I have heard a few of my Lodge Brothers say that traveling through the chairs of the lodge officers line is like an education in itself — a course in leadership and public speaking. It’s an interesting observation and true in many cases. However, that is not the main virtue of the journey through the officer’s line; nor is it the way Masons achieve More Light. It is certainly one way, but obviously in large lodges not everyone will take their turn at being a line officers. That is one argument for smaller lodges. If one new brother was taken in each year, he could then be made Marshal or Jr. Steward (whichever office is considered the starting point of the line). But lodges work to have more candidates per year than that. With four, eight, twelve new brothers a year, it is not possible for all of them to become officers.
The result is that if “going through the chairs” is promoted as a necessary part of being a Mason, that attitude leaves most Masons out of luck. In reality, though, a lodge may have to bring in twelve new brothers each year to find just one willing to serve as an officer. So, the problem is double-edged: One wants every brother to share in the leadership of the lodge and eventually become Master of the Lodge, but at the same time, not every new brother thinks he is capable or devoting the time and energy to it. He may also think that he is not capable of memorizing so many lines and so much ritual work to do it creditably. Brothers are given a mixed message — they are made to think that being an officer of the Lodge is an option (just as it is in most clubs) and at the same time they are told that going through the line is the only way to really experience all Masonry has to offer.
The Line is certainly an important experience for a Mason, and I would like to see new brothers taught that they will serve as officers and should just plan on it. Whether they are elected wardens or Master is a different matter. The three principal officers are elected on merit, after having had several years to show what they can do in the junior officer positions. There are four junior officers — Junior and Senior Steward, Junior and Senior Deacon. All play important roles in the ceremonies of initiation, passing, and raising for the three Masonic degrees. If everyone in the line stays put and no one drops out, each brother gets four years as a junior officer to hone his memorization and ritual skills. By the time he is Sr. Deacon, he is actually in charge of the ritual and floorwork of each degree, conducting the candidate.
One problem with the system is that, as with all of Masonry, there is little if any instruction in the officer’s roles and ritual work. They are corrected and admonished by past masters if they get their lines or their blocking wrong, but this correction is often given during the communication itself — that is during the ritual. One would not expect that in the midst of a church or temple service of any organized religion for the participants in the ritual to be openly and audibly corrected during the service. Yet, in Masonic lodges it is practically constant. This can only result from a combination of failings:
- The officer does not take his role seriously enough to memorize his lines and blocking.
- The Master does not take the ritual serious enough to instruct the junior officer in his lines and blocking and in the importance of what he is doing.
- The past masters of the lodge do not take the ritual serious enough to offer their help in rehearsing and preparing the junior officers so that mistakes are rare. Worse still, they laugh when mistakes are made.
Why is Masonic ritual not taken seriously by Masons? For with talking during ritual, lack of instruction, and sloppy performance, no one can claim that they do take it seriously. True, there are lodges where the ritual is taken very seriously and performed very well, but they are the exceptions in my experience. Taking pride in well-done ritual is a part of the team spirit needed to make it effective and serious, but so often the “audience” on the sidelines fails to understand its role in the drama. They are not a theater audience. They do not have the right to whisper or talk or shout out prompts. Their role is to remain silent and attentive, to rise and sit, pray and participate where directed by the Master. Otherwise, the sidelines must demonstrate their serious engagement in the ritual with their silence and decorum. Even if the mistakes made are funny, no laughter should disrupt the ritual of the lodge.
Laughter is fun. No question of that. But when it is allowed during Masonic ritual it suggests that the Lodge as a whole is not taking their work really seriously. The audience, not realizing that they are “in character” as watchers, drop out of character and introduce a lack of decorum that can completely break the spell of the work. While the degree rituals are taken more seriously, the opening and closing of the lodge are often treated as if they were just perfunctory and mistakes made are treated as the source of mirth. This comes not only from the audience but from the Master and his officers as well, laughing at their own mistakes. I hate to be a damper on the fun, but Masonic rituals won’t work if they are performed in such a slipshod way. For any ritual to be effective in a spiritual sense, it must be taken seriously and taken in an attitude of belief.
I wonder what answer my brothers would give if I asked, “Do you Believe in Masonry?” The question is based on my own belief that rituals are meant to have an effect on the participants. in the case of initiatory rituals, such as the Masonic degrees, there is a special need of seriousness and belief so that it will work on the candidate. The candidate in any initiation is in a position of ignorance. He cannot believe in what he is about to experience because he has never been exposed to it before. In the first degree, the candidate might not have any expectations at all. He might justifiably be afraid. Is laughter appropriate in such a situation? Not unless it is intended to be cruel. Attention, focus, and participation are what a loving brother should bring. Alas, too often the brothers of a lodge have not met the candidate at all, or too little, prior to his initiation as an Entered Apprentice, and so their attitude is not one of love. In the theater, an actor does not usually know the people in the audience, and in Masonic ritual the candidate is really the audience. The sideliners play an audience of brothers examining their new petitioner. But they are not the audience. I suspect too often sideliners — especially past masters — forget this fact. They think the new officers are performing the ritual for them, so they can criticize or praise. But they actually are not the real audience in this drama. It is all being performed for the candidate. For him it is all new.
The sideliners of the Lodge have a very important role, however. Even if they only fill the seats it is important, because when the candidate is brought to light, he sees a room crowded with brothers who are prepared to adopt him into their family. If, on the other hand, he sees a lot of empty chairs and just a few scattered brothers on the sidelines, he might be justifiably disappointed, especially if the lodge has hundreds of members. Where are they all? Don’t they care who is adopted into their family? What sort of brotherly love is that? A candidate may be excused for asking such questions of the empty lodgeroom chairs.
If the sideliners are important, the officers are also crucial. They take the most active part and if they have not memorized their lines and blocking, the candidate will feel slighted. Does this brother not care enough to have learned his part? At the very least, the ritual is spoiled by mistakes, for it is written very intricately in language that needs to be conveyed precisely as written. If a Master, speaking the obligation of the degree, skips a part, then the candidate has not been correctly obligated and in reality (if one believed in Masonry) one would consider the initiation irregular and void. As the initiate in each degree is subsequently asked to memorize part of the degree to demonstrate his “proficiency,” having it given incorrectly in the first instance is confusing as well as sloppy.
From the standpoint of serious regard for Masonic ritual and its language, each officer must memorize his lines perfectly. The attitude that “coming close” or “getting the gist” is good enough is wrong. Just as wrong as it is in a theatrical production of Hamlet or Macbeth. The playwright wrote the words and it is not the play if the actors just improvise carelessly. Moreover, the matter is not merely a technical one. Getting the words right shows respect for the ritual, but it also is necessary for the actors to understand what they are saying. Respect for “the Word” is at the very center of Masonry, and this has to be understood on one level as a respect for language. The “Word” is not a password. It is the Word of a Master Mason, as when we say, “He gave me his word of honor.” It is the embodiment and symbol of the Master Mason’s dependability, his truth. A good man and true, we say. Giving the Master’s Word is the true part. We generally delight in the idea that men were once able to do business simply with a handshake and a promise. It was a world before lawyers, when the laws of morality and right conduct were all that men needed to do the right thing and to trust one another. This centrality of the concept of the Word, our Logos, the reasoning and reasonable part of our minds, is so important to Masonry that it should be reflected in every utterance. If you, as an officer, get your lines wrong during ritual, you are without truth. You have offered untrue words.
