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.


Bro. Tink Robinson

Brethren, did you know that some of the world’s most famous cowboys, past and present, were Masons? None of them have ever lived in Alberta either. For starters, there was Buffalo Bill Cody and Kit Carson, Tom Mix of the silver screen and the singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Will Rogers was a cowboy too, but most people don’t know that. The most famous cowboy of them all was known as Duke to his friends; his real name was Marion, but don’t ever let John Wayne hear you say that, and let’s not forget our Saskatchewan cowboy, Glenn Ford. With all those cowhands being masons, it just goes to prove that there’s gotta be somethin’ good goin’ for Masonry.

Our theme this year is “Something to Believe In”. It is a fact that whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, earnestly believe in and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass. Masons, historically, have been believers and achievers. Today, we are going to explore what makes Masonry so unique and why so many unique individuals are Masons.

There is also a group of individuals in our assembly to whom I would like to pay tribute, namely, the newly installed Master Masons. Brethren, at this conference you have the opportunity to meet and discuss Masonry with some of the most enlightened and experienced Brethren in our Craft. It is important that what you discover this weekend is enjoyable, meaningful, educational and worthy of your time and efforts in becoming one of us. You have become a member of a worldwide Fraternity that is more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, and whose members HAVE worn the Star & Garter. Our fraternal aims are to promote brotherly love and fellowship, and yet Masonry as a body is as misunderstood today as it has been in any period of history. The world at large does not know who we are, what we are, or what we have accomplished. In fact, most Masons are unaware of the incredible impact our Lodge Brothers have had in shaping the history of our planet. Let us just look at modern history for a brief moment.

Did you know that the famous Boston Tea Party was conceived in a Lodge Hall and carried out by Masons dressed as Indians? Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere and John Paul Jones, the father of the American Navy, were also Masons at that time. George Washington was the first Mason to become President of the United States and among the officers of his Revolutionary Army, 58 of the 59 Generals were members of the Craft. I am confident that history would also find just as many Lodge Brothers on the English side. The American Declaration of Independence could very nearly be identified as a Masonic paper, because 32 of the signatures were made by our brothers. Up to the year 1978, 16 Presidents and 17 Vice-Presidents of the United States have been Masons as well.

In a courtroom in Ontario last year, a witness was being cross examined by a lawyer who was determined to crucify Masonry, although Masonry was not on trial. The lawyer was trying to implicate Masonry with the Anti-Semetic Nazi teachings which were under investigation. One of his questions was along this line, “Can you, the witness, name any person whom you know to be a Mason, who has ever made a worthwhile contribution to society?”

The witness happened to be a Mason, of course, and this was the reason that the lawyer was pursuing his line of questioning. The R.C.M.P. officer witness must have laughed to himself at the absurdity of the question, and could have replied like this:

No matter what you might think of them most of our Canadian Prime Ministers have been Masons. Our Royal Masonic Brethren include Edward the Eighth, Duke of Windsor, Gustavus the Fifth, King of Sweeden, assorted German and French Kings and even three crowned heads of Hawaii. Perhaps Henry Ford, J.C. Penney, John Astor or Sir Thomas Lipton would meet your entrepreneurial qualifications. I know that Sir Winston Churchill would find your question most amusing, and J. Edgar Hoover would probably have you investigated. your attitude regarding Masonry would probably draw court martials from Generals Pershing, Ridgeway, McArthur and Wainwright. Rear Admiral Richard Byrd thought he was doing something worthwhile when he explored the South Pole and the world would agree that the first solo flight across the Atlantic by Col Charles Lindbergh was very special. Where would the motion picture industry be today without the efforts of Brother Harold C. Lloyd, Louis B. Mayer, Darryl F. Zanuck and Cecile B. DeMille. The music of irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Haydn and Mozart is still being performed, and I do believe that the literary works of Sir Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling, Goethe and Mark Twain are still being read. Red Skelton, Arthur Godfrey and Oliver Hardy would have laughed at your comic suggestion. At any rate, Sir Arthur Fleming did discover penicillin, Luther Burband was a genius with plants and the Mayo Brothers have had one of the most successful research hospitals in the U.S.A. for years. Revered Francis Bellamy gave the U.S.A. its ‘Pledge of Allegiance’, Dan Beard organized the Boy Scout movement in America and French Brother Frederic Bartholdi designed the Statute of Liberty, which stands on its own testimony. Bro. Virgil Grissom gave his life in the ground testing of the Apollo Space Craft in 1967, but the sacrifice and lessons learned made it possible for Bro. Buz Aldrin Jr. to be the second man to walk on the moon’s surface, right behind Neil Armstrong on July 20th 1969.

