RITUAL - ITS RELEVANCE IN TODAY'S CONTEXT
is an integral and unique part of Masonic traditions. It employs stonemason's
tools as symbols, to communicate the principles of Freemasonry to the candidate
in a dramatised, if not dramatic, manner, and to explain its philosophy to him.
Therefore, any discussion about the relevance of Masonic ritual must necessarily
include not merely this ritualistic mode of instruction employed by Freemasonry,
but the teachings and philosophy of Masonic ritual as well.
OF THE RITUAL
should, perhaps, start with a brief look at the origin of the ritual and the
factors that shaped its form and substance, the better to understand and
appreciate its message. There are many, though mostly unsubstantiated theories
about the origin of the ritual.
Freemasonry was purely operative, there was a ceremony for admitting
apprentices. A youth entered as an apprentice to learn the craft; an obligation
was taken to preserve the mysteries of the Craft; the mason word and sign were
communicated; charges were read telling the new mason of his duty to God, his
master and his fellow man; and the legendary history was read. It was a simple
ceremony - designed to impress him with the high moral standards required of
him. During an apprenticeship of seven years, his masters taught him by means of
the work itself, and the tools and practices used in the work.
There probably was another ceremony at the end of his of apprenticeship,
when he was given the full privileges of the Craft.
intolerance and social decadence were rife in Europe in the 16th
century. The Holy Roman Church wielded much power, brooked no dissent, and
ruthlessly suppressed all attempts at reformation as heresy. During that time of
extreme religious persecution, when Wishart was burned at the stake and the
Inquisition indicted Galileo for his theories on astronomy, a group of
freethinkers, who called themselves called 'Gnostics,' (implying possession of
spiritual knowledge) wanted emancipation from the rigid dogma of the Church.
They sought to establish tolerance in religion and general improvement of
society. The Church was understandably and implacably hostile to them. Though
they were men of high intellectual calibre and social standing, they chose to
join the building guilds to propagate their ideals, and to protect themselves
from the wrath of the Church, they adapted the legend of King Solomon's Temple
as an appropriate allegory of their aims. They
might also have injected ideas and concepts of the ancient mystery schools and
the occult into the simple ceremonies of the craft. Since these speculative
Masons were not interested in the actual building arts, rituals of Freemasonry
became more elaborate and were gradually transformed into symbols and allegory.
Now the 'apprentice' was set to learn the art of building manhood and
the formation of the Grand Lodge of 1717 Freemasonry emerged as a system of
morality and spiritual development presented in the form of ritual. It proposed
a graduated method by which instruction was imparted to candidates in proportion
to their ability to absorb its teachings.
Accordingly three degrees were developed, to teach
the initial stage of preparation and purification, followed by
the cultivation of the intellectual faculties and the quest for the ultimate
reality, culminating in
the realisation of spiritual truth and the mystical death.
is the probable origin of the Masonic ritual. It has subsequently been shaped
and perfected by many hands, has drawn its wisdom from all parts of the world
and from all ages, till it attained its present form.
ritual of the three degrees thus developed has retained the structure of the
early operative ceremony, and comprises of two distinct parts. The first is the
drama, in which the candidate is introduced, demonstrates his qualifications for
the degree, takes his obligation, and is entrusted with the signs and words.
The second contains formal charges in which the purpose of the degree and
a Freemason's duties are explained. Thus the ritual is meant not merely to mark
the progress of the candidate towards the mastery of the Craft, but also to
inculcate moral, ethical, and spiritual principles.
OF MASONIC RITUAL IN TODAY'S CONTEXT
the 300 years since the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, the composition
of Masonry has changed radically. The thousands who range under its banner are
of diverse social, religious, cultural, economic and educational backgrounds,
from many nationalities, and seek fulfilment of different emotional,
intellectual, and spiritual needs from Masonry.
we are faced with the question 'How relevant is the ritual in effectively
meeting the varied needs of this heterogeneous membership and communicating its
message to them?' The answer, in
all candour, must be 'It ought to be relevant, but it seldom is.'
It ought to be relevant, because:
ritual defines such fundamental values as Man's relationships with his God, his
neighbour, and his own nature.
It is in the very nature of Man to ritualise. Every important stage of his life
- be it birth, marriage, or death - is marked by rituals. Rituals arouse
the inner nature of man and afford him glimpses of his true self. This atavistic
penchant for expressing his thoughts and emotions through rituals is an
ineradicable part of every man.
ritual ensures that all Masons enter Freemasonry on an equal basis and share the
same experience, whatever be their position or status outside the Craft. This
experience of shared ritual fosters a bond of faith and brotherhood among
Man is a creature of habit; his everyday life is conditioned by repetitive
actions. Therefore repetition of the ritual conditions his mind to respond
instinctively, in every situation in life, according to its ethical and moral
ritual is repetitive communication. Repeatedly
hearing and reading the same words reveals new insights and imparts new
interpretations to them.