Further still, each line officer in a Lodge bears a symbolic import. The three principal officers (the Master and two Wardens) are symbolic roles. They act in the third degree as members of King Solomon’s court, but this is merely an extension of the more basic symbolism that is presented in the first degree. The Master of the Lodge, the Sun, and the Moon are the three “lesser lights” represented by burning tapers. But sun and moon also allude to the Wardens. The Sr. Warden may be taken to represent the sun and daylight for his column is raised and he is in charge during the working hours of the day. The Jr. Warden may be taken to represent the moon because he is in charge when the workers are at refreshment, which is to day, eating their midday meal, and after they have finished work in the evening. As the moon rules the night, so the Jr. Warden rules the hours of darkness and rest. On the other hand, there is another way to look at the three lesser lights. in astrological and alchemical symbolism the sun was the emblem of the Self, the conscious mind and center of the universe for each Man. The Moon symbolized the soul and the unconscious, emotional parts of a Man. From the sun derived his personality and outer form; from the moon his character and inner life. And the Master? The third part of the spiritual being of Man is often called Spirit. Distinguished from the soul, which takes its being from the imbodied Man, the spirit his that higher part of his being that goes beyond the body.
These three aspects — spirit, self , and soul — correspond to the three great pillars said to support the Lodge: Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty. if the Ego be associated with the conscious, active part of a Man, it may be associated with Strength. That is, both strength of body and of character and mind. Strength meaning Ability to perform particular actions. This is the Sr. Warden. He is “self” and he is consciousness, the Man working and acting in the cosmos.
The Moon is the soul, and is sometimes referred to metaphorically as the Heart. The Jr. Warden is this unconscious part of a Man, his larger psyche that embraces not only consciousness but unconsciousness. The latter in terms of sleep and repose, but also reverie, and Beauty. For Beauty like Strength has several meanings in Masonry. It is the beauty of harmony and proportion; it is a lack of excess, and a perfection of number and ratio. It is the Golden Ratio and the Golden Rule. The latter, is empathy, compassion, and these are qualities we associate with the silver light of the Moon. Part of a Man’s unconscious psyche is actually his body. Not in the sense of muscular strength or action, but in the sense of the autonomic nervous system and the Mind reflecting upon life as the Moon reflects the light of the Sun.
In the degrees of Freemasonry, the candidate enters as as an apprentice, symbolically in the realm of the Moon, yet mostly unconscious and without Ability. When he becomes a Fellowcraft, he has acquired the skills of the Craft and falls under the realm of the Sun and the Sr. Warden. But the truly great message of Freemasonry is that this is not all there is to life or Man. He takes a third step and discovers that within his own nature is also the Master, that higher Self or Spirit that is connected to God. The Spirit, represented by the Master, who rises and governs his lodge like the rising sun, is that part of a Man which underlies his whole being. It is not his conscious mind but his super-conscious mind. Freud gave this part of the mind the name Super-Ego because it is a voice within that one derives from one’s parents and from one’s understanding of the Divine. It is a voice that regulates a man in all his actions according to conscience and ideals of goodness. It is the Mastery of Self, sometimes called by mystics the mastery of the “lower self.” For every man has this “lower self” which is fundamentally ruled by his bodily impulses and his animal nature. That self produces violence, selfishness, and the survival instinct; it runs after food and sex and physical thrills and pleasures. It is the “sinful” self from a moral point of view because it desires gluttony, lust, pride, wrath, avarice, and all the other sins. It only wants to get its own way and sees nothing wrong with lies to get there. Its love for others is self-love, a desire to possess others, to enslave them to one’s own will.
That “lower self” is what a candidate for Masonry is asked to leave outside the lodge. When he discards his ordinary clothes and leaves behind “anything of a metallic nature,” he leaves behind that Earthbound ego of the animal-man. He enters the lodge to be led toward higher understanding of his Heart, his Mind, and his Spirit. He enters to improve himself in Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty. Taht is, to grow in knowledge of what is right and harmonious and his own ability to take right action. This world of right action is symbolized by the “house not made with hands.” It is Solomon’s temple. It is the New Jerusalem. All of which are symbols for the perfection of wisdom, ability, and beauty.
Some Masons might like to say that the Master and the Wardens symbolize Mind, Body, and Spirit, so that the Master is Mind (seat of wisdom), the Sr. Warden is the body (seat of strength and action) and the Jr. Warden is Spirit, because it is the Spirit which is actually the Moon, the Heart, the seat of love. For to appreciate beauty in art or nature, we must have love. Animals do not appreciate beauty, so far as we can tell. Nor do they distinguish what is beautiful from what is ugly, what is good from what is offensive. In this reading of the officers, the “Lights” make Spirit the seat of that Knowledge of Good and Evil which was acquired through the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Eating of the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil gives humans the ability to distinguish what is right from what is wrong, what is beautiful from what is ugly, harmony from discord.
Such a reading is also good. It further illustrates that Masonic symbols do not need to be interpreted in one single way. There is not a single right answer. The symbols support the same message in multiple ways. What is most important is how the wardens and the Master think about their roles during ritual. They represent the three pillars and they represent the growth in understanding sought by Masons as they have the three degrees conferred upon them. The Entered Apprentice must learn to circumscribe his actions, to control his passions; to act rationally and with empathy. This is the sphere of the Moon. The Fellowcraft builds upon the stability of a life lived without passions running away. He grows in knowledge and reason in order to look from the vantage point of consciousness into his unconscious self. The Master Mason builds upon the Fellowcraft’s accumulation of knowledge and ability (represented by the seven liberal arts) and adds to such abilities the wisdom to apply them rightly, according to the square of virtue. A Master Mason, if the ritual has been done right, and if he has been taught well, should understand himself to be more than Mind and Heart, but also Spirit in the Divine sense, one with that Holy Spirit of Creation and Wise living. He has died to his lower nature and been raised up to his Higher Self, a state of consciousness that incorporates awareness of all the lower aspects of his being, and so Masters them. A state of consciousness that also becomes fully aware that he is not separated from Divinity, but an extension of it. So long as his will is wise and in harmony with the Mind of the Cosmos, which is the Great Architect behind all Order, Truth, and Beauty.
From such a position of Divine awareness, the Master Mason sees that he is one with all people and so is a brother to everyone. Even more than a brother, he is the Other, and so may give relief and brotherly love unstintingly from that infinite source to which all are connected.