These are just a few of the great contributions made by dedicated men who have shared their genius with the world. That they are not known as Masons worldwide is not important, but it is worthwhile that we, their Brothers, are aware of their achievements and can answer wisely when asked, “What have Masons ever done for Society?”

I had a member of one of the large service clubs in Calgary tell me how many thousands of dollars had been raised by their organization for charity. As I was complementing him on the fact, I knew that he was really comparing his organization with ours. I explained to him that we were a Fraternal organization and not a service club. He still seemed kind of smug. I inquired if he had taken his children to the Shrine Circus. He said that he had, and added that that organization was really doing something worthwhile for children. I quietly agreed. I then mentioned that last year the Shrine had raised 167 million dollars towards their crippled children’s hospital and that they had three of the most advanced burn hospitals in the world. He was impressed. I went on to say that the children do not pay for the hospital services rendered, and then asked, “Did you know that in order to be a Shriner, you have to be a 32nd degree Mason?” He said, “No, I didn’t know that.” I asked, “It seems that most people are like yourself, they don’t associate the two.” When he asked me how the Shriners came up with the idea for using a circus to raise money for the kids, I replied, “I really don’t know, but, perhaps, the fact that the Ringling Brothers were Masons might have had something to do with it.”

In order to understand Masonry today, we have to look back to our Masonic beginnings. IN primitive society, there were four institutions which bound humanity together. First, there was the Home — the corner stone of society and civilization, which is the unit of values in the human story of the family structure. Next, there was the Temple, or place of worship. The State followed, evolving from the family to the tribe and to the Nation. Last of all was the unifying element, which allowed the family of Man to evolve; it was called the “Men’s House”. The Men’s House was the secret lodge in which every young man, when he came to maturity, was initiated into the Law, legend and tradition of his people. This hidden institution was the centre of tribal life, the council chamber, the guest house, the place of meeting for men, where laws were made and courts were held. It was a secret society, a lodge house which promoted the sense of kinship, sanctity and loyalty which lies at the roots of law, order and religion. A young man had to pass the tests and prove himself worthy of membership. The ceremonies included vows of chastity, of courage, of secrecy and loyalty and, almost always, a drama representing the advent of the novice into his new life of privilege and responsibility. Moreover, the new life to which he awoke after his “initiation into manhood” included a new name, a new language of signs grips and tokens whereby to make himself known to his fellows in the dark as well as in the light.

As civilization developed, the Men’s House became at once a temple and a school, preserving and transmitting the truths of religion, the rudiments of science and the laws of art, all of which were universally held as sacred secrets to be known only to the initiated. Unlike today, the ancients believed that knowledge was a valuable legacy to be shared by the few who were worthy of the privilege. Hence, the great ancient Orders called the Mysteries, which ruled the world for ages before our era, the Mysteries of Isis in Egypt; of Elusicina in Greece; of the Mithra in Rome, swayed mankind, used every device of art to teach the truths of faith and the principles of righteousness. These Orders continued the tradition and ministry of the Men’s House and at their altars the greatest men of antiquity — Moses, Pythagoras, Plato, Plutarch, to name but a few — received initiation. Their temples were shrines of art, schools of philosophy and sanctuaries of religion and from them, as time passed, the arts spread out fanwise along the avenues of culture.

The spread of civilization is no older than architecture. Man did not become a civilized being until he had learned to build his cities, his homes and his temples. So, naturally, the tradition of the Men’s House became associated with the art of building, using the laws and tools of the builder as emblems of the truths of faith and morality. A secret order whose ceremonies perpetuated the ancient drama of the Mysteries long before our era, were known as the Dionysian Artificers. They erected temples, theatres and palaces in ancient Asia Minor and were almost certainly the builders of the Temple of King Solomon on Mount Moriah. Later we can trace them westward into Rome, where they were identified with the Roman College of Architects, whose emblems have passed down to us.

