Sunday, March 30, 2008

Two Essays: Upon Which Men Can Agree: Respecting Diversity in the Ritual /Reviewing Changes In Ritual

Introduction: This essay examines the use of the diverse rituals, with particular concern with the historic and contemporary changes based upon religious and philosophical sensibilities. To save some time and trouble with historical developments I will lead in with an excerpt of the excellent essay (focused on Freemasonry's Blue Lodge rituals in the U.S. and its antecedents in the U.K.) authored by Bro. Jay Kinney, delivered at the Third Annual California Masonic Symposium held in 2003 at UCLA for the International Congress on the Global Century. I have cut down the essay for brevity's sake. The current situation and options that I am offering are at the end, italicized.

The so called "first" Constitutions that were written for a newly organized (but not all encompassing) English
Grand Lodge (GLE) in 1722 and published in 1723. This was just a few years after the founding of this association of several London based lodges. As you may recall, the Rev. James Anderson was given the task of composing some documents that included Freemasonry’s rules and regulations, its traditional history, and an updating of some ancient Charges that defined what was expected of a Mason. The first of these Charges, entitled "Concerning God and Religion," reads in part:

A Mason is oblig’d, by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ‘tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to the Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished . . .

This notion that Masons can be of any faith and that they need only adhere to "the Religion in which all Men agree," strikes an Enlightenment note. It comes very close to the concept of a Natural Religion – a favorite Enlightenment concept. (Anderson did not however explain exactly upon what all men agree.)

One can see the kernel of this concept in his notion of "the Religion in which all Men agree." Given that Anderson was a Presbyterian minister, he obviously had no wish to invalidate Christianity. Rather, he seems to have codified the wish of some Masonic leaders of the time to eliminate the potential for religious conflict within the Craft, by paring its requirements of religious belief down to that "religion in which all Men agree."

So far, so good. Yet in my readings of Masonic history, I kept running into references to the "de-Christianizing of the Craft" which were rather puzzling. The initial use of this term was in describing the impact of Anderson’s Constitution and the first Charge from which I just quoted. The implication of this "de-Christianization" was that pre-1717 Freemasonry and Freemasonry concurrent (indeed most lodges were not then part of the GLE) had had a more markedly and specific Christian character to it before Anderson stipulated a more universal basis.

In other words, speculative Freemasonry, as defined by Anderson, moved away from the sectarian Christian assumptions of Operative Masonry to a broader Enlightenment-influenced inclusiveness.

However, the second reference to "de-Christianizing" Masonry that I ran into spoke of another de-Christianization nearly 100 years later. This was in the early nineteenth century, at the time when the two rival English Grand Lodges, the "Moderns" and the "Antients," finally merged to form the United Grand Lodge of England.

This case of two separate de-Christianizations was rather puzzling. If Anderson and the premiere Grand Lodge had already begun de-Christianized Freemasonry in 1723, what was this de-Christianization a century later all about? If speculative Freemasonry in the early 1700’s was already a universalist Enlightenment project, what occurred in the following hundred years that required that its non-sectarian nature be renewed and re-implemented in the early 1800’s?

The answer that emerged from my readings had several facets. First, despite the ideals propounded in Anderson’s version of the first charge, the historical evidence indicates that these non-sectarian ideals were far from universally held. Masonry during the 1700’s was not a monolithic entity. It was not especially uniform or consistent, nor is it today.

For instance, as the 18th century proceeded, there was the rivalry in England between two competing Grand Lodges, the so-called "Moderns" and the "Antients," with the Antients being more likely to include Christian references in Masonic workings. The lodges that comprised the Antient Grand Lodge, were adamant that they upheld the earlier traditional rituals and landmarks over and against the innovations of the so-called Moderns. These allegedly earlier "Antient" traditions included more overtly Christian references and interpretations of symbols, presumed to date from the days of operative Masonry. The "Moderns," on the other hand, appeared more likely to embrace Enlightenment values pointing towards a brotherhood beyond mere Christianity.

Another complicating factor was that the rituals and catechisms of the 1700’s Masonic lodges were purely oral and grew from various, simpler rituals, which made for considerable variations – even from lodge to lodge — some of which showed an obvious bias toward a sectarian Christianity. While some of the more cosmopolitan Masonic leaders during the 18th century in Britain may have seen Freemasonry as a milieu in which to spread Enlightenment values, just how widespread their actual influence was in the Masonic rank and file is a matter of much debate.

