The following article comes from the book *Alberta Workshop* which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
THEME SPEECH #2
Bro. L.R. Elston
Norm Senn has pointed out the hazards which surround us in the darkness of ignorance and the despair of misunderstanding. He has not exaggerated the conditions in the world of today. His observations are accurate and I am sure that they coincide with many of yours. Darkness can indeed be a terrifying experience and ignorance, or worse - apathy, of there conditions will not correct the state of matters, or even begin to improve them. We as individuals, and collectively as Freemasons, can and do have a direct effect upon these conditions. Remember, others know us to be Masons, so as we do and act, Masonry is judged. In this respect what we do as individuals we are doing as Masons. since the two identities are synonymous, if each of us in doing our share, Masonry then, is doing a great deal. Because we have no specific Grand Design especially aimed at correcting any single social ill does not, therefore, mean that Masonry is idle. so, if from Norm's presentation you feel that very little is being done, be of good cheer, DAWN is approaching, and with the dawn we will receive a glimmer of the light which offers an eventual solution to a great many of those problems.
This paper is presented to you to express the views of one who has received the Entered Apprentice Degree and progressed through it, and it presents an approach of a somewhat different nature about which you may think. As the author, this paper represents my personal views and I must bear the responsibility for them, but you, too, have a responsibility. you may agree or disagree with what is said but DO have an opinion and voice that opinion when you return to your discussion groups. Brethren, you have an opportunity here, at this workshop, to have your opinions heard. since you have taken the time to join with us be sure that you take advantage of this meeting by actively participating in its activities and you will be rewarded by a rich experience of Masonic dissertation.
Freemasonry, my brethren, is not an Old Organization with Old Ideals, nor is it a New Organization with New Ideals. It is an Institution of fundamental foundation, which has a message of great import to the brotherhood of man, and it offers sound solutions to some of the many ills of present day society. So much has already been written of the history and background of Freemasonry, by scholars and other wise and learned men, that it is a very difficult task to approach the subject from a new or previously unexplored direction. The hundreds and yes, thousands of books and manuscripts available to us at public and our own private libraries, to satisfy our thirst for knowledge of Masonry, need only the effort on our behalf to obtain the answers to the many mysteries of the Craft. The reason that so many people think that Free masonry is a Secret Society is not due to our excessive secrecy but rather because those who have made this statement have not made the effort to search out those answers. Masonry continues to grow and prosper, but can we be satisfied to continue looking into the past, ignoring the present and the future? Our hindsight is always more clear than our foresight. We can look at the past, see our mistakes, and hopefully learn from them. But let us also take time to look at ourselves and what is to be done now and tomorrow.
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters and God said, 'LET THERE BE LIGHT'. And there was light". From this, the earliest recording of the presence of light, set down for us in the Old Testament, we must realize the great importance of the advent of light. At that exact moment, the time spanned by the predawn period came abruptly to an end. The Great Architect of the Universe, in His profound wisdom, performed the one act which completed the circle of creation. Now, for the first time, out of the depths of that darkness came life into the warmth of this new light. The creation of man, his occupancy f God's earth, and his eventual social development, as part of god's original plan for creation, has since that time been dependent upon the government of daylight and darkness. this government is just as evident today as it has been in the past, even though man has artificially extended the duration of light for his own purposes. The association of light by man with those attributes which are the most desirable or those experiences which are the most lasting was, therefore, a natural occurrence. birth and spiritual rebirth, education and intellectual enlightenment, growth and maturity, all have direct association to the passage from darkness into light. From the darkness of the womb into the light of life, from the darkness of this life into the light of a heavenly existence, from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, from the darkness of youth into the light of adult maturity, are some of the parallels which we express and experience every day.
