Vol. XXXI No. 7 — July 1953

No Royal Road

Euclid is said to have founded a school of mathematics in Alexandria about the year 300 B.C. King Ptolomy I of Egypt is said to have asked the great teacher if there was no easier way to learn the important subject than by studying Euclid’s Elements. Euclid is said to have replied: “There is no royal road to geometry.”

Through the years this has been corrupted to “There is no royal road to learning.”

It would seem, then, that there is no royal road to a knowledge of anything — including Masonry. And that is at once its difficulty and its glory.

Of the millions who find some highway in the Ancient Craft that they cannot live happily without traveling, but a small percent have hunted any new roads for themselves. The vast majority will ride in company in the motor car of the lodge, but walk no step on a side path alone. Content with a little ritual, a few well-concealed truths, an obviously simple interpretation of symbols, they refuse to tramp the paths through the woods of philosophy, the forests of jurisprudence, climb the hills of history, or even travel to the lake shores of romance!

But the few, who hunt new roads, be they royal or difficult, what rewards are theirs!

For the purposes of exploration and beautiful adventure, Freemasonry may be divided into five lands; philosophy, history, jurisprudence, symbolism, and ritual. If these five seem an over-simplification to him who would, for instance, divide Masonic history into ancient and modern, foreign and American, grand lodge and local, it may be said that simplicity is more attractive than complexity and that Freemasonry is complex enough without offering a blueprint of every known by-path, when attempting to attract new explorers to her more easily mapped trails!

Much of the difficulty in becoming interested in Masonic lore, either for oneself, or to persuade another, comes from such words as “study,” “education,” or “research.” Few men are interested in matters that seem likely to take them back to school days, examination papers, “homework!”

But this is a mistaken idea of learning something about Masonry. Getting from the outside to the inside of Freemasonry is an adventure, a major thrill, a picaresque joy.

Most men shy away from the word philosophy — it sounds dry as dust! But Masonic philosophy is not dry — it is an exhilarating hunt for something anyone may find — easier and perhaps more beautiful than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Each of us has a physical body of flesh and blood. The surgeon talks of veins and arteries and organs and nerves. The chemist says these are not real; that bodies are made up of water — which is in turn a combination of two gasses — carbon (diamonds, coal, the lead in a pencil are carbon) and a few minerals, such as iron, phosphorous, calcium, etc.

Comes the physicist who cries “nothing of the kind! A human body is mostly empty space between particles of electricity.” He even names the particles: electrons and protons. These are revolving around each other at incredible speeds and seem to make of each of us but an electric charge!

Obviously what we seem to be, to ourselves and to others, is quite different from what we really are. The appearance is that of a man with arms and legs and a head and a feature; the reality is either a lot of water and chemicals, or plenty of space and a small bit of electricity!

Appearance and reality — to determine the latter from the former is one duty of philosophy. Freemasonry has her philosophy. She has her appearance — grand lodges, lodges, brethren, Proceedings, meetings, degrees, ritual. But what is the reality behind? Surely the mere appearances are not enough to make men love the whole, or to have kept it alive for hundreds of years!

Freemasonry has a reality. Hunting that reality is a wild adventure. You can call an airplane ride “going to be shaken up in a machine” or “going on an adventure, seeing the world from a new standpoint, having a thrill in the clouds.” The thing is the same. The words, only, differ. You can call it philosophy and shy away from it, or term it a great thrill and go after it. The thing is the same; only the name is different.

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History is forbidding. Romance is intriguing. You meet a girl and fall in love with her and propose to her and marry her. That’s history. But at the time it was not history — it was the most significant enterprise of life.

So it is with Masonic history, which is so filled with romance it spills all over!

Have you adventured with the Indians at the Boston Tea Party? They were Masons and the plot was hatched in a Masonic lodge. On many battlefields Masonry has brought a handclasp, a water flask, a bandage, a saved life to mortal enemies; fiction has no stories as fascinating. Masonry and politics had a terrific contest over the Morgan excitement in 1826-1840. For a while it looked as if the anti-Masonic forces would win. “But you cannot beat an idea with a gun” and Freemasonry won the long, hard battle . . . a tale as inspiring and as interesting as any historical novel ever penned.

The two women who were made Freemasons (!) in the long ago, and the many who claimed to have had that distinction — what a chapter of fun and wonder they provide. The fascinating mystery of the Chevalier D’Eon — man or woman? Swordsman and Freemason, was he or she, and what a tale her story is — it almost matches that of Cagliostro the charlatan; or for that matter, the other charlatans who have from time to time preyed upon the Fraternity. The sad Thompson Affair — in which one of the worst grafters on Masonry received his just deserts from a Catholic judge in Utah, makes fascinating reading, as indeed, do all the tales of spurious Masonry in the history of the Craft.

The Westward Ho! of Freemasonry is a novel of the same excitement as any that tells of the Santa Fe, the Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trails. How Masonry crossed both the Rubicon and the Mississippi, the incredible epic that is the story of Brigham Young, the excitement at Nauvoo, the part Masonry played in the making of the Mormon religion — here is romance in great quantities, and it is all history — which so many consider dull reading!