It was not until the merger of the "Antients" and the "Moderns" in 1813, (preceded by several decades of negotiation), that we might claim that the Enlightenment values of non-sectarian, universal brotherhood held any sway in Freemasonry. And even then, there is much evidence that various residual Christian symbols and references have remained in Anglo-American Freemasonry, right up to the present. We need only think of the reference, in the First Degree ritual of many American jurisdictions, to the lodge being dedicated to the holy Saints John, to cite an obvious example.

As I read further, it became apparent to me why I had originally been confused about Freemasonry’s attitude towards religion. I had been confused because . . . it was confusing! In its attempt to create a harmonious zone of brotherly love, (Masonry chose to ban the discussion of religion just as in a fear of disharmony and intrigue) political discussion was at least nominally banned in the lodge. Older orders, foreign orders, historic rituals and even variations in the U.S. state by state, or county by county and even lodge by lodge persists. Jurisdictions continue that differ in opinion or do not recognize each other over these issues. In the same jurisdictions and often the same lodges Masons have quite different takes on the place of religion in the Lodge. (Indeed Franco-Latin Masonry is generally not recognized by most American jurisdictions because it allows atheism and agnosticism, while most German and Scandinavian Freemasonry is distinctly and exclusively Christian.)

For many years in Anglo American Freemasonry we set a non-sectarian requirement for religious belief. At the same time, when all was said and done, its members were overwhelmingly Christian, its traditions harked back to Christian cathedral builders, and various of its symbols were at least open to a Christian interpretation.

And to complicate matters further still, additions to Freemasonry during the time of the de-Christianization brought in much esoteric, Jewish, Pythagorian, Kabbalistic, and Hermetic interpretations — as new aspects of the rituals and interpretations of traditional histories, particularly in the added lectures.

In short, Freemasonry in the English-speaking world of the 18th century appears to have reflected the various – and sometimes contradictory – intellectual, political and cultural currents of that era. As far as I could determine in my research, no single philosophy or sectarian belief dominated the Craft to an extent that would allow us to generalize that Masonry was Deist or non-Deist, Christian or non-Christian, and so on.

Today there are at least three currents concerning the use of current and historic ritual, based on personal preference, religion and other affinities.

One current is towards dogmatic enforcement of a particular ritual under a particular obedience, whether that be a grand lodge, association of grand lodges, a district or an individual lodge. Usually this position is taken by those who want uniformity (that has never existed) or by those who are under the mistaken impression that their preferred ritual is somehow more "historic" or "correct" than it is.

A second current is the desire to change the ritual according to personal preferences or to prevent accusations of either anti or excessive Christianity, Judaism, Kabbalism, Islam, syncretism, paganism, etc. In this approach a Mason may find historic evidence and rituals that supports his contention that his preferred ritual is "correct" even if it not in widespread use. For example, some Masons may want to return those early Christian elements to the ritual while others would want a ritual devoid of all specific religions and religious culture (including eschewing certain lectures or removing their religious language).

Freemasons may feel it is desirable to undo the addition of non-Christian religious elements that seeped in during the time of de-Christianizing of the ritual, and thus take up the banner of those free thinkers who would rather that no religion or specific religious culture be unnecessarily mentioned. Again, these preferences usually can be supported by some historical evidence.

As a practical matter it would seem that the approach of taking out all religious (and culturally-religious) reference would be a position that would end any feeling of discrimination or danger of Freemasonry imposing on religion. How few would be the jurisdictions or lodges however that would accept such a ritual when they become accustomed to their own rituals that are laden with religious language?

Thirdly is the take of Freemasons who believe that we should celebrate the diversity and support the revival of rituals that have historically existed in regular Freemasonry. These Masons would let lodges utilize these rituals at their discretion. The popularity of this perspective may be seen in the rise of special historic ritual teams, who perform the ritual, say as it may have been performed for George Washington, or how it may be performed in an ancient lodge in Scotland or Ireland or as it may have been performed in a certain lodge in New York 400 years ago. These Masons also often believe that jurisdictions should allow Masons the freedom to be initiated in the ritual of their choice if the ritual is or was accepted in any recognized jurisdiction. I frankly agree with this position, to the degree that such a choice is practical.