Education or the acquisition of knowledge, which is the greatest influence on the destiny of man, is of necessity the enlightenment of the mind and the elimination of that darkness which is ignorance and superstition. the enlightened mind is enabled, through knowledge, to transcend the darkness and is expanded by understanding, so that it can comprehend the mysteries of nature and of science. These thoughts, thus nurtured, are no longer confined by selfish motives, but are compelled to extend to others charity and brotherly love. down through the ages of man, in every one of his many social orders, light has been used by him to direct his religious and gregarious activities. The Sun worshippers are an example of a society founded on the influence of light. the ancient Druids constructed Stonehenge so that their religious ritual would be affected by the position of the sun. Early Greeks carried the torch of light from the perpetual flame, as a necessary ritual to the opening of each new Olympic Games. This ritual was not established by accident. Its purpose was twofold. Not only did it symbolically extend the blessings of the Gods from their dwelling place on Mount Olympus to the contestants, but its very presence served to stir the athletic participants to their best performance. This ever present light, though symbolic of religion, was also functional for it was the source of the many lesser fires required to provide the necessities of heat for the preparation of food and warmth by night.
Each candidate for initiation into Freemasonry is received in total darkness. This practice is in our ritual also twofold in nature. Functionally, it provides the means, through the use of the hoodwink, for the restoration of light. the candidate enters the tranquil confines of our Lodge from a profane or unenlightened atmosphere. We do not presume that he is an ignorant man, for we have investigated his qualifications before accepting his petition. Of necessity we have reserved the right of selectivity and this responsibility we cannot take lightly. Our basic requirements are simple, but in order to preserve our principles, each candidate must be scrutinized. Unbeknownst to him his acceptance is a vote of confidence in him by Freemasons, who are permitting him to participate in a most jealous possession. We extend to him complete equality in our institution, which is established above the basic level of humanity. For the asking, he will receive the greatest gifts any man is capable of bestowing upon his follows; brotherly love, relief and truth. Symbolically, it places him in the very heart of the Lodge, before the Altar of God and facing the Worshipful Master's chair, when he first sees the interior of the Lodge. This is an experience which will remain with him forever.
It has been said, "Why is it necessary to obligate a man to secrecy?", and "Why is Masonry a secret organization?" The reason for the first of these two questions may be quite obscure, although the answer, I think, is quite obvious. It is not to set serious penalties of a physical nature before the candidate, but to impress upon his conscious mind how seriously we take our Masonic affiliation. To the second question, I say, that from my experience, brethren, there is nothing in Freemasonry which is so confidential as not to be explained. With the exception of a few signs, tokens and words, which will not be questioned, we can and should feel free to answer such questions. As I have said before, we have a message. But how are we then to have this message heard? Certainly not by keeping it a secret. Or is this message only for the ears of Masons who have already been obligated to secrecy?
The restoration of light is accomplished with light of normal intensity, which from the state of darkness appears as bright as the sun. the thunderous clap shocks the candidate after the comparative silence of the room during the obligation. these circumstances combine, along with our serious attitude, to produce an experience calculated to impress even the most composed individual.
The massage which will commence on the evening of his initiation is great council. Its effect upon human relationships work subtle wonders and its influence is as widespread as society itself. The responsibility then is ours, brethren, yours and mine, as Masons, to ensure that this message is not only passed on to each Entered Apprentice intact but also that it is presented in such a manner so as to be understood and appreciated for all its values and beauties. Let us not leave shrouds of darkness encircling the symbols and the allegories of the Degree. encourage the Apprentice to ask questions, but be prepared to answer his questions. We must then prepare ourselves and in so doing we may well find answers to questions of our own.
When our newly Entered Apprentice rises from the Altar he has entered a new threshold in his life. He is physically the same man who entered in darkness but he now has assumed another identity. He is enthusiastic, he is eager. Let us not be the damper which quenches this enthusiasm. Our actions and qualifications as Masons, and as men, he will observe and criticize. We must teach and build by example as well as by lecture. the teachings of the "Three Great Lights" become a cornerstone from which point he will regulate his Masonic life. As he receives the Secrets of the degree he learns that he can not qualify his Masonic identity. He is no longer on the outside from which there is no access to see within. He is advised of the origin of the secrets and the symbolic nature of the penalty which provides a sign for recognition and salutation. But a penalty just as serious has been implied and cannot be avoided. Both of these alternative penalties are an essential part of the ritual and have been established for obvious reasons. I understand that some would prefer to see these penalties removed from the ritual as they are now presented. Let us not be too hasty about removing archaic ritual as our ties with ancient Operative Masons are to me a true Landmark. We should not rush to modernize the institution for the sake of change alone.
