THE GREAT TEACHINGS OF MASONRY "God's Path made mankind one vast Brotherhood Himself their master, and the world His Lodge." by H.L. HAYWOOD CHAPTER I WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT What is this all about? That was a question I asked myself many times during my initiation experiences. It is a question which you doubtless asked yourself, and so has every other man who has forged on to the end of the Third Degree. The language of the ritual, stately and beautiful as it usually is, is to most of us a mystifying speech; and the stations and stages of the dramatic actions are equally bewildering to the novice. Therefore is it that we ask the question, "What is it all about?" After we have become familiarised with the ritual and have learned something of its drift and its meaning, we discover that the Fraternity itself, as a whole, and apart from any mystery in any one part or detail, is something almost too complex to grasp. A member grows so accustomed to the goings on of his home lodge that he loses his first sense of strangeness, but even so he hears ever and anon such things of the antiquity, the universality, and the profundity of Freemasonry as it exists in history and in the great world, as to make him feel that for all his familiarity with one Masonic lodge, he is very much in the dark about the Masonic Fraternity in its entirety. What is Freemasonry? What is it trying to do? How did it come to be? What are its central and permanent teachings? It is to answer these questions - and they are such questions as visit the mind of almost every Mason, however indifferent he may be - that the philosophy of Masonry exists. To learn "what it is all about," in the whole more especially than in the part, it is for this that we philosophise about our mysteries. The individual who secures membership in a Masonic lodge becomes thereby the heir to a rich tradition; that to which initiation gives him access is not something put together in a day, and it will profit him little if he makes no attempt to enter into his patrimony. He must learn something of the history of Masonry; of its achievements in the great nations; of its outstanding teachers, and what they have taught; of its ideas, principles, spirit. Initiation alone does not confer this knowledge (and could not): the member must himself strive to make his own the inexhaustible riches of the Order. He must discover the larger purposes of the Fraternity to which he belongs. There is no authorised interpretation of Freemasonry. The newly initiated brother does not find waiting for him a ready-made Masonic creed, or a ready-made explanation of the ritual - he must think Masonry out for himself. But to think Masonry out for one's self is no easy task. It requires that one can see it in its own large perspectives; that one knows the main outlines of its history; that one knows it as it actually is, and what it is doing; and that one knows it as it has been understood by its own authentic interpreters and prophets. It is not easy to do this without guidance and help, and it is to give this guidance and help that such a book as this is written. There is still another reason for a study of the philosophy or, as we here more familiarly describe it, the teachings of Masonry. Our Fraternity is a world-wide organisation with Grand Lodges in every state and practically every nation. In this country alone it is a vast affair of some two million members and forty-nine separate and independent Grand Lodges. To sustain and manage and foster such a society costs the world untold sums of money and human effort. How can Masonry justify its existence? What does it do to repay the world for its own cost? In one form or another these questions are asked of almost every member, and every member should be ready to give a true and adequate answer. But to give such an answer requires that he shall have grasped the large principles and be familiar with the outlines of the achievements of the Craft, and this again is one of the purposes of our philosophising on Masonry. How can we arrive at a philosophy of Masonry? How are we to learn the authentic interpretation of the teachings of Masonry? What is the method of procedure whereby one who is neither a general scholar nor a Masonic specialist may gain some such comprehensive understanding of Masonry as has been called for in the preceding paragraphs? In short, how may a man "get at it"? One way to "get at it" is to read one or two good Masonic histories. There is no need to go into detail or to read up on the various side issues of merely antiquarian interest; that is for the professional student. There is only need to get the general drift of the story and to catch the outstanding events. To learn what Masonry has actually accomplished in the world is to gain an insight into its purposes and comprehend its own present nature and principles, for Masonry has never had need to break with its own past! The Masonry of to-day does not make war on the Masonry of yesterday. Its character emerges clearly from its own history as a mountain stands out above a fog; and what it has ever been - at least in a large way - it is now, and doubtless always will be. This same history forges ceaselessly on, evermore renewing and making itself. It is going on to-day, and the process is one that keeps publishing itself to the seeing eye, for, after all, there is not much that is secret about the rich and tireless life of the Fraternity; indeed, this life is constantly revealing itself everywhere. Grand Lodges publish their Proceedings; men engaged in the active duties of Masonic offices make reports of their functionings; students of the Craft write articles and publish books; Masonic orators deliver countless speeches; special Masonic conferences, whatever be their nature, make known their business; most of the more important events get into the daily papers; there are scores and scores of Masonic papers, bulletins and journals, weekly, monthly and bimonthly, and there are many libraries, study clubs and learned societies everywhere endeavouring with tireless zeal to make clear to members and profane "what it is all about." So it turns out that to learn this for one's self one does not need to take any one man's word for it; he can look about, and listen, and read up a little, and thereby form his own conclusions. It is amazing, when one looks into it, how much of the labour going on in the Craft is designed to make clear, and to propagate and enforce the principles and teachings and spirit of our great Order. To learn what are these teachings asks of us no rare talents, no "inside knowledge," but only a little effort, a little time. To the novice the Masonic world seems very confusing, it is so many sided, so far-flung, so clamorous with voices and the din of action; but this, after all, need not frighten him away from an attempt to grasp that world with a comprehensive understanding, for all of Masonry constantly revolves about a few great ideas. These ideas confront one at every turn - what becomes more familiar to an active Mason than such words as "Brotherhood," "Equality," "Toleration," etc., etc. so that the youngest Entered Apprentice need have no difficulty in getting at them. If he does get at them, and if he learns to understand them as Masons understand them, they will help him greatly to gain that comprehensive and inclusive understanding which we have been calling the philosophy of Masonry. Nothing has been said as yet of the great teachers of Freemasonry. In the older days there were Anderson, Oliver, Preston, Hutchinson, etc.; then came the philosophers of the middle years, Pike, Krause, Mackey, Drummond, Parvin, Gould, Speth, Crawley, and others; and in our own day Waite, Pound, Newton, etc., etc. In the writings of these men the great and simple ideas of Freemasonry become luminous and intelligible, so that he who runs may read. In addition to all this the member may take advantage of those interpretative devices which are a part of the Craft itself, the lectures and monitorial explanations built into the ritual of all the rites and degrees. None of these is infallible - nor are any of them made compulsory to believe - but even when they stray farthest from the original meaning of our symbols they are always valuable in revealing the ideas and ideals of multitudes who have originated or used them. This much to show why we should strive to make for our own mind a philosophy of Masonry, and in how many ways one may arrive at that philosophy. There remains only one word in caution. A study of the philosophy of Masonry is not a study of philosophy; the Masonic student as such has little interest in Plato and Aristotle, in Neo - Platonism, Mysticism, Scholasticism, Rationalism, Idealism, Pragmatism, Naturalism, etc. Masonry touches upon the circumference of each of these and the other major philosophical systems, no doubt, but there is no such thing as a Masonic philosophy any more than there is such a thing as a Masonic religion. We speak of a philosophy of Masonry in the same sense that we speak of a philosophy of government, or industry, or art, or science. We mean that one studies Masonry in the same large, informed, inclusive and critical way in which a political economist studies government or an astronomer studies the stars. It would be a blessed thing if more of our members were to lift up their eyes from the immediate and often petty affairs of their own lodge room in order to gaze more often on those profound and wise principles which are to our Fraternity what the laws of nature are to the universe.
Copyright: The Skirret, 2015