It is in my opinion absurd and hostile to the history of Masonry to decide that the only right ritual is the one that you or I happened to be brought in under, or the one that you or I happen to like. At the same time I believe that it is impractical and treads upon the Worshipful Master's rights to ask that a different ritual you or I prefer be performed by a particular lodge. Ritual work is too demanding for such variation unless the lodge finds committed volunteers to perform an additional ritual.

Specialized rituals should be the work of specialized teams, volunteers or lodges committed to working the ritual in question. Most lodges would be happy to have visiting teams and many would love to be proficient in a particular specialized ritual.

If there is a proficient and recognized working of current or historical degrees we should allow and encourage these to be made available. Few then would be stuck with what they oppose as insufficiently or excessively Christian, Kabbalistic, Jewish or Islamic ritual. There are probably rituals available under any particular coloring. These Masonic rituals are not an innovation if they are currently in practice or have historical, recognized precedent.

Obviously there are enormous benefits to Freemasonry when we keep our history alive and we encourage greater awareness of the practices of the Craft throughout recognized jurisdictions. Most grand jurisdictions will already recognize a Mason hailing from another jurisdiction it recognizes regardless of the ritual that was utilized.

Unfortunately current circumstances discourage specialized ritual. Few American Grand Lodges allow a wide range of historic variations of the ritual. The prospect is often required to get a release from their home jurisdiction to be raised elsewhere even though the the prospect is not a Mason and the grand lodges are in amity. (Grand Lodges effectively "claim" all prospects in a jurisdiction as theirs.) Allowing specialized ritual teams to work in more states would alleviate this problem. State grand lodges would be readily equipped to accommodate the prospect without fear of losing him to a neighboring grand jurisdiction. With this, we might have the chance to actually achieve greater conformity from place to place (even throughout the world) with essential elements such as signs and words of recognition.

A prospective Mason knowledgeable enough to want a particular ritual is a Mason who will take his obligations seriously. Masons that are aware of the rituals' history are also likely to be more committed.



During the last century, several revisions of the Ritual took place, each being an improvement on its predecessor, and all based on the primitive Masonic Lecture which was drawn up in the tenth century, and attached to the York Constitutions. This Lecture, to which I shall first call your attention, was in doggerel rhyme; a kind of composition which was very popular amongst our Saxon ancestors in the time of Athelstane. About the latter end of the fourteenth century, it was carefully translated from the Saxon for the use of the York Grand Lodge; and the MS. of that date is now in the British Museum. This invaluable document contains copious rules and regulations for the observance of the Craft.

One of the first catechismal formula was introduced by Grand Master Sir Christopher Wren, about the year 1685, and was called an Examination. It was very concise, and might be gone through in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. The Obligation was short and simple, and had no penalty; for that which is now used as a penalty formed a portion of the Examination. As thus -,"Which is the point of your entry? I hear and conceal under the penalty of having my throat cutt, or my tongue pulled out of my head." Most are inclined to think that Freemasonry at this time had only one degree.

You would probably like to hear a few passages from Sir Christopher's Ritual. It commenced thus:
Q. Peace be to all here ...
A. I hope there will.
Q. What o'clock Is it? ...
A. It's going to six, or going to twelve.
Q. Are you very busy? ...
A. No-
Q. Will you give or take? ...
A. Both; or which you please,
Q. How go Squares? ...
A. Straight-
Q. Are you rich or poor? ...
A. Neither-
Q. Change me that? (the sign.) ...
A. I will-
Q. What is a Mason?...
A. A man begot by a man, born of a woman, brother to a king, fellow to a prince-
Q. In the name of the King and Holy Church, are you a Mason? ...
A. I am so received and accepted-
Q. Where were you made a Mason? ...
A. In a just and perfect Lodge-
Q. How many make a Lodge? ...
A. God, and the Square; with five or seven right and perfect Masons ; on the highest mountains or the lowest valleys in the world -
Q. Where is the Master's point? ...
A. At the east window, waiting the rising of the sun to set his men to work-How is the meridian found out? ...
Q. When the sun leaves the south, and breaks in at the west end of the Lodge.

This will be sufficient to show you in what manner the Brethren worked 180 years ago. The Craft at that time had a series of signs to make themselves known to each other as Masons, which are now obsolete; and I introduce them here as a matter of curiosity. When meeting in the street, they saluted each other by raising their hat with the thumb and two fingers only. Sometimes they would strike the inside of the little finger of the left hand three times with the forefinger of the right; or rub their right eye three times with two fingers; or they would take up a stone and ask, What it smells of? The correct answer to which was, Neither of brass, iron, or any other metal, but of a Mason.

