Vol. XXXIX No. 4 — April 1961

Lighting Candles

Elbert Bede, PM

This Short Talk Bulletin is the work of Elbert Bede, Editor Emeritus, The Oregon Freemason, past master, Cottage Grove Lodge No. 51, and charter member, Research Lodge No. 198, Oregon.

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Many of us have heard the old maxim, “One candle may give EQUAL light to another without losing any of its own brilliance.” There should be emphasis on the word equal. Many have heard the maxim and recognized the truth of it. But how many have grasped the deeper significance of the fact that one candle may give EQUAL flame to another without losing any of its own brilliance? May we not develop a symbolism from that fact, which could apply to those having knowledge and inspiration to pass along, who are able to light candles for others?

Yes, one candle may give EQUAL flame to another without losing any of its own brilliance. Furthermore, one candle may give EQUAL flame to each of many candles and still burn as brightly as before. More than that, each candle of the group lighted by the one candle may also light another group or circle, and each new candle in these circles may give light to another group or circle. If we could control the element of time as the circles ever widen, all the candles in the world might be lighted by the flame that originated from a single candle. Yet the first candle would continue to burn with undiminished flame! Can we not see in this a symbol for those who wonder whether imparting Masonic knowledge and inspiration is really worthwhile?

Of course, we can’t control the element of time, but the candle lighting may continue around the world until it is completed. The candles in the circles distant from the original candle would be lighted by a flame that came to them from the original candle, after that candle and the others in the nearer groups or circles had burned their tallow and ceased to exist. May we not apply this idea to those who doubt that the good they do will live after them?

In order to apply these lessons, in order to develop the symbolism, let the original candle, the one that gave EQUAL flame to another, represent an informed brother. He need not be a famous scholar, but one at least moderately informed and sure of his facts. Every past master should be such an informed brother. Symbolizing the original candle, the one that gave EQUAL flame to another, he loses none of his own knowledge, none of his own light, by giving EQUAL knowledge to another, by giving EQUAL flame to another’s candle. In fact, he adds to his own brilliance through the effort required to put into words the knowledge that is his. He would lose nothing of his own enjoyment of Freemasonry by giving EQUAL enjoyment to another. Indeed, he would add to his own enjoyment because of his service to others.

Some brother may sincerely believe that the little knowledge he can pass along will fail of accomplishment; but the fact is, we do not know how far the written or the spoken word may travel, however feeble it may seem to be, nor what candles it may light along the way. Try saying or writing something that afterward you wish you hadn’t spoken or put in writing, and you will probably grasp the point I am trying to make.

Our giving of knowledge and inspiration operates much like the lighting of the candles that I have described. In a magazine article or in a speech one of us passes along intellectual light to a few persons, as I hope I am doing. These few grasp a point or two that they pass along to other groups or circles, until the light or knowledge started on its way by one person reaches so far from the original source of information or inspiration . . . so far from the original candle . . . that those who receive it know not whence it came; and the one who started it on its way knows not how far it has traveled, nor what candles it has lighted along the way. Isn’t this really a symbol for those who wonder whether their efforts are worthwhile, whether what they give lives beyond the moment of giving, whether the good they do lives after them?

Much of the material appearing in Masonic books and magazines was written many years ago by informed brethren. Some lived to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Some burned out their candles a long time ago, but the intellectual and spiritual light that originated with them is still lighting candles for their brethren all around the world. For example, I seldom read a Masonic magazine without finding a quotation from that great scholar and Freemason, General Albert Pike, whose candle burned to the end of its tallow in 1891. Yet he still lives in the hearts and minds of his brethren. We never know how far the spoken or the printed word may travel, nor what candles it may light along the way. Isn’t there encouragement here for those who wonder whether their teaching is worthwhile after all?

Symbolic Freemasonry is using a ritual that was given to us, in large part, two hundred years ago or more. Our ancient brethren who prepared it are no longer here; but the candles they lighted gave out a flame that has been passed down through the years to us who live today. One never knows how far the spoken or the printed word may travel, nor what candles it may light along the way. Is there not inspiration in our centuries- old ritual for those who wonder whether what they give may live beyond the moment of giving?

On the holy altar of Freemasonry lies the greatest Light of all, the Volume of the Sacred Law . . . the inspiration of a hundred writers, burning with the brilliance of a great group of candles! We can point to the candle of John the Evangelist, the apostle of love, legendary grand master of Masons, exiled at Patmos. In this group we can observe the candle of fiery John the Baptist, also a legendary patron of Freemasonry, who was sacrificed to the whim of a cruel and selfish woman. We can recognize the radiance of the candles of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, giving us the light of the Gospels.

There is also the candle of Amos, the plumbline prophet, the prophet of righteousness, warning the Children of Israel of approaching destruction, exclaiming, “Thus he shewed me, and behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand.” (Amos 7:7) And there shines the candle of the writer of Ecclesiastes, crying that all is vanity and warning us of approaching dissolution: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.” (Ecclesistes 12:1) What of the candle of David, slaying Goliath, becoming King in Israel, and singing his immortal psalms? What of the luster of the candle of Moses, leading the Children of Israel toward the promised land, and bringing the tablets of stone down from the mountain top?

There shines the great candle, that of Jesus of Nazareth, who gave us the imperishable Sermon on the Mount and the deathless words of forgiveness on the cross of Golgotha. May we not envision these candles and a hundred others passing their flame down through the centuries in that Great Book of Nature and of Revelation that is the rule and guide of our faith? Isn’t there sufficient inspiration there for those who wonder whether the good they do will live after them? Do we need to search further for the symbolism of the candles that pass their flame along through the years?

