of interest in their activities will increase. Forms of government change. One of the first things we did in this country was to change the method of electing our presidents when it was realized that the original procedure was unsatisfactory. Then we changed the manner of electing senators and gave women equal suffrage. (Whenever a change in our constitution is mentioned most people think only of the 18th amendment but many useful and necessary changes have been, incorporated in it since the original document was adopted.) Business methods certainly change. No need to even mention the multitude of ways in which this is done' but certainly we do not use the practice of two hundred years ago. The same is true of our laws and legal procedure. In all these the underlying principles remain the same but the modus operandi gradually adjusts itself to conform to the changed ideas of society.
To make material changes in the Blue Lodge rituals will instantly be denounced by many as unthinkable and destructive. Many will contend that it is against Masonic law and authority. Well, law and authority never made anything right or wrong. Neither can they compel people to change their opinions. They may strengthen right opinions and enforce apparent compliance with wrong opinions but as sure as they run counter to accepted beliefs are they certain to ultimate failure. The history of mankind is strewn with the wrecks of institutions which have not recognized this fact.
The ritualistic changes made in the 18th century included the introduction of an entirely new degree and much else that by the wildest stretch of imagination could not be considered as emanating from Ancient Craft Masonry. They were not destructive! Unless such changes had been made it is doubtful if we would have a Masonic fraternity today. In reality what the brethren did in the 18th century was to amalgamate ancient ideas, found in and out of the Craft, into one system and bring it up to date.
As practically no changes have been made since then it is evident that the system is getting antiquated and needs revision. If this is not done the lack of interest in the Blue Lodges will continue to grow. Ultimately men of like opinions will get together in other ways without taking the trouble to go through the Masonic degrees. The present red tape makes the Blue Lodges impotent to a great extent in all public affairs. The discussion of religious and political affairs, on which good men always have and always will differ, are rightly excluded from all consideration but the Masonic lodges could and ought to wield a powerful influence in the life of the community and if they do not do so their principal object is perverted. Do they today? Possibly in some communities, but in most, no.
The Ku Klux Klan had an almost spontaneous growth and despite various interdictions by many Grand Lodge Officers, interested a large number of the Craft. If Masonry was exerting the beneficent influence which it could and should, on broad basic principles, in conformity with its accepted doctrines, such a result would be impossible. Masonry professes to be an institution for the uplifting of mankind, is supposed to be striving for cleaner and better political, commercial and individual lives. Yet when any of its members feel that something must be done along those lines they immediately look outside the organization for the means to carry out their ideas, without recognizing the fact that they are already members of an Order which could be made far more powerful for good and tend to promote real justice and harmony than any yet devised by human wisdom, because it is founded upon those immutable principles without which there can be no love, no justice, no true manhood. Grand Masters who pronounce anathemas against the Klan and make disparaging remarks about Masonic Clubs, the Grotto or the Shrine might better ask themselves the question, "What is the matter with the way Masonic doctrines are promulgated in my jurisdiction when so many members fail to understand them?"
I heard a very able speaker deliver a Masonic lecture, after a degree, and in place of the ritualistic lecture. He left no doubt in the minds of the candidates regarding the origin and principles of the Fraternity. He traced briefly the connection of the present institution with the Operative Craft, the Ancient Mysteries and early civilization. He explained the connection with King Solomon's Temple and briefly gave such esoteric work as was necessary. He told of the spread of Masonry throughout the world and the part it played in our struggle for independence. In conclusion he pointed out the objects of the institution and its practical application to everyday life. When he had finished I am certain that his hearers had a better idea of what Masonry really is and were imbued with a desire to know more about it. The Big Chief (or should I say Cheese) was present on the occasion and after the meeting was over the G. M. congratulated the speaker and said that he had given a very fine talk "but it wasn't Masonry."
At a later date I had an opportunity to hear this same G. M. deliver a lecture, which he did in truly approved ritualistic form, without deviating one iota from the phraseology. Without intimating that he was merely reciting Masonic tradition and allegory, blandly, with solemn dignified mien and sincerity of manner, told a candidate a pack of outrageous lies. Those who placed any confidence in what he said could not help but believe that they had heard a historical reminiscence which apparently was only known to the members of the Craft and which they had paid an initiation fee to learn. If the new members were at all inspired by the lecture it could only have been with the determination that they would suffer death by torture rather than tell the secrets of Freemasonry should they ever be so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of a band of bloodthirsty K. of C.'s. Any idea of Masonic principles or their practical application was certainly left for them to learn from other sources.