The journey through the officers line re-enacts the journey of the three degrees of Masonry. It plays out over seven years, the growing awareness of each part of the psyche as the three degrees are meant to play out the same revelation over three years (though today few lodges give it more than three months). The officers line journey is not necessary to the learning of Masonry, but it certainly can help. Yet, only if it is understood as a mirror and complement to the degrees. The junior officers serve the senior officers. The stewards serve the Jr. Warden (Beauty, the Moon). The Deacons serve the Sr. Warden and the Master, respectively, and so is born out on their jewels, in which the Sr. Deacon carries the Sun from East to West with orders from the Master (the Mind or Higher Self), and the Jr. Deacon carries messages from West to South, bearing the light of the Moon. Service as junior officers offers lessons in the nature of the three principal officers, and so, prepares the brother to be elected to those offices if he learns his lessons and demonstrates his ability. In ritual, beauty is doing it right and smoothly, with harmony; strength is doing it with ability and power, projecting one’s energy into one’s lines and actions. Wisdom, finally, is understanding the roles, words, and movements of the ritual.
A serious lodge practicing serious Masonry will demand proof of learning and ablity from any brother before he is elected a warden or Master of the Lodge. If this were always done, the past masters would all understand the ritual in this way, and would never think to whisper or prompt, but would make certain that every man knew his lines and part perfectly, for the sake of that real audience: the candidates.
Bardwood.com has a whole new look. The theme is simplified and colorful and new content has been added. A general house cleaning. Most important is the addition of pages for the Celydon Saga. With the launch of House of Glass, the first novel in the series, a web page became necessary. Not only that, but I have purchased the domain names appropriate, so you can direct your browser to any of the following and end up on the Celydon main page. Check it out, look over the page on the Druid’s calendar used in the saga, and read my Artist’s Statement.
Further, in an effort to really promote the book and the series, I’ve taken time to establish a Tumblr page called The Maertens Files, and a Pinterest page under the name of Alferian where I am collecting many images on several boards. Some of these are just amazing and so forth, but some are also models for future illustrations of characters and cover art for the subsequent books. I recently added a board for magic wands mainly because I found a wandmaker whose work I like even better than mine. It’s in a class by itself really, and hat’s off to “Acme Wand Supply” (I think it is run by Wile E. Coyote)
The Cover of One Hundred Years of Brotherhood: the Centennial History of Lake Harriet Lodge No. 277 of Minnesota. This is the product of about four years of research and writing, much of which took place in the last few months — the writing that is. It recounts the event in the life of an active west-metro lodge and examines some of the perennial questions of Masonry, particularly: Why do so many men become Masons and then not participate in lodge meetings and events? The answer for most of the past 100 years has been: “Because they aren’t fun enough.” The new answer, put forward by Masonic thinkers in the past couple of decades is that “they aren’t serious enough.” The meetings do not show brothers how to practice Masonry as a spiritual discipline. I looked into this as I studied Lake Harriet’s brothers over the years, especially as opinions were expressed through out newspaper, the Lake Harriet Herald. There have been some brothers who did realize the need for continued study of Masonry and its symbols, but the expression of a need for more serious meetings is largely absent.
This suggests to me that the hypothesis is true, that Masons at least since 1913 have not understood Freemasonry to be a set of lessons and instructions that are clues to deeper understanding of the human mind, character, and the human condition. They have embraced the ideas of “brotherly love and freindship” and for the most part conflated the two. So, the lodges have been the focal points for a group of friends. The discussions of symbolism lay content with the superficial meanings given in the lectures of the degrees and ignored the incongruities and hints at a deeper way of understanding symbolically.
It is hard to imagine any Masons picking up on this without guidance from someone already adept in the reading of symbols. Presumably this was once taught to Felllows of the Craft or “Master Masons.” The idea that stonemasons (who our modern ideas make us think of as “blue-collar workers”) developed their tools and art into a symbolic language suitable to describe the relationships among body, soul, and rational mind, sounds anachronistic to us. We are educated to believe the Middle Ages were a time of ignorance and superstition, illiteracy and so forth that was eventually relieved by the Renaissance of classical Greek literature, Hermeticism and so forth. That prejudice strikes me as wrong. The artificial division of history into “periods” is misleading. History is the record of continuous change. Occasionally, certain events will spark dramatic changes, but they should never be thought of as emerging out of nowhere. The long and short of it is that medieval stonemasons and the builders before and after that time, knew more than most of us educated people do today. Especially the Masters who were in fact architects. The expression “Renaissance Man” is usually reserved for prodigies like Leonardo DaVinci. But consider, in his own time, Leonardo was an engineer, inventor, and painter — all crafts that were accorded no social status at all. In other words, he was “blue collar.”
Fascination with the human psyche did not pop out of nowhere in the 19th century. That is just when it began to develop pretenses of being “scientific” in the modern sense — experimental and increasingly confined to the materialist worldview. Prior to the 20th century’s reduction of humanity to complicated microbiology and chemistry, the ideas of body, soul, ego, self, and spirit all rattled around among philosophers. Astrology and alchemy, which are derided out of hand by modern “educated” people, were the forerunners of psychology, using a different language of symbols to theorize the complexities of the personality and the mind. Freemasonry is the heir to that whole history of speculative philosophy, which uses symbols to try to understand the mind and the human condition.
Why are we the only species that has the sort of language and reason we have? Dolphins, whales, and other primates aside, animal communication and mental processes are not the same as those of humans, and the secret to this language/reason constellation in our minds (the Logos) lies in our ability to understand through symbols. Language is a set of symbols attached to sounds. Written language is even more symbolic and permits even more abstract thinking. This uniquely human power was called Logos by the Greeks and the Hellenistic Hermeticists and became the very highest idea of the Divine. The idea that there is a Great Architect of the Universe was a prodoct of Neoplatonism, not Judaism. The attribution of “Creator” or “Father” to the Hebrew God and the elimination of polytheism it its religion, was only a step in the direction of imagining a single Divine entity that encompassed All. It was no more like the Logos than, say, the Norse Odin Allfather. The idea of a Father god from whom everthing is descended is a mainstay of polytheism. The unique thing the Hebrews did, over time, was to eliminate all the other gods and goddesses and consolidate their priesthood on one god.
When Freemasonry took up the idea of One God and called him the Great Architect of the Universe, this was a way to allow men of any Judeo-Christian sect to join and feel comfortable with the Biblical references. However, to believe Freemasonry is Christian or Jewish or anything else because it uses the Bible as its symbol on the altar (one of the 3 Great Lights) is to ignore what is taught in the degrees. So, I have come to be convinced that Freemasonry does contain more than just a superficial set of promises to be “better men” and practice fraternalism. As writers such as William Wilmshurst suggested a hundred years ago: Masonry is a symbolic and allegorical system for understanding character and the psyche. There is nothing in the rituals that should be taken literally at “face value.” When one has realized that simple lesson, then one’s eyes are truly opened and the blindfold removed.