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Except for lawyers, most men think of the law as something to let alone as much as they can, and hope to be let alone by it! This is true even when all recognize that this country, the last great hope of the world, is a government of laws and not of men. But the nonlegal part of the population often finds the law stuffy, iron clad, didactic, and disagreeable. Probably the last bypath of Masonry the average initiate wants to walk is that of its jurisprudence.

Here again it is a matter of the wrong name for the right thing. Freemasonry’s laws are so different from ordinary laws; they attack their problems in so human, rather than so legal a way; they have so odd and occasionally delightful ways of coming into or going out of being as to be as romantic as history.

Moreover, the roots of parts of Masonic law grew not only in legal, but in ecclesiastical soil. No one can understand the cause of the conclusions of the several Masonic obligations, who has not adventured in these fields. And what a rewarding awaits him who is willing to look for the forest through the trees, or find the water in the wave! For when the true inwardness of Masonic laws in general, and that dealing with certain penalties in particular is thoroughly understood, our whole system stands revealed as an experience in the deep underlying humanities; the reasons, if it is necessary to have reasons, for brotherhood.

It is here, too, although only Freemasons know it and not all of them think about it, that lies the hope of the world for unity and peace. From first to last, the legal system of Freemasonry is one of peace; it is never of compromise except that it does understand that mercy and justice are not incompatible (which civil laws do not). When at long last the nations and the peoples of the world shall decide to lie down together like lion and lamb, to bear and forbear, to live and let live, it will be found that the jurisprudence of Freemasonry knew it all a hundred, a thousand years before.

Is this, too, not high romance?

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Every Mason knows something of symbolism; he cannot help learning a little as he travels his slow way through the degrees. What so many never learn is that the symbolism as explained in the lodge is but a signpost, an iron gate thrown open to a lovely landscape, which he who will may travel and in which he who seeks will find rewards of life-time value.

After a lodge is tiled at opening, recall the first question asked of the senior warden by the master. The reply is universal, worldwide, the same in every land and clime. If you would know what the answer really means, as well as what it says, read Exodus 3:14.

Cornerstones are laid by Freemasons in a public ceremony; Entered Apprentices stand in the northeast corner, because cornerstones are there laid. If you have ever seen a cornerstone laid you have noted that into it go various objects; a newspaper, some coins, a book, perhaps a photograph, apparently that the men of a hundred years hence may know what we of today are like.

But the reason therefore is far different. Our cornerstone laying in the northeast corner is all that remains of the bitter foundation sacrifice in which a live human being was walled into the new building, that his tortured spirit might guard the edifice during its continuance. For him who will adventure, the northeast corner of the Entered Apprentice and the cornerstone laying of the grand lodge are Masonic symbols of the necessity of sacrifice, without which nothing altruistic in all the world is ever accomplished.

Masonic ritual makes a hurried survey of architecture, from the times when men first planted trees on end and then laid others across to support a covering, through Solomon’s Temple to the great cathedrals of the world. But our lectures contain no hint of why the tools of architecture — square, level and plumb, for instance — have become our symbols nor the inner teachings behind the obvious. These any may read for themselves; and any who will spend a quiet hour in a great cathedral may there see unfolded, as if by some mighty magic lantern show, something of the spirit behind the symbols as they envision the ancestors behind the workmen of today.

In passing, neglect not the story of the ’Prentice Pillar, nor fail to glimpse the three great gifts of Masonry to the world; a knowledge of the dignity of labor, of the equality of effort to a common end, or the oneness at the bottom of all religions. These are mighty sagas here only hinted, but of such power to clutch at the heart as to make them among the great epics of mankind.

Symbolism is a never-ending vista of beauty; its study is like that of the men who dig in forgotten lands and find one civilization built upon one lost to sight and memory. In at least one place in the old world, seven different cultures have left their marks, one above the other.

So have our symbols, if we but uncover and look beneath. . . .

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Finally the broad highway of ritual — which seems to many to end in the otherwise blank wall of a degree. But the wall is only a cloud bank; push through it and find a new world of interest and enjoyment.

What are the oldest universally used words in our ritual? You shall find them at the close of the oldest document Freemasonry knows.

What is a cowan? How did he come into our system? How does he differ from an eavesdropper? What is the Legend of the Craft as distinguished from the Legend of Hiram? What is the cause of the duplicate phrases such as “free will and accord,” "promise and swear,” "aid and assist,” using two words when one would, seemingly, do? Do not say “I don’t want to study semantics!” This is not a study of semantics; the reasons behind the duplicate phrases are concerned with the histories of England, France, and other countries and the slow spread of Freemasonry across the land and sea. In words is the tale of the “trek” of Masonry like unto the “trek” of covered wagons in America that carried Freemasonry to the far west in the pioneer days.

There is hardly an important word in the ritual that has not a covered as well as an open meaning. Not to know them does no harm, but to make them one’s own is like going to a high mountain top to see beyond the small horizon of the plain.

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“There is no royal road to learning,” therefore, it would seem logical to say “there is no royal road to Freemasonry.” This Bulletin erects sign posts pointing the way to five roads. If they be not royal, how will you name them?

The Masonic Service Association of North America