does not merely teach morals; instructions on morality are only preparatory to
the understanding its hidden mysteries. It is a Spiritual Science, and lessons
of the Spirit can only be taught in this manner because though they are
simultaneously taught to many, they can be
understood only in proportion to the individual's level of development and
finally, because its message is universal and timeless. It teaches us to build
upon a foundation of faith in God, using the Square of justice, the Plumb-line
of rectitude, the Compass to restrain the passions, and the Rule by which to
divide our time into labour, rest, and service to our fellows so that in old
age, we can look back with satisfaction on a life well spent, and face our end
without fear or regret.
seldom is, because the average Mason is deaf to the voice of the ritual
and blind to its beauty. If
the ritual is to be conducted with concern for its message and commitment to its
meaning, all Masons, not just candidates, need to be educated about its purport
and purpose. The fundamental objective of Masonic ritual is to forcibly impress
its principles upon the candidate's mind, and to create in him a new nature. Its
focus must always be on the instruction and improvement of the candidate. It
should inspire him, offer him an emotionally satisfying experience, excite his
imagination, and kindle his desire for further knowledge. Unless this is done,
there is the danger of the ritual becoming a stale and monotonous liturgy; and "the
nightly grinding out of candidates may make numbers, but it will never make
& PHILOSOPHY OF MASONIC RITUAL
are so many interpretations of every part of the ritual, that we may safely
avoid repeating them, and more profitably focus our attention on its central
teachings and philosophy.
essential qualification, the sine qua non for becoming a Freemason is a belief
in a Supreme Being; disbelief in its existence will negate the very basis of
Freemasonry. That is why our symbolism is founded on the erection of a Temple to
the Most High. And that is why the first of the Old Charges, “Concerning God
and Religion” begins:
Mason….. if he rightly understands the art, will never be a stupid
goes on to say
a man's religion, or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the
order, provided he believe in the Architect of heaven and earth, and practice
the sacred duties of morality".
we have a reiteration of the essential qualification, and also an important
tenet, one on which the very structure of Freemasonry rests - Tolerance.
This is but natural, because the seeds of modern Freemasonry were sown by
men who protested against the intolerance of the Church. Therefore, accepting
differences in faith, language and culture and respecting those differences are
fundamental to the Masonic creed. Tolerance is the first step in a progression
of mutual respect, mutual appreciation, and mutual assistance, which eventually
matures into Brotherly Love.
the Old Charges put it:
unite with the virtuous of every persuasion, in the firm and pleasing bond of
fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion.
…. Thus Masonry is the centre of union between good men and true, and the
happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have
remained at a perpetual distance."
us next discuss the philosophy contained in the ritual.
had seen in an earlier section that the theme of the ritual is developed in
three progressive stages - of purification of the self, of development of the
intellectual faculty and the quest for Truth, and of realisation of the Truth.
This theme is illustrated by three allegories:
first is of " Building of a Temple not made by hands." That is
purification of the heart from every malignant passion, and fitting it for the
reception of truth and wisdom.
second is the search for the 'Genuine secrets' of a Master Mason. This
represents Man's quest for the ultimate truth, and his efforts to realise it. It
awakens the nascent need to achieve perfection, and suggests that Man must
ennoble himself so that he might, one day, regain 'Paradise Lost'.
third is the death and resurrection of Hiram Abif. It portrays the raising of
man from his fallen estate to recover his hidden divinity.
these, we are now concerned with the second - the search for the lost word, and
the finding of the 'Substituted secrets.' The underlying principle is that Man's
soul had an existence prior to his being born, in which it was one with the
Supreme Being, - 'Ayam Atma Brahma' - and to which existence it must strive to
return. As Ghalib lamented in a pithy but profound couplet:
"When I wasn't (born) I was
If I weren't ( born) I would have been God.
(born) has ruined me,
I hadn't been (born) what could I have been!”
the allegorical enactment of this principle, the Mason originally comes from the
East, the eternal source of all light and life. His life here is in the West, to
be spent searching for the 'Genuine secrets' which will enable him to return to
the East. And till time or circumstances should restore them, he should regulate
his life and actions by 'Substituted
secrets', to guide him in his quest for perfection. These 'Substituted Secrets'
express the philosophy of Masonic ritual.
revert to the parable of 'Paradise Lost': Man partook of the forbidden fruit and
had become in part like God. "And
the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become as one of us, to know good and
4.22) Having thus acquired the power of choice, Man has been consistently
tempted to stray from the path of virtue. Moral teachings of Masonic ritual help
him to prefer the good instead of the pleasant, to discriminate between Shreyas
and Preyas, and redirect his course towards perfection.
does the ritual can help us to achieve perfection? There are many different
philosophical doctrines derived from the ritual, each suggesting a different
path to perfection. ' By whichever path men approach me, so do I accept them'
says the Bhagavad Gita (IV.11). We might now look at some of those doctrines.