Of course, neither I nor any Mason can speak as an authority on Masonry. There is no one who has the right or priviledge of speaking for the whole of the Craft. The rituals and symbols must be allowed to speak for themselves. So, no one can ever claim to have finally “figured out” what Masonry is or means. One can only work at it and come to a state of satisfaction with one’s own ideas and “speculations.”
That does not, however, mean that the ideas and interpretations of individual Masonic authors should be rejected out of hand as “not authoritative.” For that implies that there is some sort of “authoritative” interpretation. Of course, Grand Lodge officers sometimes imagine they have the authority to say what is and isn’t a true interpretation of Masonry’s symbols. They are given that authority by their constituent lodges within their particular jurisdiction, but they cannot speak for all of Masonry.
That lack of any authoritative, single interpretation of the Craft symbols is a blessing and a curse. It has left a void of ignorance, largely because our educational systems teach us that there is a right answer and a wrong answer for everything. True/False. The result too often is then to simply reject anything that does not have a “right” answer as if any answer will do, and so no further thought on the matter is worthwhile. Much easier to accept a supposedly “right” answer as handed down from one’s prececessors.
But that is exactly what scientific thinking does not do. The scientific mind does not blindly accept what its prececessors have told it is “true.” The real seeker after Truth, seeks for himself and does not simply accept the first answer he is handed. This new way of thinking was characteristic of the period in which Speculative Freemasonry evolved. The classical philosophers were not content to accept what their predecessors said, nor were many in the Middle Ages — despite the oppressive centralization of power in the Roman Church that discouraged dissent or innovation as “heresy.” Really, the Church did not stop people from thinking. It just stopped them from publishing. And even there is it was not ultimately successful. Freemasonry, before the gathering together of its rituals into written forms, was one of perhaps many lines of thought that carried on “under the radar” of official disapproval. Monks and priests (the literate folk and writers of the times) were at the greatest risk of censure and of losing their social standing and livelihoods if they were caught speculating about “spiritual” matters. But stonemasons had very little to worry about on that score. The people outside of the Church system of education were more free to think that those inside it.
Or, at least, so I speculate. I am not an “authority” on the past either. Suffice to say that the search for the strength of Freemasonry anywhere outside of its rituals and teachings is the cause of decline in interest and a membership that is largely not committed to being a Mason for life. Those who do manage 50 years of being a Mason are aways honored, and should be. However, it is by no means certain that in the past 100 years they were ever given the opportunity to discover the real power of the Masonic Way — if I may coin the term. The Tao of Freemasonry, as it were.
An enthusiastic greeting and show of true affection among Masons, a firm and brotherly handshake, and getting together as friends to have fun — these are certainly important to the practice of the Craft. If you were practicing all the “inner disciplines” and practices advocated in the degrees, and were a grumpy brother who never went to lodge meetings or pancake breakfasts, or who held his fellow Masons in disdain, such behavior would demonstrate that you did not truly understand the lessons of the degrees.
That is the funny thing about Masonic teaching. Without a mentor to guide you, and one who has some sort of “authority” to teach and guide, there are many ways that a Mason can misinterpret and misunderstand what he is supposed to be doing — what the Craft is.
Some while ago, when I was doing research on other lodge histories in preparation for the one I am writing, I enjoyed a History of Dundee Lodge, which is a very old lodge in London (not Dundee, as you might have thought). The author, Hieron, read all their old minute books and financial records to reconstruct their earliest days. The brothers of Old Dundee lodge were very proud when they could afford to buy their own tavern instead of having to rent from someone elses. Taverns in the 18th and 19th centuries were not just pubs or bars. They were meeting places for men of different trades and professions. They would go out to eat with friends and colleagues and when traveling would sleep at a tavern which was also an inn. The utility of having a Masonic Lodge above a tavern was the same as having a dance or any other sort of party in the big room upstairs — there was a kitchen downstairs that could provide food and drink.
Could a Lodge meet in someone’s private home instead? Yes, but that would have put the expense on the host, where in the case of a tavern, it was more easy to see that the expenses be shared equally. The tavern-keeper was often also the Lodge Tyler, and in those days, the Tyler was the Secretary and the Treasurer for the lodge. According to an article I read about Dr.Samuel Johnson, the Lodge Tyler not only had to guard the door when the Lodge was in session, but he kept the accounts, collected money for the bills from the members, wrote the summonses to meetings and hand-delivered them to all the members! The meetings consisted of the rituals of opening and closing the lodge, and the conferring of degrees, when there were candidates, but the degrees were conferrred in a separate small room (which probably evolved into the preparation room of today). In that outer room, a trestle table could be set up and the symbols for each degree drawn in chalk and charcoal upon its surface. Later, a paper chart would be spread upon the table. All the members would join in to explain the symbols and their meanings to the candidate.
The earliest system for this presentation of degrees, was to draw on the floor, which was made of clay tiles, and so could provide a drawing surface, but one easily erased with a mop and water afterwards. It is possible that the clay tiles, the charcoal and chalk used for the drawings explain why those three substances are symbolically explained in one part of the later “lectures” of the degrees. It is also interesting to speculate that the tile floor provides the origin of the title “Tyler” (sometimes also spelled “Tiler). For it was in this anteroom to the main lodge room that the Tyler sat with his naked sword guarding the door. When the conferral of degrees ceased to be made in the anteroom, the Tyler’s job was reduced to that of outer guard, and when the floors of lodges ceased to be literally tiled with tile, the whole origin of the name was lost. It seems like a good theory anyway. The Tyler’s name comes from originally being in charge of the clay tile floor upon which the lessons of the degrees (the Masonic secrets) were conveyed.
Another theory that comes from no more reliable source than popping out of my head is that the Tyler symbolically was the creator of the whole floor of the lodge upon which the Masons did their work. In the construction of stone temples or other structures mosaic floors or “pavements” were laid down by tilers. They were not only careful craftsmen, to make the floor perfectly level and even (equal), but they were artists who in tiny colored tiles could create a picture of great complexity. The lodge floor is described as being a “chequered pavement” or “mosaic” and this is generally thought to mean large black and white squares like a chessboard. However, there is also, in our ritual lectures, reference to a “blazing star” at the “center of the lodge” the description of which suggests that it is in the floor.
This Blazing Star is a conundrum because it is also generally assumed that the altar is at the center of the lodge room. In British lodges today, the altar (called the “pedestal”) is placed just in front of the Worshipful Master’s station in the East. In such an arrangement, not only is the center of the lodge freed up to have a Blazing Star in the mosaic floor, but the candidate kneeling at the altar is much closer to the Master, which itself makes ritual sense, given that it is the Master who “makes a man a Mason.” However, the perambulations of the lodge room would then not be “around the altar” exactly, though the altar would still be inside the rectangle walked by the candidate and his guide.