When Rome fell, the Order of the Builders took refuge on a fortified island on Lake Como in Northern Italy. From them descended the great fraternity of the Comacine Masters, the Cathedral Builders, whom we follow through the Middle Ages and who early became known as Freemasons; free, because they were free-men, non slaves, exempt from many governmental restraints and, unlike guild Masons, were at liberty to travel where their work called them. We also know that these Freemasons, were Master Masons in the true sense men who had earned their title honestly by the use of their incredible Masonic skills. Because they understood the higher mathematics of that era they were able to draft their architectural projects and square their work according to Euclidean theories. They were great artists, commanding the service of the finest intellects of the age, yet so bound together into a fraternity, that no cathedral can be traced to any one artist. The cathedrals were not the work of individual artists, but the creation of a community of artists, who united a spirit of fraternity with the sense of love and artistic dedication to craft and art. You can imagine what it must be like, for a mature Master Mason, to complete the dream that his grandfather had begun a half century before him. The Comacine Masters’ labours finally ceased, with the decline of Gothic architecture and the end of the cathedral building period.

History tells us that in the 1600’s, and perhaps earlier, scholars and students of mysticism began to ask to be accepted as members of the lodges of Freemasons. The first recorded Speculative Freemason was Elias Ashmole, a learned antiquarian and archaeologist. He was accepted on October 16th 1646, was founder of the famous Ashmolean Museum, and his library was bequeathed to oxford University. Therefore, many scholars, though not practical architects were accepted as members of the Order and were known as Free and Accepted Masons. Changing times had robbed the stone masons of their labours with stone, but the Fraternal Order of Free Masons continued to build temples. Their working tools more than ever before became the symbolic spiritual tools for building a much more permanent and lasting temple, the Temple of Righteousness and Fellowship. The purpose of Freemasonry, according to the spiritual principles inculcated in our work, is to make men better men. This newer Masonry became firmly established with the founding of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717. Because the sun never set on the British Empire, the sun never set on Masonry either. The British armed forces and their colonial merchants created Lodges in every corner of the world. To this day the sun has not set on our worldwide Masonic Fraternity.

Masonry is not a political organization, it is not a Church, nor the enemy of any church of any name, but a Fellowship seeking to bring men of every faith together, the better to teach them to honour and love one another; its secret the Open Secret of the world, for such as have eyes to see and minds to think. Men of all rank, race and creed gather together in an expression of practical brotherliness, to share the principles of Love and Fellowship. It is not a religion, still less a cult, but it is a worship in which all good men may unite, that each may share the faith of all.

The reason that many Kings, dictators and religious leaders have feared Masonry, is the fact that it dares to think and question. It urges us to grow in knowledge and applaud our differences. Masonic principles teach that it takes many different instruments to form a symphony orchestra, and many varieties of plants to complete a garden. Yet, it teaches that the instruments all have the same goal, to create music in harmony and expression. Masonry also recognizes, that although all gardens plants are different, they are all creations and an expression of growth, sharing and growing together in God’s garden.

Mankind has ever been the victim of political and religious persecution. Your newspaper and television news is an all too evident reminder, that injustice is still “big business” in our so call civilized modern world. “In the Name of God” has caused more wars, pain and suffering than any other misguided self-righteous notion. History has proven that when man seeks to conquer, subjugate or destroy his neighbour because of religious, racial or political differences, he is only destroying himself.

Though Masonry is ageless, it changes too with its passing years and newly installed Masters. This is natural for growth through understanding is change.

The Lodges who are losing their membership must examine their own member’s personal growth record. Be reflective, seek help, ask yourselves this question — “Are we practising what Masonry has to teach us, or are we in a rut and resistant to helping ourselves to make the changes necessary for our survival?” When senior Lodge members mistake rigid thinking for wisdom, they bury their lodges in the past and close their doors to the light of the present day. These gentlemen would not consider ploughing a field the way our pioneering ancestors did, or travelling south for the winter in a covered wagon. Yet so often, the Lodges with problems are being operated like an “Old Boys” club with a dogmatic fanaticism that runs directly in contradiction to the ideals that Masonry espouses.