IF the first lecture was not Masonry and the second was, then Masonry is nothing more than a system of memory training and elocution, and instead of being based on truth is based on falsehood. Is this because it is desired that only those with especial acumen will penetrate beneath the veil of allegory and learn the truths hidden therein? Isn't it the intention to teach such truths and impress them upon the minds of the neophytes, leaving it to the individual capacity to determine the extent to which they are understood, but trying to make their assimilation easy and create a desire for more light on such subjects? Then why bury them in so much rubbish that they are not understood by many of those whose duty it is to teach them and which certainly tends to discourage further investigation? It takes a pretty keen perception on the part of a candidate to get even a glimpse of the truths hidden under our present ritualism and when in later days he visits the lodge as a full-fledged Master Mason he soon becomes discouraged and weary of the parrot-like repetition of stereotyped phrases that are practically meaningless or at least far-fetched.
The average man finds it difficult if not impossible to get rid of first impressions and opinions originally formed on any subject. Theories and ideas which they sincerely accept and believe frequently become to them truths the validity of which they resent being impeached. This fact is recognized by the solemnity and impressiveness with which the admission and advancement of candidates is clothed. But the meaningless phrases and useless repetition are also impressive of certain ideas, to the minds of new members especially. So true is this that many soon give up any ideas of Blue Lodge work in disgust and continue through life carrying erroneous ideas of the institution conceived from the ritualism. When practical results are sought, theoretical and metaphysical ideas are dangerous tools to use, they have to be handled with consummate skill to prevent doing more harm than good.
Some will answer that the method of teaching by allegory and parable was employed by all the great teachers of antiquity and that only a comparatively few of their followers really understood them and grasped the underlying ideas. Very true, but those teachers used subjects that were understandable and interesting to their auditors. Christ talked to His listeners in the language of the day about everyday subjects; things that they knew about and could understand. Most of them didn't get the deep significance of His meaning but He tried hard to make them understand. He didn't repeat a lot of tommyrot that neither He nor His audience understood, like a priest saying a mass or the officers of a Masonic lodge conferring a degree.
Their individuality and ability made all great teachers interesting. We cannot all be great teachers or talk interestingly on Masonic subjects, but we have contemporaries who are able to do so. Such brothers as Haywood, Newton and many others who have probably done more to spread the gospel of Freemasonry than all the ritualistic lecturers in existence today. Why not let them modernize our present procedure? Not all at once, but gradually as we can adjust ourselves to the changes. Listen to so me dyed-in-the-wool ritualist deliver a Middle Chamber lecture. Pay particular attention to what he says about Architecture. Then read what Brother Newton says on the same subject in the opening chapter of his book "The Builders." One is almost meaningless and certainly very uninteresting, the other is living, throbbing thought, instructive and impressive. The one only puzzles and confuses the hearer if it arouses any interest at all and is soon forgotten. The other is clear and understandable.
The Masonic teachings which have come down to us out of the mists of antiquity, while carefully hedged about by secrecy and esotericism, were nevertheless taught in the language of their day and kept pace with the times. Masonry did the same until the early part of the 18th century, when drastic changes which almost disrupted the organization, took place. The fundamental ideas prevailed however and the ideas ingrafted into the system by the "Modernists" finally became a part of the accepted work. Since that time practically no changes have been made with the result that the present ritualistic work is an anachronism, about two hundred years behind the times.
Some will think that because our present system has existed so long it can be considered as immutable. Two hundred years compared to the life of a man or a family is a long time, but compared to the life of a nation, a civilization or an institution, it is of little consequence. The pages of history give the impression that events succeeded each other in fairly rapid succession but if we compare dates, think of the ages people lived under the dominance of eastern potentates, of the centuries of Greek civilization, the vast number of generations that lived and died under the rule of the Roman empire and the many long, weary years that elapsed between the submersion of that empire and the awakening of the human intellect in the Middle Ages, we realize that a couple of centuries amount to about as much as an equal number of snowflakes in a blizzard. See how much space two hundred years takes up on a chronological map drawn to scale!
It may be argued that ritualism is not the cause of the trouble. Masonic lodges are certainly very much alike differing in the popularity of their officers, their personnel and environments. Comparing lodges which practically agree in such respects we find those that deviate the farthest from set ritualistic work create the most interest. Lodges that attempt to portray as well as do the work or those which have beautiful music (not provided for in the ritual!) add greatly to the impressiveness of their work and are certainly better attended and accomplish more good than sister lodges in the same city which do not use such methods. A good speaker who departs radically from the ritualistic lectures brings out a larger crowd and holds the attention of his audience better than the most eloquent elocutionist who simply repeats the stereotyped lecture. So when personnel, environments and other things which affect lodges have been taken into consideration, we still find a difference, invariably caused by ritualism. Brothers who will not come out to hear the same old song and dance will make an effort if something out of the usual routine is scheduled. Blue Lodge meetings are quite different from Shrine, Grotto and other meetings of a similar character but they all produce the same result; the bringing together of men interested in Masonry. Masonry is the nexus. So it is not lack of interest in Masonry that causes the lack of interest in the Blue Lodges but lack of interest in the manner in which it is usually presented there.