All these ritual details strike me as conveying subtly different messages. In today’s lodge work, having no logical reason to explain the Tyler’s name seems less that satisfactory. Some have suggested that since tilers were not Masons they were roped in to guard the outer door they could not enter. That does not ring true for me. Some say that the Tyler guards the roof tiles of the lodge room eavesdroppers. But very few Scottish or English roofs are made of tile. If that were the origin, the outer guard would be called the Shingler.
No, my theory is that the Tyler represents the outer world. He sits outside the lodge guarding against intrusion of mundane things from the outer world into the inner world of Masonic spiritual work. Not just to make sure that non-Masons keep out, so they won’t learn any secrets, but symbolically to keep out everything profane, everything that does not belong in the sacred space or might interrupt the sacred work. This explanation is predicated on the idea that the Lodge Room is sacred space. We call outsiders “profane” in the literally Latin sense of the word: they are pro-fanum, outside the temple, or sacred space. A tiler, one who lays tiled floors, symbolizes that mundane world, just as the chequered pavement is said to do in the Lodge Room itself. It is the basis upon which all the spiritual temple-building is done. The black and white mosaic pavement symbolizes that life and the mundane world is equally good and evil, or if you prefer it in the Taoist symboilism, a balance of yin and yang.
In Masonic symbolism the emphasis is on goodness and badness, however. The world and our mortal selves contain good and bad; our lives included happiness and sadness, fortune and misfortune. The lesson is not the Buddhist one that says all life is suffering; nor is it the Christian one that says the material world is ruled by the Devil. It is a model that represents the ground of our being as a mosaic of potential good and evil behavior. There are no supernatural forces of evil in Masonry. The evil that is represented in Masonic ritual is in human actions and bad judgement — Lying, Ignorance, and Revenge. The tile floor of the lodge is made of clay, just like our physical bodies. It is there to remind us that we walk in the material world, which can be turned to right action or wrong action. In itself the material world is neither good nor bad. It is those men walking upon it that convert its potential into right or wrong action, construction or destruction.
So, the Lodge Room itself represents the sacred space in which we come to understand the interactions of our Ego, our Soul, and our Higher Self (Ego, Anima, and Self — in the terms of C.G. Jung). The Ego is the center of consciousness and must exist for interaction with the material world, must exist for there to be any self-awareness. Cats may have consciousness and unconsciousness, but they have no real self-awareness or self-consciousness. They do not think about their actions, or reflect upon them morally. The Jr. Warden of the Lodge is the officer who represents that Ego, and it is worth obsserving that it is not the Ego that interacts with the outside world directly. Who interacts with the Tyler? Well, in the British system there is an officer called the Inner Guard who speaks through the doorway to the Tyler and is, in a sense, the messenger of the Jr. Warden. If the doorway represents the doorway of our senses, then the Inner Guard is that intermediary of the nervous system that informs the Ego of sense perceptions, but not directly, so that our perceptions are always subject to preconceived ideas and experiences aleady in our brains.
In the American system there is no Inner Guard, and I find this telling. For in that case it is the Jr. Deacon who interacts with the Tyler and the doorway of the senses. The Jr. Deacon is the messenger of the Sr. Warden, who represents not the Ego, but the Soul. Jung called the soul by the Latin name, Anima. It is the center of what he considered the personal unconscious. The unconscious mind of every individual contains all past experiences perfectly and in every detail. The Ego foats, as it were, on this sea of unconsciousness and creates the sunlit firmament above which represents consciousness and present experience. The Ego can draw upon memories under the surface of the unconscious, but it does so only in limited ways. When it falls asleep and becomes unconscious, the Ego sinks down into that sea just like the sun setting at night. The ancient Egyptians (and indeed almost all ancient mythologies) depicted the sun as traveling under the earth or under the sea at night, journeying from West to East to rise again. The image of that myth can also describe the Ego’s journey through the dreamtime to awaken the next morning.
During that period of unconsciousness, it is the Anima, or Soul which acts as our Being. The body remains immobile for the most part, and unconscious of its movements. The body is not supposed to go anywhere when we are asleep, unconscious. But the soul is not bound by those laws. The Anima may travel and govern as it pleases. When the Lodge is at Labor, the Sr. Warden is in charge of the work. Put another way, according to the words of our ritual opening and closing, the Sr. Warden rewards good behavior — he “pays the Craft their wages, if ought be due.” Dreams are often thought of as the results of our behavior during our waking hours. Good dreams come to the soul that is good and peaceful. Bad dreams come to the soul that has been disturbed by bad behavior, struggling with its conscience. For Conscience lives in the Unconscious. The Latin roots “con” and “science” literally mean “with” and “knowledge” but Latin “conscientia” had the connotation of “knowledge within oneself.” The lexicographers say that it was a Latin translation of a Greek loan-word, syneidesis. It is knowledge from within, not knowledge from outside oneself, which is why it is sometimes called that “still, small voice” that tells us when we are doing something that just isn’t right.
You might say that we go to sleep and engage with our soul. Or equally well, that the soul governs us when we are unconscious. But, wait a minute. Does that mean that when Masons are “at labor” in the Lodge room, they are dreaming? Sort of. It means that acting out ritual and the contemplation of symbols is an unconscious activity, one that impresses upon the unconscious mind ideas that are expressed indirectly. The words of the ritual sometimes say one thing that appeals to the logical mind of the Ego, but underneath mean something deeper, something about our unconscious self. At least, that is the conclusion we can draw from following this line of thought about inner and outer worlds.
If the Jr. Warden, who governs us during “refreshment” represents the Ego, then “refreshment” must be our waking lives. That seems a little odd, when we usually think of sleep as a sort of “refreshment.” But there is sleep from the body’s point of view and sleep from the mind’s point of view. Silencing the brain and stilling the body is necessary for it to repair itself and go on functioning. If you run a motor constantly it will burn out faster than if you “rest” it periodically. The body is doing more than nothing when it is asleep, but what it is doing is governed by those parts of our nervous system that are unconscious. In fact, one might say that our body is mostly unconscious. The Ego, when awake, ignores it except for such things as eating and healthy exercise. For most of us, waking hours mean work and interacting with other people. And that is precisely it. The Jr. Warden and Refreshment, in the Masonic sense, are parts of our workday. Literally, “calling the craft from labor to refreshment” is telling them it is time for lunch and a rest — but not time to sleep. Have a little wine or beer, eat something, sit around and talk with your workmates: that’s the idea.
Which is why it is so interesting that the Jr. Deacon speaks to the Tyler in the American work. The Jr. Deacon has upon his staff, the Moon, and is the messenger of the Sr. Warden, the Soul. Moon and soul have long been connected in esoteric symbolism. In astrology, for example, the Moon represents that part of the personality related to our homelife, our emotions, motherhood, women. The Moon rises from the soul and its own self-knowledge. It is considered the opposite of the Sun, that luminary which represents the conscious personality. It is more complicated than this, but you get the idea. The Jr. Deacon is that intermediary between the soul and the senses. The Tyler represents sensual, outside life. In other words, the senses deal directly with our unconscious mind and are filtered through our self-knowledge before they communicate with the Ego. The ego is logical, it speaks, it follows orders (or not), it protests, it defends itself verbally and through actions if necessary. The ego likes to work, likes to be doing, making, working with other people to create. Even demolition crews who spend their day destroying things are ultimately part of the process of creation.
