Before we became Freemasons, we had, each and every one of us, entertained a favourable opinion, preconceived, of the Order, and we had a sincere wish for knowledge ; but what was that favourable opinion based upon, and in what sense did we hope to increase our knowledge?
There are, we hope, now very few members of our Order who joined it simply because someone had suggested that it was rather a good thing to do; for experience has proved that very few who come under that category ever lend that attentive ear to our teachings which is to be found among those who had definitely formed a favourable opinion of their own and had also an innate desire for knowledge.
But we repeat, what was that favourable opinion based upon? And, was there any kind of knowledge which we hoped to acquire?
The answer to these questions is so important that, we may say, the ultimate progress and line of Masonic activity of the brother very largely depends upon it, for in that very same place wherein we were first prepared, there shall we be found in the end, and, curiously enough, in the very next place wherein our preparation took place, there will our conversation and attitude illustrate the answers to the above-mentioned questions.
But we are now dealing principally with the second question, and it is a fact a certain amount of disappointment usually awaits the intelligent initiate; and although he is never sorry he was admitted into our ancient and honourable Institution still It feels that the knowledge he sought seems to be as far off as
That feeling of disappointment should always be there, it is healthy sign. Soon indeed it will become quite obvious our aspirations are, after all, embraced within the far-reaching scope of Ancient Masonry, and the original feeling of disappointment will change to one of increased interest, because we s find that the field of research is wider than we thought it and that our mental environment has become enlarged, or least it may be provided we endeavour to make a constant advancement in Masonic knowledge.
It is here only fair to say that there appears to be some very widespread though primitive ideas as to what constitutes Masonic knowledge; some have appeared to suppose that it consists in an acquaintance with the formula and ceremonies of a large number of ‘degrees’; some that it means an accurate and word-perfect knowledge of the wording of some particular form of Ritual; some would say that the inculcation of the principle of Charity covers the whole field and is quite sufficient; others again, go a step further, and think it means knowledge of the History of Speculative Free Masonry and the origins — so far as they can be found — of our symbols ; some that it is essential that we should be well acquainted with the ‘old charges’ and know, for instance, what it is to be “Antenna within all sides,” and to have a knowledge of the alleged connection with many notable Philosophers of the past, not forgetting our dear old friend Peter Gower, and so on; then there is the matter of the Secrets and Privileges of Freemasonry; but it is hardly necessary to remind Masons that the Secrets of this degree’ and the real secrets of Masonry are two different things; otherwise we should not in our invocation to the GAOTU use such an expression as “assisted by the secrets of our Masonic Art”; and so reviewing all the above headings we see that they are all very desirable for a thorough acquaintance of what is included under the term Masonry and that the study of these subjects should by no means be omitted; still it is quite possible, nay probable, that with all this our “intelligent initiate,” who has by now been raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, has, still not come across the knowledge he was looking for, nor is he satisfied with the knowledge obtained. This also is a healthy sign.
Rituals are many, and it is extremely advisable to study many of them, not indeed to merely proceed to learn them by heart, much less to take up the attitude of the mere critic and note various illogical statements, historical statements that will not bear the light of history, want of sequence in events or symbolism which has ceased to have its older meaning, etc.; but by study is meant, picking out the essential features and grasping the general import of the teachings inculcated in the various parts. This is the analysis; the synthesis will be found in the third degree. The reason why the study of several Rituals is advocated is because an analysis of those (under all Constitutions in amity), will disclose the fact that the same general teachings may be couched in different terms.
The spirit of the teachings is everything, wording is a matter of secondary importance; but when we have done as suggested we shall find that the matter is slightly involved, for what are the teachings? Here we begin. These teachings are principally exhortations to us to regulate our lives, our actions and our thoughts along certain avenues; which may be defined as moral and religious, mental, and philosophical. But the matter is still more involved as we find that the first two are essential for acquiring the third, and still further again, the first and the third are shown to be so closely connected that it may be said that the third is the first qualified by the second. Here, then, we have a complicated system, and that system must be thoroughly grasped, and the moment that system is grasped the very next attendance in Lodge will, if the ceremony is carefully followed, be found to illustrate system with a clearness which becomes surprising on the one hand, while on the other there will be evinced ‘connections our whole system’ which had not been apparent before. We may spend a considerable time in working this out mentally with great advantage; the Ritual is designed to inculcate teachings; the teachings develop a system and the system is for us to act upon. Yes, and here we begin a second stage, for even the knowledge of our system, though a great acquisition, is still not what we were looking for. Nevertheless, the mere fact that we understand the matter thus far, will be genuine progress; in fact we might almost call it the first regular step in Ancient Freemasonry; it must be taken; yet we must admit that among the thousands who range under our banners there are some w can hardly be said to realize the fact.
The usual definition Freemasonry — “A peculiar System of Morality,” etc., is totally insufficient as a definition of our whole system, and to the writer it has appeared extraordinary that so many of the old Masonic authors take it as it stands, quote it, and twist their arguments into line with it, apparently quite oblivious of the fact that the said definition belongs to the moral part of the system only, and indeed is given by the entered apprentice who does not as yet know what is to follow. The rest of the system, i.e. the, carrying out of it, is indeed a moral obligation to Masons, but cannot be described or defined as Morality.
We have heard of the distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason’s heart, we next proceed to deal with his mind, and lastly we deal with both together in order to arrive at the summit of our profession; indeed; those two great parallels Moral and Intellectual, are inseparable for Masons whatever they may be for others.