first is the doctrine of Knowledge, propounded by William Preston who,
incidentally, authored much of the ritual of the second degree. According to
this, knowledge is the key to enlightenment and as such, is the
great object of Masonic endeavour. The purpose of Freemasonry is "to diffuse light,
that is, to spread knowledge among men." The Lodge is like a classroom, in
which the Master teaches and the candidate learns. About this Roscoe Pound
is not the sole end of Masonry. .But
Knowledge is one end - at least one proximate end - and it is not the least of
those by which human perfection shall be attained".
second is the Moral doctrine, of Karl Krause, which says that,
"The three pillars of the
social order - Religion, Law, and Morals; Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty - are
making for human perfection. The role of masonry is in maintaining and
developing the moral order. So that, while it reminds us of our natural duties
to ourselves, and of the duties we owe our country as the embodiment of the
social order, it insists, above and beyond them all, upon our duties to our
neighbor and to God, through which alone the perfection of the moral order may
comes the George Oliver's doctrine of Faith. It proposes faith as the means to
attain perfection; that Freemasonry is
one in its end with religion and with science.
Each of these is a means through which we are brought into relation with
the absolute. They are the means
through which we know God and his works. And the fundamental principles of
Masonry are essentially the principles of religion and the basic principles of
the moral world."
Pike, in his metaphysical doctrine maintains:
immediate end of Freemasonry is the pursuit of light.
But light means here attainment of the fundamental principle of the
universe and bringing of ourselves into harmony, the ultimate unity which alone
is real. Hence the ultimate end is
to lead us to the Absolute - interpreted by our individual creed if we like.
Masonry seeks to reach these ends by a system of allegories and of which we are
to study and upon which we are to reflect, until they reveal the light to each
of us individually. It is nothing less than the whole history of human search
for reality. And through it he
conceives, through mastery of it, he shall master the universe."
finally comes the doctrine of Mysticism of Arthur Waite. It points out that
Mysticism is a first-hand experience of things Divine and is the inner core of
all religion, and declares that
Order is an instituted form of mysticism, in the ceremonies and symbols of which
men may find, if they care to follow them, the roads that lead to a direct and
first-hand experience of God."
have five eminent Masons who have evolved five different philosophies from our
ritual. These philosophies, when discovered and then accepted and practised,
teach us, in the words of Albert Pike:
above all, to reverence ourselves as immortal souls, and to have respect and
charity for others, who are even such as we are, partakers with us of the Divine
Nature, lighted by a ray of the Divine Intelligence, struggling, like us, toward
the light; capable, like us, of progress upward toward perfection, and deserving
to be loved and pitied, but never to be hated or despised; to be aided and
encouraged in this life-struggle, and not to be abandoned nor left to wander in
the darkness alone, still less to be trampled upon in our efforts to
OF MASONIC PHILOSOPHY IN TODAY'S CONTEXT.
very fact that Freemasonry has not merely survived, but actually thrived over
the last 500 years, is proof enough that its philosophy continues to be relevant
to all men at all times. The relevance of Masonic philosophy can be examined
from three perspectives - Spiritual, Moral, and Social. We have already covered
the former two, and seen that the Philosophy of Masonic ritual can guide us in
our quest to realise the divinity innate in all of us, and preparatory to that
end, it requires all Masons to live up to exacting moral and ethical standards.
the social context we also saw Krause's concept of Freemasonry as a moral force,
working globally with Church and State for the perfection of society. Apart from
this, Freemasonry has one more important social responsibility to discharge.
all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself."(Galatians 5:14).
is the first of the three great tenets of Freemasonry - Brotherly Love.
Fissiparous forces have always kept humanity divided in the name of race,
religion, colour, nationality, et al.; and Freemasonry has always resisted these
divisive influences. Whilst
acknowledging the existence of such diversity, Freemasonry attempts to cement
the brotherhood of Man and bind humanity in one great band of peace and amity.
'E Pluribus Unum' - it postulates - Out of many, One. It asserts that the bond of brotherhood will bring about
harmony and social unity, which it believes is the ultimate destiny of Mankind.
temple that the Craft is building is the unification and the harmonising of the
entire human family. And Freemasonry affirms with conviction,
hath made mankind one vast brotherhood, Himself their Master, and the world His
thankfully acknowledge the following Masonic works, which I have consulted,
excerpted and quoted from, in preparing this essay.
is Freemasonry - Builder of Society - Unknown.
Ceremonies - Anonymous.
Story of the Ritual of Freemasonry - R.V.Harris.
How, Whence and Whither? - Unknown
Masonry Employs Ritual and Symbolism - Unknown
Our Masonic Ritual Out of Date for Today's Man? - Robert G. Davis
Meaning, Purpose and Symbolism of Freemasonry- A.H.Bentley
and Man - Julian H. Cambridge
Teachings of Freemasonry - H.L.Haywood.
Philosophy of Masonry - Roscoe Pound
Philosophy - Christian Guigue French Masonic Site of Research
Philosophy: An Overview - Robert G.
Philosophy - Joseph Fort Newton.
A Spiritual Asset - A. A. Bailey