Still, we do well to consider that the Ego is only a sort of puppet. It thinks it is in control of the Whole Self, the Whole Being — it sometimes thinks it is in control of the whole external world as well, and loves to be in command over other people. But it is a puppet and the hand inside the puppet rises out of the unconscious. The Jr. Deacon, Mr. Moon, is the hand. For it is the Jr. Deacons duty to “carry messages” from the Sr. Warden in the West, to the Jr. Warden in the South.” The directions are symbolic too of the noonday of consciousness and the westering of the Sun which has one foot in the unconscious — in conscience. At sunset we see the Evenstar and she is the light of the unconscious, Jung’s Anima. At burning noontime, we see only the sun, and though the stars and planets are always there, they are invisible to us. So these forces at work in our being are invisible to the Ego unless it turns away from the light of conscious logic, work, and action, away from the body’s concerns with activity and refreshment.
The Jr. Deacon is that part of the mind which sends messages from the unconscious mind into consciousness. He is conscience, but he may also be all the dreams, passions, and desires that motivate us. He may carry messages out of our unconscious prejudices or our past experiences that do not animate the Ego, but inflate it like a balloon, puffed up with hot air and hubris. A man may act out of unconscious impulses and urges, rather than tempering these with reason and moral sense. Not, however, if our inner Sr. Warden is truly aware of himself and in charge. If he is a good Sr. Warden, he keeps the Craft in line, working correctly using the level to realize that the level of Time upon which we all walk is the level of that division of the mind between the conscious and unconscious worlds. If we walk on one side of the level we stand upright and plumb as good men. If we sink below that level, or crouch down staring into the abyss, then our Egos may act in evil and selfish ways — ways that seem perfectly reasonable, though they seek to step on others and push our own selves forward in the world. These creatures who do not walk upright and look ahead into the light, are those three ruffians within — selfishness, jealousy, and ignorance. These three are perfectly willing to murder the boss in the hopes of getting a better job. (It seemed like the thing to do at the time…)
The Jr. Deacon then, is a sort of guide-of souls, just as the Sr. Deacon is when he guides the candidate in the lodge room. The Junior Deacon speaks to our Ego, delivering messages from our conscience and our soul. Jung said that the soul is often perceived by a man’s ego as a female presence — the Anima is our “inner feminine” as some say. The point of such an expression is to show a relative point of view. A man’s ego perceives his unconscious mind as something Other, and theirfore personifies is as a female force somewhere within. Moreover, “feminine” is defined as gentle, soft, comforting, peaceful, elegant, nurturing, the source of birth and love.” This is an ideal. To define the “feminine” in this way is not to say all actual women have these characteristics. But in the ideal, the inner feminine image or complex, is built upon those other images from childhood — the Mother and the Lover. All are idealized, symbolic, dreams, because they dwell within our unconscious mind. The Ego gets into trouble if it mistakes its own inner idealization of the Feminine with actual women in his life. Likewise with women who mistake actual men for their inner Father or Prince Charming.
This is relevant to the Masonic lodge. For Masons are a group of men trying to know themselves, and to know oneself includes knowing one’s unconscious parts. In fact it includes even more than that, but I will leave that for another time. This essay started off with the mystery of the Tyler’s curious name. If this man outside the door with his sword is a kind of defensive extension of the self, he is one that is most associated with the Earth element, the ground, the level of material time, or life. He is outside, because Masons in lodge assembled are to leave behind Earth, to divest themselves of all metals and all the signs of material status, low or high. The Tyler once was the keeper of the tile floor of the anteroom, the chalk and charcoal that could write upon its surface — all expressions of alchemical Earth. He did not draw out the lessons, he just kept the floor upon which the officers, the higher parts of Mind could express their truths.
In a very interesting article/blog post (which can be found here) the author discusses the Future of Freemasonry in the context of its current declining membership numbers. He suggests that the kind of young man “traditionally” attracted to Speculative Masonry is one who is seeking the integrated life of spirit and matter. This kind of young man (and woman) exists in larger numbers now that perhaps ever before, because of the cultural changes in religion and spirituality over the past five decades. While in the 1970s interest in Eastern philsophy and religion, enlightenment, yoga, and Hermeticism was considered on “the fringe,” today it has become entirely mainstream. Though there are plenty of Americans practicing the “religions of the book,” there are probably an equal or greater number who are seeking something less dogmatic and more personally liberating.
Indeed, few Masons themselves know the appeal of the treasure they have to countless young man (and women!) who have turned to Eastern philosophy or meditation, neglecting indigenous western roots to the mystical – such as Freemasonry.
One can differ with the author of this article about whether this kind of spiritual seeker is the “traditional” kind of young man attracted to Masonry. I think for the past 100 years many men joined Masonry for other reasons, and never really were taught the ways of the Craft as a spiritual practice. However, he may also be right in suggesting that those men who did join Masonry seeking ancient wisdom and the tools to make themselves better men in heart and soul, were disappointed with what they found — often nothing more than a social club with complicated rituals attached to it, and members who could not give a clue how to actually use the symbols of the Craft. In other words, the Craft of “speculating” which is the whole point of Masonry according to its own teachings. Masons ignored that raison d’etre of Free Masonry and as membership exploded in the 20th century, ignorance of the fundamental Craft exploded along with it.
Young men today want self-development, but have never even heard of Freemasonry, or think it is some kind of conspiracy secret society from long ago. Many, I am sure, think Freemasonry is fictitious because they have only ever encountered it in fiction.
This type of young person is both less likely to conform to that stereo type most Masonic leaders have of eligible younger members, and more likely to challenge the preconceptions and stereotypes of the various Masonic establishments.
While most likely to be “gentle” in their critiques, they are still prone to candor and frankness about differences between Masonic ideal and practice. As a result, they are not likely to be entirely comfortable with inefficient and poor lodge leadership and management.
I can vouch for that because, while not especially “young,” I have exactly this reaction. The organization needs its rigidity questioned and challenged, but it seems those Masons who involve themselves in lodge or grand lodge wish to do nothing but perpetuate an organization that does nothing except offer high-falutin titles, awards, and installation ceremonies and banquets that celebrate its offices, titles, and awards. The responsibility of office and the awards are not given for understanding the Masonic system of symbolic learning and self-development; they are given to men who play the game, perpetuate the forms, memorize by rote, and think that, and fun parties, is all there is to Free Masonry.
