The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
Plutarch c. 45 – c. 125 AD
It seems to me that we expect a lot from our candidate for initiation. He should of course have an idea of the basic principles of Freemasonry – it would be wrong to initiate him if he hasn’t.
But what does he know of the lodge in which he is being initiated? What does he know in detail of what will be required of him? Not a lot I would guess.
That is no bad thing, but it does mean he will have to put a lot of trust in us.
I had already learned early on from my proposer, that the lodge in which I was to be initiated was a lodge of ritual perfectionists. Soon after my raising therefore, I got hold of the book of the ceremonies and started to learn.
I was very keen. I spent many waking hours memorising the degrees and the Emulation lectures. The book was always in my jacket pocket, and I remember wondering if, by some magical osmosis, the words might seep through my jacket into my bloodstream, so that, even without knowing it, I was learning something as I went about my daily business. You can see how fanatical I was.
.. and then I realized how little I really knew
Of course I don’t believe that happened, but after about six years of attending Lodge of Instruction more or less on a weekly basis, I had mastered the words with a fair degree of accuracy. Then something very strange happened. Just when I thought I knew it all, I started reading, I mean really reading the words, working them out, not just memorising them. And then I realized how little I really knew.
Our lodges, as I had read in the fourth section of the first lecture, stand on holy ground. But now I really was beginning to listen.
The next time I went into a lodge, I actually reminded myself – ‘here, you stand on holy ground’ – ground sanctified by the aspirations and intentions of generations of Freemasons who had conferred degrees and worked Masonically on it.
The next time I was privileged to be present at an initiation, I was able to remind myself that we were there better to enable the candidate ‘to unfold the beauties of true godliness’ in himself.
Therefore the candidate’s mid- to long-term aim was just that – pursuit of divinity, and the time needed for the fulfilment of that promise would probably far exceed the forty-five minutes of the degree ceremony itself.
When listening in lodge, I was able to ask myself, ‘What do they mean by the mysteries of nature and science being hidden? And what is it that makes them mysteries in the first place?’
The flood gates were open, and I had at last started on my Masonic path. Bit by bit, I began truly to understand what the painstakingly-learned words were about.
One of the next stages in my Masonic education was to visit lodges in Germany. There, the ritual is not learned by heart, but read from a book. I found myself deeply impressed with the dignity and the sincerity of the Master as he conducted the ceremony; liberated by not having to exercise his memory, he was able to render the words with infinitely more meaning and sincerity.
It’s not for me to make a case for or against learning the ritual by heart – individual preference may dictate that. You could argue that a thorough command of the words will enable the Master to relax and to put expression into the ritual.
You could also argue that the adherence to rigid forms is stifling in itself. But there is another dimension, and it is this.
Are we ‘talking at’ the candidate too much?
At what stage do we light his spark?
At what stage do we set aside rigid forms of ritual, so that the knowledge he is gaining changes from static knowledge to dynamic knowledge?
Ought we to require as much input from him as he is getting from us?
Do we know what he thinks of the ritual – have we explored what the ritual means to him?
If we do stop and engage him in this way, rather than sending him to lodge of instruction until he knows the words, we may find the results rewarding for both of us.
Article by: Julian Rees
Julian Rees was initiated into Freemasonry in 1968 in Kirby Lodge No. 2818, London and was Master in 1976/77 and again at the centenary of the Lodge in 1999/2000. He joined many other UGLE Lodges.
He has been a regular contributor to Freemasonry Today since its founding in 1997 and from 2003 to 2007 he was Deputy and News Editor.
He was appointed active Junior Grand Deacon in the United Grand Lodge of England in 2007. In 2011 he left UGLE and joined the International Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women Le Droit Humain. He remains a well-published and respected Masonic author.
web site: www.julianrees.com
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