The lesson of the North East Angle most often is received with mixed feelings. The point is well made and seldom, if ever, misunderstood. The candidate has accepted a responsibility to actively be his brother's keeper. He has been taught from the standpoint of helpless indigence to have compassion and practice charity and prudence. We have made many parallels which he must not gauge and square his life and actions to. We have taken the "Rough Ashlar" of manhood and commenced to hew it not only into a Mason, but into a Mason among men. His foundation which has in his youth been laid out is strengthened to support his future in his private and public life as well as his Masonic life. Let us work this ashlar with the care and loving attention which will ensure its inevitable perfection.
The working tools which he is handed are articles long familiar to him but their association to instructive lessons is surely a new approach. He now has the implements of his apprenticeship. The instructive lessons associated with the twenty-four inch gauge, the common gavel and the chisel he must use just as he would the tools themselves. This bag of mental working tools he will carry away with him and he must now practise with them and learn to become a skilful worker rather than just remaining another neophyte.
Newly entered apprentices and Masons of the Master's degree alike have a duty to allot a portion of their time to broadening their Masonic knowledge in order to gain the widest understanding of the meanings adherent to the symbolism of the Craft. How can we truly call ourselves Masons simply because we have the secrets and working tools of the institution? Because we owned a scalpel we would not dare to call ourselves a doctor. No, indeed, intensive study and research is also required in order to attain that degree and we must apply this same principle to each Masonic Degree.
The lecture and charge to the Entered Apprentice are fascinating works for study. together they contain the best explanation of the ornaments of the Lodge and of a Mason. they teach the high ideals for which the order has always striven. I do not intend to take each piece of ornamentation, each furnishing or jewel and recount to you its purpose. Not only would it be too time consuming but it is my purpose to leave their interpretation to each of you, in your won fashion to relate them to each of yourselves. It is not enough to listen to these works as they are recited in the Lodge. Why wait until becoming a Chaplain or a Warden before learning them and appreciating their beauty? Contemplate their purpose, and you will find a wealth of guidance which can be related to any situation which may arise.
We claim connections which have their origin in the builders of the first Temple at jerusalem. The nobility of two of the three first Grand Masters was not a coincidence. The wisdom of King solomon and the strength of the King of Tyre, in their desire to build a Temple to God was in that time unparalleled. the ability as a Master Craftsman of the third Hyram Abif, was so well known that it bears mention in the Old Testament. Many Kings and Royal personages have since that time found Masonry to possess those qualities which they support and have become leaders in the Craft. The late King George VI and the present Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England qualify such a statement. Many operative Masons also continue to build in speculative Masonry. The building of character as well as moral fibre is as essential to the man as the firm foundation is to the completion of the building. We as Masons have the opportunity of not only being speculative Masons. We can, and must, from day to day, in private life and in business, be practising Masons. The old maxim that "Practice Makes perfect", aptly applies to the message of the First Degree and to Masonry in general. We have an important role to play in the institution called mankind. Individually our marks may be only as the first chisel cut into the rough ashlar of society but accumulatively these strokes will combine to achieve the regularity and the ultimate perfection of many of the ills of this stone. Let us not be so blinded by the sun of self importance or tied by apathy that we cannot see the light of human kindness and goodwill. Our path is clearly marked. Our principles clearly defined. We must be interested in the affairs of not only our brothers but all mankind for they are our brothers also. The teachings of our ancient art have not been mastered until they are put to the purpose for which they were originally contrived.