How to apply Masonic Symbols and Ritual to Everyday Living
John Lawrence, MM
Research Lodge of Oregon #198, A.F.& A.M.
An Initiate into the degrees of Masonry is inundated with a large number of symbols. These symbols are presented in a simplified format but are in reality a complex alchemy alluding to a deeper mystery. This paper is an attempt to offer in its own humble way a key to understanding Masonic symbols and ritual as they relate to everyday living. I will be using the Three Degrees as a basis for exploring some of the deeper mysteries of speculative Masonry.
I would like to begin by providing an explanation of the Three Degrees in a short story format about daily living. For events of everyday activities, we will assign the realm of the physical world to the Square over the Compasses or the Entered Apprentice Degree. The Square represents the material world and the Compasses belong to the Spirit. We can begin our Masonic day with a Mason getting into his Entered Apprentice car to drive to an Entered Apprentice grocery store. Upon arriving at the grocery store our Mason walks past a table where volunteers are requesting help for hurricane victims. This Mason pulls out his Entered Apprentice wallet to retrieve some money to help the hurricane victims. At this point, by giving aid and comfort to hurricane victims, this Mason has entered into the Fellow Craft Degree work of fellowship and brotherly love, symbolized by the intertwined Square and Compasses or the Realm of Emotions.
Upon leaving the store, our Mason crosses the parking lot and is met by another Mason from his Lodge. His Masonic friend has been wondering about the meaning of the phrase "the Widow's Son" and asks him for insights. At this moment, our Mason is entering into Master Mason Degree work represented by the Compasses over the Square, or the Realm of Reason or Spirit.
From this brief description, we can see that the bulk of our daily activities has to do with the Entered Apprentice Degree. We spend less time in Fellow Craft Degree work of charity and brotherly love, and even smaller yet is the portion of time we spend in the Master Mason Degree of reason, metaphysics and spirituality. The division of time and labor spent in each degree during our daily lives can be thought of in terms of a pyramidal concept. This is true of the Lodge as well. The Secretary's payment of bills, reading of minutes and correspondence, as well activities of the Budget Committee and building repair all fall within the necessary activities of the Entered Apprentice. Only in the Good of the Order or the fellowship of the dinner at Lodge do we see the Fellow Craft Degree being used. Rarely do we encounter the work of the Master Mason Degree during a Stated meeting.
This same model can be applied to Masonic symbolism as well. Take, for instance, the wages of a Mason. For the Entered Apprentice, his wages would be the going rate of so much money per hour for work in the physical world. To the Fellow Craft, Masonic wages would be the fellowship, brotherly love and charity work he does. But for the Master Mason, his wages would be Knowledge or the Light, which fall within the realm of the mind, metaphysics or Spirit.
The overwhelming majority of Masonic Lodges in the US fail to recognize any aspect of the Master Mason Degree. Most Lodges consider memorization of the symbols and degrees as adequate Masonic work. But the lack of analysis of what these degrees and rituals mean in a metaphysical context denies us the ability to reach the deeper mysteries of speculative Masonry. This is partly attributed to the relaxing of standards required of the Master Mason that has occurred over time - especially in his role as Worshipful Master of a Lodge. In the early days of Masonry it was the responsibility of the Worshipful Master to teach the Lodge. These early short talks or lectures were eventually incorporated into the standard lectures we give at the end of our degree work.1 Now these lectures require no intellectual participation of either the candidate or the Lodge. As a consequence, little discussion about Masonic symbols and rituals takes place except by those Brothers who enjoy discussing them among themselves outside the Lodge environment.
This leads us to the question, why go to such lengths to open a Lodge under Master Mason ritual only to do Entered Apprentice, or at best, Fellow Craft work? Why not, instead, open up the Lodge to a Third Degree discussion of a particular Masonic symbol or ritual? Allow the Brothers to openly discuss from the floor of the Tyled Lodge their understanding of a symbol or degree, perhaps using this model of the Three Degrees of Understanding
In his novel, Nine Faces of Christ, the anthropologist Dr. Eugene E. Whitworth used the lost 18 years of Jesus to illustrate the ritual work of the Essenes, Druids, Zoroastrians, Yogis and Egyptians based on his observations of nearly 140 cultures. What Dr. Whitworth noted in the ritual work of all these various cultures was a common thread of using three levels of understanding in the symbols required of each Initiate. Failure to reach the third level of understanding by the Initiate denied him access to the deeper mysteries of his particular Order.2 Why is this same standard no longer used by the Masonic Order in the US? Why is everyone who calls himself a Master Mason no longer required to reach the Third Degree of understanding of Masonic symbols and ritual work?
The challenge of this paper is intended to restore open discussion in Lodges around the Master Mason Degree work. Until we Masons understand what these degrees mean and how they apply to everyday living on a metaphysical level, Lodges will be nothing more than social clubs at best. And for those Masons who do take pleasure in the mystical ties that bind, the lack of any Master Mason Degree work leaves them with a sense of dissatisfaction because they learn nothing of the deeper mysteries of the Craft. As a consequence, many of them leave the Order and never return. And why should they, if it has nothing to offer them that they couldn't get at a Lion's or Rotary Club?
1 MacNulty, W. Kirk, A Philosophical Background for Masonic Symbolism , Heredom, Vol. 5, 1996
2 Whitworth, Eugene E., Nine Faces of Christ, DeVorss Pub., Marina Del Ray, CA, 1980
Bro John Lawrence
Internet Lodge No 9659