Unknowingly, unwittingly, and by what may seem a feeble effort, we often fight a candle that passes its flame along to others. In 1945 I attended a district meeting in Oregon at which the grand master made a five-minute talk on the subject I am now using, “Lighting Candles.” Also present was the master of the lodge of which I am a past master. At the conclusion of the meeting this young man came up to me and said, “Here’s something you can add to your talk about lighting candles. I’ve remembered you ever since, at the age of eight, I heard you give a commencement address. I still remember some of the things you said at that time, and I have always tried to give them life.”

Twelve years later I visited my lodge to receive a fifty-year jewel. The past master who in 1945 had reminded me of my commencement address was in attendance again and assured me once more that he was endeavoring to give life to some of the things I had said almost forty-two years ago! I had forgotten all about it, but unknowingly and unwittingly I had lighted a candle that had continued to burn brightly for many, many years. Perhaps I am unknowingly and unwittingly guiding my own life by the things I said so long ago.

Such incidents remind us that when we light candles for young men and young women we must make certain that we illuminate paths that we really wish them to follow. We must not betray the trust of those who believe that they may safely follow paths pointed out to them by Master Masons.

When Earl Snell was grand master of Masons in Oregon in 1940, he started a traveling gavel and a logbook on their way to visit every lodge in his grand jurisdiction. He probably thought that the gavel would complete its journey within a year or so; but the gavel had already been traveling seven years, and the accompanying logbook had become a weighty volume to be treasured down through the centuries, when Brother Snell, then Governor of Oregon, was killed in an airplane accident. It was several years after his death when the gavel completed its mission. Brother Snell had passed his own light along in a candle of inspiration and remembrance that lighted candles in many Masonic lodges while he still lived; and the candles he had lighted continued to fight candles long after his own had burned to the end of its tallow. It is easy to believe that the light he enkindled will be lighting candles for years to come, for the gavel and logbook are now a permanent exhibit in the office of the Grand Lodge of Oregon.

One famous brother literally lighted candles to keep Freemasonry alive. This is the story of a devout and faithful Master Mason, Daniel B. Taylor, who was tiler of Stoney Creek Lodge in Michigan in 1826, at the time when the Morgan incident precipitated the greatest anti-Masonic movement in history. Hundreds of lodges closed their doors and some of the grand lodges became dormant. Stoney Creek Lodge, later to become No. 7, had not yet received its charter when the grand master ordered all the lodges closed.

Stoney Creek Lodge is said to have been the only one in the grand jurisdiction of Michigan Territory that refused to obey the order. It met intermittently during the entire anti-Masonic period, due largely to the indomitable constancy of the courageous old tiler, Daniel B. Taylor. On lodge nights, despite the sneers and unkind remarks of his neighbors, this brother took a candle and a newspaper and went to the lodge hall. He lighted the candle and placed it in a window as a beacon light to others. If others came, a meeting was held. If others came not, Brother Taylor read his newspaper until the regular time for closing the lodge, then folded his paper, placed it in his pocket, extinguished the candle and went home, to return again the next month.

His candle, in the window of a lodge under dispensation that refused to close its lights, was for months the only lamp of Freemasonry in the vast territory of Michigan; but it burned with a gem-like flame until the time came for Freemasonry to come out of hiding, resume its rightful place in the world, and again grow sturdy and strong. Stoney Creek Lodge is now extinct, but Brother Taylor and his candle will live forever in the inspirational literature of Freemasonry. And is there not in this old story of the faithful tiler of Stoney Creek Lodge inspiration for those who wonder whether the good they do will live after them?

Each one of us, I venture to say, can readily recall things that were said to us many years ago or that we read in books whose titles now escape us. Each one of us can remember incidents that happened a long time ago, which lighted the candles by which our lives have been in some way guided through the years.

In an old ceremony of lighting the candles at the opening of the lodge, a ceremony that few of us have ever seen (although we might easily reproduce it if we used real candles for the Lesser Lights), the master’s candle was first lighted, the act being accompanied by the word, “Wisdom.” This candle was then taken from its holder and used to light the candles of the wardens, the words, “Strength” and “Beauty,” being used at the appropriate points. The master’s candle was then replaced in its holder. There was also a time when the candles were at the stations of the three principal officers, and the wardens carried their candles to the East to light them from the master’s candle.

The symbolism of these ceremonies must be immediately apparent to a brother Mason. The master in the East gives light to the wardens, and through them to the members of the lodge, all without losing any of his own candle’s brilliance. It is regrettable that in so many lodges the benefit of this symbolism has been taken from us by the use of electrically lighted imitation candles that are flicked on with a switch, usually all at the same moment. One writer has said,

There is the advantage in the electric light that it does not blow out as the candle is likely to do; but therein again is symbolism lost, for the burning candle that so easily may be extinguished seems to plead with those who use it to guard it so that its warmth and light may not be snuffed out.

All the candles in the world may be lighted by a flame originating from a single candle. A candle may be lighted today by a flame that came from other candles, which long ago consumed their tallow and are now extinguished. No Freemason knows how many of his brethren, many of them unknown to him, many of them not yet born, may have candles lighted for them by some contribution he may make from his study and knowledge of Freemasonry.

Another writer has said, “There is deep significance in the naked flame that consumes the substance of the candle to give light to those who use it.” If one would give to others, one must give of himself.

Doesn’t each one of us truly wish that Freemasonry might light candles all over the world and make universal its ideals, its admonitions, and its teachings, so that men everywhere will be ready to go on foot and out of their way for other men, so that men everywhere will be ready to extend a hand to support the faltering ones, so that men everywhere will be ready to whisper into the ears of other men the words of love and appreciation? Then indeed will swords be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Then indeed will the Lord’s house be established on the mountaintop.

The Masonic Service Association of North America