A Masonic Miscellany
By WBro Ken Edney , PM
An Address given on 7th November 2005
I have entitled this paper A Masonic Miscellany. The dictionary describes a miscellany as 'a collection of writings' and this is what this paper attempts to do; present a collection of writings and thoughts, not in any coherent form, but, more thoughts, jottings and trends of conversations I have had with brethren here and overseas.
This paper will present questions, but not necessarily answers; in general they are my thoughts and musings of how I perceive the Craft both through my observations and through the observations of others.
Recently I spent three weeks in England and although I did not attend any Craft Masonic meetings, I met a large number of masons and attended the Installation of the Supreme Magus of the S.R.I.A. at Mark Masons Hall in St James Street in London, which is situated at the end of Pall Mall and adjacent to St James Palace. Here, at the palace, the foreign ambassadors present their credentials.
Mark Masons Hall was formerly a gentlemen's club and there is a feeling of permanence when entering it. Large portraits of past Mark Masters adorn the walls; usually they are of royal connection, H.R.H. Prince Michael of Kent, being the current incumbent. Other portraits are of Grand Masters of the Order of the Temple, Allied Degrees and various other Masonic Orders.
Although there is an air of solid respectability and acceptance within, with the British way of life, and the establishment type of belonging, something we do not have here in New Zealand, nevertheless the same problems seem to be evident within Freemasonry in England. Such as, falling membership and lodges handing in Warrants - eleven in Central London alone in the last 12 months. As in New Zealand, there seems to be a feeling of pessimism, a vague feeling that something is not right and that no clear way of identifying the problem, or problems, or, how to go about tackling them, exists.
Lord Northampton, the Pro Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, seems to be a vigorous leader and his articles, in various Masonic publications, seem to indicate a vision of a more spiritual nature in our ceremonies, instead of stripping every last vestige of meaning away in our over-analysis of what we demand. In attempts to appease outside influences that Freemasonry is not a subversive organisation, we have lost the message that it does stand for very lofty ideals and that it is capable, as it has done in the past, of making significant contributions to society.
Moving away from the United Kingdom scene, it has become a matter of concern to me that the ceremonial component of Freemasonry, which forms a considerable part of what we do, has not developed much over the last two hundred years. To be sure, there have been alterations in an ad hoc manner, sometimes for good and at other times not so, usually only confined to the rubrics. Now, this leads me to the structure of ceremonies.
Their main functions apart and the principles inculcated in them, revolves around the processing of candidates, which leads to a problem. A problem which I feel has not been identified and, to the best of my recollection, discussed, and as a problem which confronts us more and more. When we have candidates, all is well, and when we don't, there is a large void. It seems strange to me, and I must admit that it has taken me a long, long time to really come to grips with this difficulty, why have we not adapted ourselves to this situation. We have remained static. We have not attempted to explore alternative ceremonies or develop other avenues more fully apart from simulated workings and lectures. There must be ways of improving what we do and move away from being totally reliant on candidates to enable our Lodges to function.
Of course we need candidates, but if you look at our ceremonies, which are designed to do just one thing, therein lives a flaw, which must be examined more closely. All however is not doom and gloom. Recently I received, as you all did, the Grand Lodge of New Zealand’s 115th Annual Report. In it, I think, was one of the most innovative pieces of paper that I have seen for a long time. This particular paper asked a number of questions about possible changes to the way we do things in our ceremonies. This is the most daring and one of the most important documents prepared by our Grand Lodge. I urge you all to read it and, more importantly, fill out the questions and return it to the Grand Secretary. Grand Lodge needs to be congratulated for making such an important move at this time. I dare say that none of us will be satisfied with whatever is decided as a result of this questionnaire but at least let us have the courage to indicate our views.
A further aside, whilst browsing in a bookshop in London, I noticed a collection of what seemed to be a selection of new Masonic rituals on sale. On examination, that is exactly what they turned out to be and, I must say, I was somewhat astonished. I am not able to quite make up my mind as to the value of this move. I suppose it takes away the notion of a subversive organisation, but will it encourage men to seek admission to our Lodges?
While staying in Boston on my way to England, my host, a friend but not a Freemason, was interested to read in the local newspaper that the “Mystic Masonic Lodge”, whose main claim to fame was that one of its members had been a fifer at the battle of Concord, was having an open day and, as it was just around the corner, he thought we might go and have a look. Would I be interested?
Unfortunately I was unable to visit on the open day, as that was the day we left for London, but I did confirm to him that I was a Freemason. He then asked quite a lot of questions about freemasonry. Eventually, he asked me - if I could summarise freemasonry, what would I reply? My reply was that Freemasonry was a group of men whose primary object was to assist in bringing about the Brotherhood of Man, irrespective of race, culture, religion or any other philosophic view.
Perhaps brethren, this is why we are languishing. We are not stating our reasons for “being” clearly and succinctly enough. To bring about the Brotherhood of Man under God is the prime reason for our existence and it is time that we made ourselves unambiguously clear about it. After all, the world is desperately in need of brotherhood.
Of course there are those who greatly fear this ideal and attempt to divert and subvert our efforts. We should continue to make our position clear, despite criticisms and attacks upon us. This is a noble quest upon which we have embarked, let us not fail mankind when they need us most.
Finally, the last issue of the Ruahine News, published quarterly by the District Grand Master, had a quotation from the Song of the Bird on the back page. Two lines stood out from this quotation, first, “a blanket is no longer a blanket if it does not keep you warm” and, secondly, “don't cut the person to fit the coat”. Does this apply to Freemasonry?