The next great step, then, is the widening of the intellectual environment, but here we have carefully to distinguish between human affairs and the business of the world of men, on the one hand, and a knowledge of the Universe in which for the time being we live and move and have our being, on the other.
There is no such thing as Philosophy without knowledge, neither will it be found that we can name any one of our great Philosophers of the past who had not spent a large part of his life purposely and designedly, in acquiring all available knowledge of the Universe, i.e. of Nature and her processes. Our ancient Brethren travelled for that purpose and worked diligently in analysing minutely the works of the GAOTU—and so must we.
It can never be too strongly impressed upon our minds that we live in a privileged age; an age in which the book of Nature has received a new index, an age in which whole pages hitherto uncut, have been opened, and in, which whole chapters of revelation of the past history, present condition and future prediction have been brought to light for the first time in human history. What would not our ancient brethren have given to have read those chapters? And shall we who presume to follow in their steps neglect to do so? One thing is absolutely certain, and that is that if we, who can acquire such knowledge so easily compared with the laborious exertions of our forerunners ; if we, who can so easily know more than they did, neglect the opportunity, there comes a sudden end and a full stop to the process of acquiring of Masonic knowledge. On the other hand, such a vast expanse is opened to us that we no longer feel any surprise when told to make daily advancement, indeed we realize that, as fellow craftsmen, our work is for the “future” — from now onwards.
Although as E.A.’s we are to study such of the liberal Arts as we can, it must be distinctly understood that as F.C.’s we must go very much further and probe into the mysteries of Nature. Now this probing into the mysteries of Nature is simply and plainly Science. In the olden days there was an idea that there were mysteries of Nature on the one hand, and mysteries of Science on the other, a very mistaken and withal ignorant idea. Science is the means whereby we investigate and solve any mystery. When the solution is satisfactory, the mystery vanishes.
There is in Nature no end to her mysteries, thus there 4 an unlimited field for Science to work upon. The starting point of Science may be said to be that point at which preconceived and ill-founded ideas, and above all, superstitious notions are eliminated and banished from the mind, which then attacks the problem truly on the basis of experience, and conscientiously on the basis of logical truth. As Huxley remarked: “and Science is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.” Very great then is our responsibility to-day, because we have within reach the results of this accurate observation of the past century, and with them we have vastly improved and increased means of making our own observations. That Nature is a manifestation of the works of the G.A.O.T.U. is a principle we learn very early in Masonry. Let us then learn to know the voice of Nature, this we shall do by studying Nature. It is true that after much study of Nature and very deep contemplation, some, of the great teachers of the past have, through this voice of Nature, coupled with an unshaken faith in the G.A.O.T.U., become conscious of what we may describe as a second or more withdrawn voice — an experience — which may occur without necessarily being accompanied by a power to express it in ordinary language. Such experiences are not acquired without practice in analytical observation and reasoning, concentration of effort and thought; abstraction from irrelevant trains of thought, contemplation and isolation.
It may very truly be said that there is a common tendency, especially among western peoples, to be tied and bound up, so to speak, with themselves; always thinking of everything with reference to “me.” This is fatal to a genuine comprehension of environment, whether that environment is physical or spiritual.
The authors of some of the Upanishads had evidently learnt to at least be able to eliminate self when required, and on the points of concentration and contemplation we have doubtless much to learn from those “dwellers in the forests.” After we have acquired a fair comprehension of our environment in a straightforward scientific manner — not quibbling about concepts and precepts, which is useless, since we cannot define consciousness — it will then be found that the relative position of the ‘ego’ will manifest itself. To some readers perhaps, the ground-work of some of the above statements may be considered somewhat controversial; but it is submitted nevertheless that an increased knowledge of God, of Nature and of Man’s place therein, may be acquired by adopting these methods, which come down to us from the remote past and through the Masonic system; and such knowledge is what we mean by Masonic knowledge.
The recommendation to study Nature implies practical investigation. Huxley wrote as follows: “for nothing is truer than Harvey’s dictum, that those who read without acquiring distinct images of the things about which they read, by the help of their own senses, gather no real knowledge, but conceive mere phantoms and idols.” This may sound a little harsh; but all who have tried the practical work will agree.
In using this word ‘ work,’ however, we mean no irksome task, no drudgery, no fruitless toil, and above all nothing incompatible with our moral or religious duties; here are no qualms of conscience, but an enjoyable and legitimate use of our corporeal and mental faculties in their fullest energies.
And the pertinent question of time? Is there then not so much time available for estimating the wonderful works of the Almighty as there is for estimating the cash value of a minute? The answer to this question has been solved by many of the old Philosophers by saying that there comes a time when more seclusion and retirement is necessary. It is also partially solved in the Masonic division of the twenty-four hours given in the first stage.
Masonic knowledge thus acquired will make us to be ” in the world but not of it and will enlighten us as to that mystic tie which will bind the fraternity together, even though all existing institutions should fail, for Masonry has subsisted from time immemorial, and will continue to do so.
The final and Philosophical stage necessitates an acquaintance with what has been put before us by the Philosophers of the past; and even as all Philosophies are not identical, so will there be differences between some of the conclusions at which different Brethren arrive. But these conclusions should not be merely what we have borrowed from others; but should be ” ours,” in go far as they are distinctly qualified by what we have acquired by our own efforts in the first two stages. Among those who possess a background of practical experience in investigation, there will be found much mutual agreement on matters philosophical, scientific and religious, and in every case there will be an expansion of the mind, and an ennobling of the individual in particular, and, hence, of Freemasonry in general.
Brother A. Gorham