Masonry - what it is, who we are, what we do, and what it means.

What it is.
What is Masonry? Yes, we have heard a thousand times that Masonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Ok, fine. What does that mean?

Who we are.
System of morality
Masonry teaches us to apply the moral and ethical teachings of our own personal political, ethnic, cultural and religious beliefs and backgrounds in our daily lives. It is unique and separate from religion, politics and culture or ethnicity in that Masonry does not tell us what those teachings are, or should be. Masonry tells us that - whatever the teachings are - we should practice them, and reminds us that we already know full well HOW to do so. Our rules and procedures are so constructed as to insure that our members are of good morals, worthy of trust, respect and friendship. These qualities are already inculcated into our personalities before we gain admission. Masonry does not teach us how to be good, we have learned that long before we knocked on the door. Masonry places us in situations and environments where we find new opportunities to exercise that goodness that already resides within each of us. The friendships and associations we form in Masonry cause us to compete in discovering just how good we can become. The fraternity encourages us to constantly reevaluate our ethics and morals, and form that rough ashler into that perfect ashler that is at the core of the spirit our Creator placed within us.

Robert E. Winterton, Sr., 33

Personal caring, one Brother to another, is what makes us a fraternity-and a family.

He was short, heavy, and frowned a lot. Some said he was a troll, others characterized him as a leprechaun. He was irascible, irritating, and sometimes loud. He had a penchant for complaining and finding fault. He boasted of having "taken a demit" every time the Scottish Rite raised its dues over the past 50 years, but he never explained how he managed to remain a member in order to exercise his proclivity for demitting. He once cast a vote against a dues increase, only to offer (during new business) personally to pay $15,000 to pave the Lodge parking lot. He wasn't stingy; he just enjoyed complaining. For 50 years, he was successful at getting under the skin of just about every Master.
Then Henry was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The disease worked quickly Soon, the Lodge was in charge of his care, a 24-hour-a-day duty almost immediately. Henry lost weight, mobility, and comprehension. In a matter of months, he became a child of three. Delivered to the Lodge one evening too late for a formal dinner and informed of his tardiness, he stood in the doorway weeping like a child who had missed a birthday party. The tables and chairs had already been stacked and put away by the stewards.
Henry still stood at the door, his shoulders heaving with each breath.

Wasn't someone going to do something? Are we a fraternity? And if so, what does that mean? Are we a family, or do we just go through the motions? Do we stand for anything real, or do we just mouth the words? The ghost of Masonry Past stood silent witness to the events and was ready to cast judgment.

"Get a plate of food-quick!" someone said. It was the Master's voice, The Senior Warden, a young man, covered the length of the dining room in seven or eight running strides. Reaching Henry, he nearly shouted, "How are you, Henry? Are you hungry? It's good do see you. Let's go eat!"

By the time Henry's shuffling steps delivered him to the table, he was smiling like a kid at his first Big League ball game. Almost instantly, a plate of steaming food was placed on a sparkling tablecloth, a napkin was tucked in his collar, and someone was saying, "The coffee is hot, Henry. Be careful." Then, all the officers of Lodge, some in full tuxedos, others with their sleeves rolled up, seated themselves around Henry's table. An old Past Master approached the table, "What's going on here, boys?" Surprisingly, the answer came from the youngest one at the table, a junior Steward in his late 20s, "He's our Brother, and he's not going to eat alone"
Well, maybe it does work! Maybe we mean what we say. Maybe we really are a family of Brothers bearing some responsibility for each other. Little events like this one will determine the truth of the matter, not the words of a catechism. 

Robert E. Waterton, Sr. was raised in El Cajon Valley Lodge No. 576 in 1972 (Master in 1988), became a 32( Mason, Valley of San Diego, in 1984, K..: C.: C.: H.:. in 1991, and 33( 1.: G.: H.: in 1995, A member of the Grand Lodge of California's Speaker's Panel since 1987, he was Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of California 1989-90, and Chairman, Grand Lodge Education Group, 1991-92. Presently, Personal Representative, Valley of San Diego, he is also a member of the York Rite Bodies, Al Bahr Shrine Temple, ONES., Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem, So. California Research Lodge, Scottish Rite Research Society, Joseph L. Shell Daylight Lodge No. 837, The Philalethes Society, The Royal Order of Scotland The Robert the Bruce Association, York Rite College, and National Sojournes/Heroes of '76.