Frustration with inefficient management and brothers who ignore the newly raised younger men (for whatever reason), and the expectation that “you only get out of Masonry what you put into it,” is definitely a problem. The new brother who came in seriously interested in symbolic learning and the Western wisdom tradition, are bound to become frustrated if they can find no other lodge brothers who desire the same thing. As for inept management, I fear that is a chronic problem in Craft lodges, as the oldest members hold onto the management of the lodge as Secretaries or Trustees or simply Past Masters, and refuse to allow the younger members assume a place in the management structure. Indeed, there is hardly any management structure to most lodges. The officers have ritual and degrees and events to plan and have not the time to think about positive changes.
You do get out of Masonry what you put into it but if you do not put in Study, Practice, and Doing what the Degrees tell you to do, then you are not going to get the really wonderful wisdom and power to change that lies in plain view but missed by so many brothers.
The younger philosophically and materially minded man of today would tend to see Freemasonry as an option for authentic human existence – as a form and approach to leading of life that sought a center within itself, and did not depend upon external authority or convention.
Such a man today is common precisely because so many conventions are challenged, and security, in the traditional sense – economics included – is increasingly rare. Such men are more likely to fall back upon their own devices in times of tumult; similarly they are likely to attempt a serious journey inward at some point in their lives.
This inward journey is an existential search — a search for meaning in one’s existence. The lessons and symbols of Free Masonry provide such meanings is a way that is not connected to organized religion (or shouldn’t be). Free Masonry offers a completely secular model for living morally. Its references to God and the Bible are not intended to imply it is based in Christianity. If Masons pay attention to what the degrees say about God and the Bible, they will see that Masonry teaches nothing about any religion. It offers men The Great Architect of the Universe, who is given no interpretation except as a metaphorical father to justify a belief that all created people are “brothers.” Creation — that is all that one needs to believe in to be a Mason. It has been inserted into the basic Craft that a candidate must be able to say he puts his trust in God because otherwise his promises given in the “obligations” taken in each degree would be meaningless. Well, it is pretty apparent that this does not work. Masons all say they put their trust in God and then proceed to break their obligations by ignoring the content of the rituals and failing to attend lodge communications. Far better would it be for a man to be able to say truthfully that he has faith in himself. Then he might take sacred vows seriously.
The purpose of these “obligations” is not, as so many anti-masons think, to bind each brother to loyalty to the fraternity and its officialdom under penalty of death should he fail to do so. The purpose is to dramatically and symbolically obligate oneself to commitment and hard work. The vows of secrecy are also symbolic not literal: they are an easy promise to keep and so stand in for the Mason’s integrity. The ritual obligations with their symbolic penalties that relate to the dramatic allegory of the third degree, are themselves part of the symbolism of Masonry, and the purpose is not literally to keep the ritual secret, but to practice in a relatively easy way, keeping a confidence and keeping a promise. But, I am afraid I am in the minority in believing this. Most brothers, I suspect, take the whole thing literally and find it weird and bewildering, probably relieved when it is over and they can concentrate on attending parties with Masons.
The old school Mason we have seen through the past century — maybe two or three centuries — joined up because it was a popular exclusive club. That Masonry is no longer popular is, to my way of thinking, a blessing because no men should petition a lodge unless they sincerely desire what Masonry really has to off that is unique — a system of symbols and allegories with which one can build one’s inner temple, shape oneself metaphorically into a perfectly square and true stone in the temple of Humanity.
In seeking out data about the relationship between Free Masonry and Greek college fraternities, I discovered that the two seem to have influenced each other. College fraternities in America go back almost as far as Masonic lodges in the Colonial period. De Tocqueville remarked at the craze for joining private societies among Americans. Passing over any speculation about the reason for this craze, one can find that college fraternities developed with secret signs and handshakes and identification lapel pins in imitation of Masonry. But, at the same time, the existence among young men in college of such fraternities meant that when they graduated they could be very easily brought into the Masonic “fraternity” for the same reasons they wanted to join one in college. Sadly, the reputation for boozing and hazing which plagued fraternities as they grew more popular also came to plague Masonry.
Masons, far back, were lampooned for coming home drunk from their festive boards. The problem grew until Prohibition, when lodges went dry. Even the Shriners whose conventions had become notorious, tried to polish their tarnished image. The Shrine was in some ways the logical extention of a confusion that seems to have happened in the 19th century. Lodges started to see themselves as simply “fraternities” in the Greek letter sense. The word “fraternity” which in Free Masonry means a deep spiritual commitment to the ideal of universal brotherhood, became conflated with the usage in colleges, where fraternities were simply private clubs for students serving them for networking, putting on gigantic parties, and puffing them up with a sense of superiority simply because they had been admitted to a fraternity. As “fraternity” took on these connotations in American society, Masonic Lodge began to be seen as just another exclusive club. If you were admitted, you were really special. This attitude was fostered by the proliferation of other organizations that were “Masons Only.” Those groups, even where they included further “degrees,” were seen by many as just a further way to become more elite, penetrating more deeply into the eliteness of Free Masonry.
Speculative Masonry was almost lost in this confusion in the temple. The Craft Lodge began to be called the “Blue Lodge” for some reason. No one seems to know how it started or why. What is significant in the name is that it took the “Speculative” out of the Lodge. The term Blue Lodge seems to refer to the traditional colors of regalia adopted in England, but the name seems to diminish something unique and marvelous. As Masons no longer understood how to work with symbols, and thought that Masonry was a “fraternity,” the Symbolic Lodge became little more than an entry point into this world of exclusive organizations that were “Masons Only.”
That young men today are not interested in such empty-headed puffery, means that Masonry must change. It is irrelevant to men today so long as it appeals only to those who want to join an exclusive “fraternity.” The apparatus is there for the taking by anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see, but to be “duly and truly prepared” to enter a lodge room as a candidate, a man must really know how to read and use symbols and allegories. And this skill is one that has been largely lost. Our mainstream religions do not teach how to use their symbols, except in the practice of prayer in front of a cross or crucifix. The materialization and literalization of our culture, the loss of poetry and art, as they have been marginalized, has made the joy of symbols and of reading a picture to mine its possible meanings a lost art. Except for one segment of society, and that is those involved in the current of the Western occult tradition. Less and less marginalized, as Wicca and Druidry are acknowledged to be legitimate “religions,” the world of Tarot cards, astrology, and magic is full of symbols and working tools. Indeed, the organizations that have carried on in the eddies of the Mainstream culture, got the whole business from Freemasonry, on the one hand, and C. G. Jung, on the other.
Jung was marginalized by “scientific” psychology by the 1980’s but enjoyed tremendous popularity among students of the esoteric. Eastern and western mysticism met in California and from their spread far and wide a new synthesis of spiritual ideas and symbols. I suspect that the emergence of the “New Age” movement of the 1970’s and on, drove Masons even farther away from what their system was all about. Having become an exclusive club of mainstream men of business, any hint of the occult was seen as disaster for Masonry. The result has been a concerted effort of Free Masons to deny the esoteric side of the Craft — its roots in alchemical symbolism and the ancient mystery schools. At the end of the 19th century, the Masons published a magazine called “The New Age.” At the end of the 20th century that phrase was abandoned because it had been associated with kooks and hippies, and self-proclaimed Pagans and witches.