Q. What is your name? ...
A. E.A.P.: Lewis or Caution;
A. F.C.: Geometry or Square;
A. M.M.: Cassia or Gabaon-
Q. How old are you? ...
A. E.A.P. : Under seven years;
A. M.M. : Above seven years."

When in a mixed company, the token was-to turn down their glass after drinking. And if any one saw a Brother misconduct himself, he exhibited his disgust by placing his open right hand on his upper lip, which served as a check to further indiscretion.

As Masonry increased in popularity, under the patronage of noble and influential Grand Masters during the eighteenth century, many changes ("improvements") were made on the primitive Ritual at different periods.

In the year 1720, the following questions and answers occur:
Q.Where does the M.M. stand?
A. In the W.
Q.Where does the F.C. ?
A. In the S.
Q.Why so?
A .To hele and conceal, give instruction, and welcome strange Brothers.
Q .Where does the E.A. P. stand?
A.In the N.
Q.Why so?
A.To hele and conceal, to receive Instruction and to strengthen the Lodge.
Q. What is the form of the Lodge?
A. An oblong square
Q.Why so?
A.The manner of our great Master Hiram's grave. (N.B.This Is the first and only mention of Hiram in the Ritual to this time.)

The reformation was commenced by Brothers Desaguliers and Anderson, about the year 1720; and their Ritual mentions, for the first time, a " Master's Part; there was no Master's Part before 1720; and here also the Obligation is accompanied by the penalty but not a syllable is mentioned about a substituted word; on the contrary, it asserts that the lost word was actually found.

The next reviser of the Ritual was Martin Clare, a Deputy Grand Master, and he executed his task so much to the satisfaction of the Grand. Lodge, that his Lectures were ordered to be used by all the Brethren within the limits of its jurisdiction. In accordance with this command, we find the officers of the Grand Lodge setting an example in the Provinces; and in an old Minute-Book of a Lodge in Lincoln, dated 1734, there are a series of entries through successive Lodge nights to the following effect :-"that two or more sections (as the case might be) of Martin Clare's Lectures were read; when the Master gave an elegant charge, went through an examination, and the Lodge was closed with songs and decent merriment."

The following extract from these Lectures may be acceptable:-
Q. What is the covering of a Masonic Lodge? ...
A. A celestial canopy of divers colours-
Q. How do we hope to arrive at It? ...
A. By the help of a ladder. -
Q. What Is it called in Scripture? ...
A. Jacob's Ladder. -
Q. How many rounds or staves in that Ladder?...
A. Rounds or staves innumerable, each indicating a moral virtue; but three principal ones, called Faith, Hope, and Charity
Q. Describe them? ...
A. Faith in Christ; Hope. in salvation, and to live in Charity with all mankind-
Q. Where does that Ladder reach to?..
A. To the heavens.-
Q. What does it rest upon? ...
A. The Holy Book

Thirty years after the schism which split the Society into two divisions, conventionally distinguished as Ancient and Modern-viz., in 1770-Bro. Dunckerley was commissioned by the Grand Lodge to improve Ritual. In his version, the three principal steps of the Masonic Ladder were referred to the Christian doctrine of the three states of the soul. First, in its tabernacle the body, as an illustration of Faith; then, after death, in paradise, as the fruits of Hope; and lastly, when reunited to the body in glory about the throne of God, as the sacred seat of universal Charity. Here, the doctrine of a substituted word was formally announced; for the true word had been transferred to the Royal Arch, which he introduced into the Grand Lodge as a degree of Masonry.

According to Dr. Oliver, Dunckerly "added many types of Christ." This, be it remembered, was only one hundred years ago, and is an explicit statement of the addition of the first Christian allusions to be found in the ritual of Freemasonry.