Veiled in allegory
The Legend of Hiram Abif 
"A Ritualistic Drama"

In the Sublime Degree you were impressed by the tragedy of Hiram Abif above all other features of the impressive ceremonies. 
As the degree is the climax of initiation, so is the Tragedy the climax of the degree. To understand its meaning will be a prized possession as long as you live. 
Drama is a conflict between a man and other men, or other forces, resulting in a crisis in which his life or fortune is at stake. The crisis, or problem, is followed by a resolution or solution. If it favors the man, the drama is a comedy, in the original meaning of the word. If it turns against him, and he becomes a victim or a sufferer, the drama is a tragedy. 
Plays acted on the stage are not actually dramas but, rather, representation of dramas. The Masonic Drama concerns that which occurs in our own lives, to each of us in our daily experience. 

The tragedy of Hiram Abif is a ritualistic drama. Ritual is the set words and fixed ceremonies addressed to the human spirit through imagination. 
A play in the theatre may be built around some historical figure or event, as in Shakespeare's plays about the English Kings. If the figures and events are not actually historical, they are at least supposed to be, so that time, place and identity are of importance. 
A ritualistic drama moves wholly in the realm of the spirit, where time, space and particular individuals are ignored. The clash of forces, the crises and fates of the human Spirit alone enter into it and they hold true of all men everywhere. 

Since the Drama of Hiram Abif is ritualistic, it is a mistake to accept it as history. True, there was a Hiram Abif in history, but our Third Degree goes far beyond what history tells of him. 
Our Hiram Abif is a symbol of the human soul. If, therefore, you have been troubled with the thought that some of the events of this drama could not have happened, you can ease your mind. If they never happened in history, they are symbols of what happens in the life of every man. 
It is an inexcusable blunder to treat the drama as a mock tragedy or semi-comedy. Savage peoples employ initiation ceremonies as an ordeal. But Freemasonry is not savage. 
The exemplification of our ritualistic drama should be as sincere, as solemn and as earnest as a prayer before the Altar. He who takes it trivially or with perverted humor betrays a shallowness of soul which shows him unfit to be a Mason. 

To repeat, Hiram Abif is a symbol of the human soul. The work he was engaged to supervise is the symbol of the work we do when we supervise, organize and direct our lives from birth to death. 
The enemies he met are symbols of those lusts and passions which in our breasts make war on our characters. 
His doom befalls every man who becomes a victim to those enemies; to be interrupted in his work, to be made outcast from the mastership of himself and, at the end, to be buried under all manner of rubbish, ill fame, defeat, demoralization, disgrace, weakness, misery, evil habits and scorn. 
The manner in which he was raised from a dead level to a living perpendicular is the way by which any man rises from self-defeat to self-mastery. 
And the Great Architect, by the power of whose word Hiram Abif was raised, is the God in whose arms we ourselves forever lie, and whose mighty help we also need to raise us out of the grave of defeat. 

Did you ask, while participating in that drama, why you were made to participate; why you were not permitted to sit as a spectator? 
It was YOUR drama, not another's. No man can ever be a mere spectator of drama in his own soul. 
It was intended that your participation would prepare you for becoming a Master Mason by teaching you the secret of a Master Mason, by which the soul may rise above its internal enemies if a man is a Mason in reality was well as in name. 
The real Master Mason is master of himself. 

Did you ask why the three enemies came from within his own circle, not from outside? 
The enemies most feared by the soul are always from within; its own ignorance, lust, passions, and sins. 
As the Great Light reminds us, it is not that which kills the body that we need shun, but that which has the power to destroy the spirit. 
Did you ask why there was so much confusion among the Craftsmen? 
The temple is the symbol of a man's character and, therefore, breaks and falls when the soul, its architect, is helpless. 
The most we can obtain from others is such hints and suggestions as these. Print the legend of Hiram Abif indelibly upon your mind. Ponder it. 
When you are at grip with your enemies, recall it and act according to the light you find in it. Your inner self will give, in the form of Ritual, and you will be wiser and stronger for having the guidance and the light the Tragedy provides. 