Most of our personal stem from the practice of regretting the past and worrying about the future. Each of us has to learn to live each moment right now. If you can come to terms and honestly deal with Today, your Yesterdays will certainly improve and your Tomorrows will take care of themselves.

We see some country lodges closing down because their towns have closed down. We observe some city lodges having problems because they have not developed the fellowship and neighbourliness that is a natural part of a country lode. But, the bottom line when it applies to dropping attendance versus a healthy membership, is that the true Spirit of Masonry is not being practised and, therefore, new members are losing interest, or are simply not being attracted to ask for a petition. Remember, brethren, the Spirit of Masonry is Fellowship. It is a feeling of Belonging. It is a feeling of being part of something worthwhile. If a Lodge insists on allowing dull, poorly run business meetings and doesn’t know how to serve up an evening of interesting topics and some good old fashioned laughter, then it has signed its own death certificate. Ask yourself — What kind of person do you like to be around; one who makes you feel good and worthy of his friendship, or a sanctimonious grouch, who can’t laugh at himself let alone laugh with you. Lodges are the reflection of the members attitudes within them. It’s just plain common sense. You, the members are the Spirit of your Lodge. In which kind of Lodge do you belong? What can you do to make it a happier and more prosperous place of Light.

I want you to recall, for a moment, how each of you decided to become a Mason. Can you remember who you first talked to about it? What attracted you to Masonry? Are you a Mason because of a father or uncle being a member? Are you getting what you expected out of Masonry?

I realize that each of our expectations regarding Masonry, and life for that matter is very personal. I also know from experience, that you only get from life what you are willing to give to it. This is not a getting world, this is a giving world. You cannot expect to receive anything if you have a closed mind and a closed fist. You have to open your mind and your hand, in order to give and to receive. Our potential is ours to use or lose. At any rate, our ideas and our happiness is only truly realized, if we are willing to share it with someone.

New candidates should be attracted to Masonry by the examples each of us sets in his daily living. Our actions should inspire prospective Masons to want to become one of us. We must work to make our Lodges a worthwhile endeavour, and a meeting place where new members feel welcome and are inspired to participate, communicate and add the special quality that they possess.

A healthy Lodge is one whose brothers get involved in projects together. There must be interacting and sharing; don’t allow a few to do the work of many. Visiting other Lodges builds fellowship and membership. You can’t expect visitors to sit in your Lodge if you never make the effort to sit in theirs. There is no greater teacher than observing how well or how poorly another Lodge does its work. You come home feeling very smug that your standard is higher then theirs, or that they have shown by example just what you need to do if you are going to raise your standard.

In the final analysis, you are only going to grow with Masonry as much as you are willing to grow. Whether we are York or Canadian Rite makes no difference; we are all Masons. If you choose to move onward in Masonry, this again is a personal choice, and you also have the freedom of choosing different pathways. It is a worthwhile journey believe me. As your Masonic education increases, your Masonic beginnings mean more to you, not less. Your first Lodge, your Craft Lode, is where your Masonic foundation is laid and where some of your most important work continues to be done. For those of you who would detract from moving beyond the Craft or Blue Lodges, that is your opinion, you are fully entitled to it, but only those who journey onward, know what they are missing. The lessons learned in the successive degrees help one to understand more fully, and appreciate the importance of their Craft Lodges. Remember, we are all Masons, and some of the most active members in the Craft Lodges, in fact some of your best leaders, are also giving their time to the expanded Fraternity of Masonry which they enjoy as well.

Brethren, let us all take pride in what each of our degrees and Orders stands for. We are a Fraternal organization, and as well by degrees, one of the greatest philanthropic organizations in the world. I know that thousands of children and their parents are eternally grateful for what the Spirit of Masonry has done.

And, lastly, be proud of our Masonic history and the countless individuals who have served, inspired and contributed to all of our lives. Know that by growing as a Man and a Mason, you can create and achieve Somethin In Which To Believe.