The lectures of Dunckerly continued to be used in many parts of England until 1763, when Rev. William Hutchinson revised them. Hutchinson boldly claimed the third degree to be exclusively Christian. He considered the three degrees to refer to the three great Dispensations, viz: The Patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the Christian. He even argued that the name "Mason" signifies or implies "a member of a religious sect, and a professed devotee of the Deity." He regarded the degrees as progressive steps, or schools in religion. He believed that the knowledge of the God of Nature formed the first estate of our profession; that the worship of the Deity, under the Jewish law, is described in the second stage of Freemasonry (in a way not altogether flattering); and that "the Christian dispensation is distinguished in the last and highest order." In the lectures of Hutchinson are first introduced the three great pillars, Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, as supports of a lodge. He also appears to have introduced, for the first time, the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice. He also gave to the Star its Christian significance. In fine, he appears to have exerted his utmost in genuity to render the degrees emphatically Christian in their allusions and teachings.

Hutchinson's system continued in force but a few years. His lectures gave place, in 1772, to the revision of William Preston. The latter not only revised, but greatly extended the lectures.

The exemplifications of York Masonry were completed by the celebrated Bro. Preston, who constructed a Ritual which contains a satisfactory survey of the system as it was undoubtedly used by the York Lodges in 1777, when the Lodge of Antiquity, of ,which Bro. Preston was a Past Master, seceded from the London Grand Lodge, and avowed an alliance with the Grand Lodge at York. Besides which, Preston was initiated in a York Lodge, and therefore became thoroughly master of all the details, as practised by both sections of the Fraternity. His Ritual was very carefully constructed; and, as might reasonably be anticipated from a Bro. of his Masonic learning and research, it contained a lucid exemplification of the ceremonies, doctrines, legends, and symbolical machinery of all the three degrees, and it is to be regretted that some of its most valuable illustrations were omitted by Dr. Hemming and his associates when the Ritual was reconstructed by the Lodge of Reconciliation in 1814. For instance, the Prestonian Lecture gave the following. beautiful definition of Masonry, which is now lost to the Craft:-

Q. What is Masonry?
A. The study of science and the practice of virtue.
Q. What is its object? ...
A. To rectify our conduct by its sublime morality; to render us happy in oursIeves and useful to society-
Q. What is the ground or plan of Masonry? ...
A. Instruction.-
Q. Why do you consider it to be such? ...
A. Because men are never too wise to learn. -
Q. What will a wise man do to obtain it? ...
A. He will seek knowledge.-
Q. What will a wise Mason do? ...
A. He will do more, for he will never rest till he finds it.
Q. Where does he expect to find it? ...
A. In the east-
Q. Why does he expect to find it there? ...
A. Because man was there created in the image of his Maker ; there also the holy Gospel originated ; knowledge and learning were promulgated, and arts and sciences flourished.

We now proceed to a categorical examination of the Preston Ritual, compared with the Union Lectures; merely premising, that this learned Bro. divided each degree into sections, and subdivided each section into clauses. This arrangement was adopted as a convenient help to memory. According to this plan, a portion of the Lecture was delivered each Lodge night-not always by the Master, but by certain Brethren who under-took the office of Sectionists and Clauseholders which relieved the Chair of much labour without being burdensome to the Brethren, as it would require a very slight application for any one member to become acquainted with a single clause.

The Hemming lectures
differ widely from those of Preston, or from any others previously introduced. A few of these differences may properly be mentioned. English Lodges are now dedicated to Moses and Solomon, instead of to the two Sts. John, as before, and their Masonic festival falls on the Wednesday following St. George's Day, April 23--that Saint being the patron of England. The symbolical working tools of an E. A. are "a 24-inch rule, a gavel and a chisel." Those of a M.M. are "a pair of compasses, a skirret and a pencil." The ornaments of a M. M.'s Lodge are "a porch, a dormer, and a stone pavement." Instead of following the example of his predecessors, in introducing new Christian allusions, Dr. Hemming expunged several in use previously.

The system, however, never met the cordial approval even of English brethren, and though "beautifully elaborate," contains so many incongruities and departures from the more simple lectures of Preston that it could never he recognized and was referred to by less charitable contemporaries as "mischief". The verbal ritual of Preston was introduced into this country by an English brother and was communicated to Thomas Smith Webb, an energetic and accomplished Mason of New England. In this way in the United States the Preston lectures spread, changed again. These latest efforts further de-Christianized ritual to suit certain understandings of Enlightenment ideals, stripped of reference to Church and King and rounded things out with Talmudic and Judaic history taken from Josephus, the Old Testament and the imagination. This work at times resulted in egregious historical, scriptural and mythological incongruities. Oddly, many jurisdictions in America find themselves left with their own anachronism by maintaining lectures which for some have been elevated to a level of unchangeable ritual. fin

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