We have two distinct natures, physical and mental. It will be readily admitted that while mental and intellectual are in many respects superior to physical pleasures, yet for one person who is interested in intellectual pleasures a hundred are interested in gratifying the physical senses. Theatres, picture shows, dance halls are more popular and better attended than scientific lectures and technical divisions of the public library. Most people are disinclined to devote spare time to the assimilation of additional knowledge unless they have some reason for being interested in a particular subject. A young man will take certain studies at night school because he is interested, not in the studies themselves, but in the benefits a knowledge of them is expected to bring him.
So with Masonry. It has many most beautiful ideals and is a subject that will repay bountifully those who seek to know more about it. But unless we recognize the human proclivity to prefer sensual pleasures and overcome this by arousing the interest of new members so that they desire to pursue the subject further, and make it possible for them to get some results when they do, we cannot blame them for following their natural inclinations; which means that the majority of them will never advance in any real knowledge of Masonry.
To hear the addresses of some prominent members of the Craft, or read their articles in the various publications, one is led to believe that the entire membership of the vast brotherhood is imbued with the wonderful spirit of Masonry which makes it think and act in unison. As a matter of fact it is only a pitifully small handful of the membership who have anything like Masonry in their hearts. Have those prominent members never had any part in, or sensed, the petty, political, un-Masonic things that so frequently go on within the organization itself, underneath the thinly veneered surface of brotherly love? Have they never seen a brother receive "the most unkindest cut of all" at an annual election, even though "Brutus is an honorable man"? Don't they know that a multitude of Banquo's ghosts stalk brazenly into Subordinate and Grand Lodge communications, beholden to many a brother who has violated his Masonic obligations and prostituted his honor to gratify the cravings of an overweening ambition? The Morgan episode in the early part of the last century was rather convincing proof of the percentage of real Masons in the ranks of the Fraternity, and we have no good reason to believe that the conditions have improved since then.
Talk with many of the officers and members of the Order and see how many have any real knowledge of its science, philosophy or history. Don't blame them if they haven't and say that there is much excellent literature which they ought to read! They were started off wrong in the Blue Lodge and never received any enlightment from the one place where they should be put right, the place that should be the most sacred, the most inspiring and the most instructive. What a mother is to her boy the Blue Lodge should be to the man accepted into Masonry. It may be necessary to tell him fairy tales when he is little but as his mental faculties develop, his instruction should keep pace. He may attend schools and universities in order to obtain a so-called education, but his real education, the laying of the foundation upon which to build his character and the assimilation of those principles which ought to guide him in that building, is the sacred duty and privilege of his mother. He ought to feel that at all times he can turn to her for unselfish help, knowing she will advise him truthfully and faithfully in so far as she can. And when she has been called to go on before him her memory should serve to guide and teach him in his journey through life.
But how can a mother expect a son to rely on her if she is not truthful and honest with him? No matter how well meaning her subterfuges, when he is old enough to know better, he will resent them and lose confidence in her unless he understands that she is not intentionally trying to deceive him. If mother continually repeats a lot of yarns that she doesn't even understand herself, sonny will soon grow rather skeptical. Instead of believing implicitly he will begin to wonder if it isn't unfortunately a fact that the dear old lady is getting a little "cracked."
And so with the mother lodge which should represent everything that is good and true in Masonry. From her a Mason should get his inspiration to lead a noble Masonic life; to her he should turn for Masonic knowledge and advice. Does the average Mason do that today? Other Masonic or organizations successfully compete with the Blue Lodges as sources of Masonic inspiration and guidance. And certainly a man must go outside the Blue Lodge ritual to get any real Masonic knowledge and instruction. As a Masonic mother the Blue Lodge is something of a failure and the vast majority of her children are only casually acquainted with her. Maybe that's because they are rather unaffectionate children. I wonder. What would be the effect of making reforms in the Blue Lodge ritualistic work? It would certainly make the proceedings more understandable and interesting to the average member. And in doing that it would help to retain the interest of many members who now drift away, with the result that the chances for the Blue Lodge to do good would be greatly augmented, not only because of the additional number of members taking an interest in its activities but because of the ideas and abilities such additional members would contribute. That keeping up the interest of the members and disseminating Masonic knowledge would tend to perpetuate the Fraternity can hardly be denied, and it would also help greatly in enabling the Masonic lodge to work out the principles on which it is founded.
Failure to do so can only result in dry-rot as time goes on. Many will say that there never was so much interest displayed in Masonry as at present and that membership is growing by leaps and bounds. just what is Masonry really doing besides increasing its membership? Is it exerting a salutary influence on society today? How? It would be pretty difficult to make out a case to prove that its influence is growing. That the membership has grown tremendously is a matter of record, but because of the influx and the manner in which it has been handled, the institution is in reality weaker instead of stronger, because real Masons cannot be made by merely conferring degrees!
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Last modified: March 22, 2014