What we do.
Illustrated by symbols.

What is a symbol?

Main Entry: 1sym·bol
Pronunciation: 'sim-b&l
Function: noun
Etymology: in sense 1, from Late Latin symbolum, from Late Greek symbolon, from Greek, token, sign; in other senses from Latin symbolum token, sign, symbol, from Greek symbolon, literally, token of identity verified by comparing its other half, from symballein to throw together, compare, from syn- + ballein to throw -- more at DEVIL
Date: 15th century
1 : an authoritative summary of faith or doctrine : CREED
2 : something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance; especially : a visible sign of something invisible <the lion is a symbol of courage>
3 : an arbitrary or conventional sign used in writing or printing relating to a particular field to represent operations, quantities, elements, relations, or qualities
4 : an object or act representing something in the unconscious mind that has been repressed <phallic symbols>
5 : an act, sound, or object having cultural significance and the capacity to excite or objectify a response

Within the context of Masonry, definitions 2 and 5 are most applicable. A symbol is something that we can all see, hear, feel or otherwise sense that serves to remind us of something more personal within ourselves, and about which we may have stronger feelings.

Consider the rainbow. Everyone sees something different when looking at a rainbow
A physicist sees a practical demonstration of the refraction of light across the visible spectrum.
An Old Testament scholar sees a reminder of the covenant G-d made with Noah.
A New Testament scholar sees a reminder of the fulfillment of the promise of a Deliverer.
A child sees pretty colors.
A storyteller sees a leprechaun protecting his pot of gold.
An artist sees brilliant hues and gorgeous transitions. 
A meteorologist sees the end of a long rain.

All of them are looking at the same rainbow. It is objectively measurable. Everyone sees the same thing. We all agree what we are seeing, hearing, etc. We agree on the shape, color, size, location and so on. The rainbow as an object does not vary. The interpretations men make of it, when seeing it as a symbol, however, will.

Masonry shows us rainbows, and asks us to consider what they mean, what we see in them. Different people will see different things in the same rainbow.

The Blind Men and the Elephant
[From John Godfrey Saxe, "Poems" (Boston, 1852).]

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear
Said, "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!

The sixth no sooner had begun 
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong.
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong.


I had a boss once who refered to MBO programs (Management By Objective) as Management By Limitation. He claimed, quite enthusiastically, that once you define or set a goal, the normal human tendency is either accept or reject it. People do not naturally go beyond, or find their own meanings.
Symbols remove the limitations created by imposing one individual's opinions on another. By "pointing at a rainbow" we can communicate much more, and much more personal and individual information than we could any other way.

Learning Modalities
A family purchased a new computer and printer. It was decided that they would learn to use it together as the mother and the father wanted to use it in the family business, and the daughter needed to learn how to use it for school projects and the family business. A specific time was set aside for them to learn to use the machine. 
Within a week, the house was in an uproar. The father wanted to use the computer manual and teach himself by constant trial and error. The mother wanted to pick up the necessary skills by watching her husband and daughter and practicing on her own. She prepared little drawings to help her remember how to get into programs and turn the machine off. The daughter decided that this was too amateurish and took a course offered at school. She then tried to tell her parents what she was learning at school. 

The three family members failed to learn together because they failed to recognize that they each had a preferred way to learn. 

The father favored movement, or a kinesthetic experience. He preferred to interact directly with materials, to practice and experiment 

The mother favored sight, or a visual experience. She preferred to actually see a process, and rely on charts, diagrams and notes.

The daughter favored hearing, or an auditory experience. She preferred to take instruction, and directed learning with discussion

These are the three primary learning modalities, there are more. In our ceremonies, through our symbolism and by our methods we utilize all of the major ones. During our Masonic journeys, we imprint on the mind many pieces of sensual imagery. Even taste and smell are included because of the blindfold and at the refreshment table. Masonry is at once an auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, visual, orefactory, multi-sensory experience.