It is a tangled history, but the future of Masonry seems undeniable. Those lodges will flourish who go back and re-learn how to use the unique symbolic system of thought for which they have been the custodians. They will realize the relevance of the Masonic system to younger men today who are seekers of spiritual disciplines and understanding of the roots of their own Western culture. Continuing to exclude “atheists” and to put off even “agnostics” is sheer foolishness. Free Masonry was founded by men who questioned the religious doctrines of their time, down to the nature of the Creative Principle that brought the Universe and Nature into existence. They were interested in “alternative” ideas about the human spirit and soul, that went beyond religious dogmas. What is really required of a candidate for Masonry is a belief in his own spiritual nature, however, he imagines that to be.
The rituals of Masonry are all available to anyone in this Internet Age, but the texts alone cannot give full understanding of what is an experiential form of learning. Rituals are designed to be acted out in movements and participation, and in the setting of a Lodge. Those physical aspects are essential to Masonic ritual, as they are to any kind of ritual. Masons do not prosletyze and are forbidden to solicit members. This perhaps needs to be observed more strictly; for popularity has worked great evil on the Symbolic Lodge. Only a very specific kind of thoughtful man who understands how to read symbols should enter the Lodge room door. Only if a critical mass of such men enter Masonry can it be restored to the practices for which it was created.
Masons are promoted to leadership positions because they are good at memorizing the ritual, not because of their knowledge of Masonry, or their demonstrated leadership talents. In many lodges today, the brother who is appointed “at the bottom of the line” of officers is the one who will say “yes” when asked to serve there. Appointing brand new brothers who as yet know nothing of the Craft, is sheer folly. Yet this is done on the grounds that it will get new brothers “involved.” There must be other ways to involve them besides the officers line. This can only be done through committees and study groups, and much discussion of the Craft itself. Those Masons who think that the newly admitted Mason will learn something about Masonry by serving in the kitchen for a pancake breakfast, do not get it. True, they learn something about cooperation among a group, but that has no bearing on the uniqueness of Free Masonry. It is to the teaching of a Craft — a method of working and developing skills — that Masonry must return to make itself known. It would be better to advertise meetings and talks about Masonry to non-masons than to rely on members cajoling their cronies into joining as if Masonry were nothing but a college fraternity or club for networking.
Can the transformation be made? That remains to be seen and will require groups of younger men to exert themselves to change the way Masons think about Masonry and their lodge. A very difficult challenge, but one that I do not think is impossible.
“How Our Public Schools Make America Great”
Written and Mostly plagiarized by Jehosaphat Wilkes, high school senior, East-Northeast High.
Submitted March 1, 1966 for the Scholarship Competition put on by Succoth Masonic Lodge No. 66b in the Great State of Minneapolis.
Like most highschool students today, I do a lot of complaining about the public school system. The buildings are old and falling apart, badly heated and cooled, making work sometimes impossible because your brain is melting. They are overcrowded and class sizes too large for students to get quality time with a teacher. But that is okay since they are mostly angry and will just whack you with a ruler. Books and supplies are rarely new. In fact the covers are usually taped on with Scotch tape. Our American history text book only goes up to the Spanish American War. Courses offered are often uninspiring and mediocre. Why, my teachers don’t usually even remember my name. Come to think of it, I don’t remember their names either, so I guess we’re even. But all this does not mean that public schools do not perform a necessary function in American society. Consider what we would be like without it.
Maybe we would be lucky enough to attend a private school, but then we would establish relationships only with other people who had this advantage and be part of an elite group and grow up to form an Aristocracy instead of a proper Democratic Plutocracy. Because of the cost of swanky prep schools, many intelligent and creative people would be unable to get an edification and would end up just working in factories. Still, that does weed out painters and poets, who are just a burden on the Welfare State.
Fortunately, our Forefathers believed that the pursuit of hipness was one of our indelible rights and an edufication should be provided to make pursuing it possible to pursue. They knew that an educrated nation is a necescity to Democracy. Take the Ancient Spartans for instance. If we were not aware of all the many past mistakes and horrible blunders — the genocide, extermination of species, slavery, wars, civil wars, the terrible corrupt presidents and governors, gangsters, and miscarriages of justice, we would have long ago fallen prey to dictatorial executives and power-hungry politicians, for power is more easily usurped from the ignorant Masses. Just look at Russia! Commie pinkos!
So, really, complaining is evidence that the public schools in America are working super. It is freedom of thought and freedom of speech, as well as critical thinking, and a revolutionary spirit like that of our Forefathers who said “Down with Everything” and “Up with the New Republic.” They were Republicans. Like the Ancient Romans before they became an Empire with an Emperor. When we realize how far we are from the idea we dream about, we realize where the system has failed. We’ve learned that equality exists hardly anywhere in the world, even within the United States since minority groups have been denied educational opportunities and jobs. If we are going to fix the horrible schools in the slums we need complainers. And anyway, everyone needs to learn that you will never achieve your ideal dreams anyway. Who does? Not me.
Once a grade school education was all you needed to be a president or general or billionaire. Take Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford. Thomas Edison did not have much in the way of educaution but knew how to steal other peole’s ideas and how to sweat. He was good at sweating. Maybe that is why they keep it 100 degrees in our classrooms. Today, even a high school diploma is not good enough to get a job, but the old high school system does not prepare a student for college, so we end up not getting a very good education even there. It’s like in that Dickens novel Horrid Times. The system is not only bad teaching, but bad administration, and riddled with corruption and racism. Some text books are full of baloney. Dealing with unfairness, injustice, stupidity, authoritarianism, and the dictatorial rule of the incompetent teachers and principals, and then basically being left on your own to figure out how to make a living in an economy that has gone to pot: these are the things that make the American publich school system great because they prepare us for the real world.
They prepare us for the world outside school, the American society in which we have to survive, red in tooth and claw. Even the fact that a lot of graduates do not know math or how to read is good because they make great factory workers and cheap labor for our Free Enterprise system to work. And those who know tons of math will discover that algebra is useless in 99.9% of all jobs in America, so they will learn the important lesson that you should not believe what so-called experts and adults say and be sold a bill of goods. Schools with high standards are important because it weeds out the riff-raff who can fill up the working classes and striaght A students can become the managers and executives of tomorrow. The C students can become the teachers of tomorrow.
And that is what makes the American public school system so great: opportunity for all to fit in at all levels of society and the economy, from the gutters all the way to middle management. One thing you learn when you have to memorize all those presidents is that they mostly went to private schools and were either rich or had rich backers, so go out and get some rich backers, I say. That is real Liberty and the hirsute of pappiness. Amen, one nation under God. Halleluiah.