Official Visit to New Caledonia Lodge No. 11
October 27, 2008
Past & Present Grand Lodge Officers,
What Do You Do?
The other day Nicole and I were invited for supper
with some friends and in the course of the conversations I mentioned
that we had been to Halifax to take part in the consecration of the new
�Oh, you are a Mason?� said one of the ladies,
raising her eyebrows. �What is it you guys are doing, anyway� was her
I have to admit, my brethren, it is the question I
fear the most when it comes to Masonry. A hundred answers swirl through
the mind � and none seems adequate.
You know full well, that the question really is:
�What is Masonry?� and there is no simple answer.
Maybe the reputation Masonry has as a secret society
comes from the fact that most Masons simply cannot answer this basic
question and either hide behind the �I can�t really tell you � we don�t
talk about it outside the lodge. Or, like me, mumble something about
�taking a good man and making him better.� � and you know how well that
sits with the questioner.
I know my ritual, I have studied the history of
the fraternity, and I have read and meditated on the message and
philosophy of the craft. But when you�re sitting around a table over a
beer, telling your friends that Masonry is �a
beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by
symbols� just won�t fly.
In most cases, the question is not asked out of idle
curiosity. There are few people who have not heard about Freemasonry and
even fewer do not have an opinion based on information they got from
some source � Masonic or otherwise. And yet, on the answer can depend a
potential candidate for membership or at least the opportunity to �set
the record straight.�
I realized, once more, that I simply did not have the
kind of answer that would a) satisfy the curiosity with a few sensible
sentences, and b) open the floor, so to speak, for a more in-depth
Back home, I set to work, to find the answer.
My own Masonic library is full of two kinds of books:
historical and esoteric � far from what I was looking for.
The next step was to google my way around the
internet. First stop, the website of the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia. In
the section �For the Prospective Mason�, I found an article entitled
�What is Freemasonry� � great, I thought � an article of seven short
The first explains, quite concisely what Freemasonry
Masonry is a system of morality
which it endeavours to impress upon its members through allegories and
symbols, a method followed by many great teachers in inculcating the
ethical philosophies of life. "It is founded on the purest principles of
piety and virtue." It is not a religion but it encourages the practice
of all moral tenets embodied in all great spiritual beliefs.
followed by six paragraphs explaining what Masonry is not: it is not
a religion � it has no policy of evangelism or reformation - it
is not a benevolent society - it is far from being a social society � it
is neither a civic club nor a means for procuring business advantages -
it is not a stepping stone to social position
While all this is certainly true, it�s not exactly the short and simple
answer I was looking for. A short survey of other Grand Lodges produced
much the same information.
So it was back to the drawing-board � or should I say trestle-board.
To most people, Masonry is simply an enigma. A group of men in black
suits meeting in a place called �The Lodge� � discreet, never talking
about just what they do at those meetings. When they appear in public,
as we just did this weekend in Halifax, the innocent bystander is
overwhelmed by the variety of dress and regalia � from the humble white
apron to the ornate gold trimmed regalia of the Grand Lodge Officers
with their collars, gauntlets and white gloves. Add to that the
different colors, sashes, mantles, swords and head-gear worn by the
various concordant bodies.
You can�t blame the innocent bystander to be a bit overwhelmed.
But back to our friendly after-dinner conversation.
So, what is Freemasonry?
Before launching into a dissertation about the spiritual and esoteric
values and lessons, I think that a very down-to-earth answer is needed.
After all, I was not asked about Ritual. The person asking the question
probably does not even know that there is such a thing as Masonic
We are tempted to �jump the gun� so to say. If we try to explain the
nature of the Fraternity as a spiritual force, as "a way of life" which
seeks to improve men morally and spiritually, we risk misunderstanding
or, in today�s materialistic environment, ridicule.
And we don�t really know yet
where the questioner is coming from. My recommendation is to give as
direct and simple an answer as possible. Something along the line of:
We are a group of men,
belonging to a Lodge. Just like every other association or club, we have
to deal with the day-to-day concerns of finances, maintenance and
programs. But Masonry is different in the sense that its main objective
is the growth of the individual rather than community service like the
It may sound old fashioned,
but our meetings are
opened and closed with Masonic ceremonies to remind the members of the
principal purposes of the Fraternity, which are to develop brotherly
love, relief to the needy, and respect for truth.
and take it from there.
It is good to remember that there is really very little that cannot be
told about Masonry, but the commonest cause for our embarrassment in
answering questions is that we have rarely taken the time to make these
questions clear to ourselves.
think that we owe it to the Craft to insure its reputation and
prosperity, by spending some time in thinking about this. �Join and
you�ll see what it is all about� is no longer an acceptable answer to
inquiries, and �look it up on the internet� is unfair, because so much
of the information available is either wrong or misleading (if not
Any quick search on the internet will reveal all sorts of signs, signals
or so called secrets and secret practices with rolled trouser legs
ascribed to Freemasonry. Some might reveal a germ of truth, but none of
them warrant the wild rantings from the conspiracy theorist or cult
lobby in our society.
However, some people hold those views, or get carried away with Dan
Brown�s fascinating book �The DaVinci Code� and we should be able to
counter it with facts.
Our noble craft has always held personal contact and mentoring as its
highest aim in making its principles and teachings known. Our rule of
not soliciting for members and the need to be frank and honest in
answering inquiries are not mutually exclusive. We must, however,
remember that we do now want to make our applicants liars when they
unbiased by the improper
solicitation of friends and uninfluenced by mercenary or unworthy
motives, I freely and voluntarily offer myself a candidate for the
mysteries of Masonry; that I am prompted by a favourable opinion
conceived of the institution, and a desire for knowledge; that I will
cheerfully conform to all the ancient usages and established customs of
There is a wealth of information available, both in print and
electronic. I won�t talk about the anti-Masonic publications here. There
are superbly researched and written books available, unfortunately they
are generally of little use to the uninitiated. Mackey, Freke-Gould,
Wilmshurst and Fort-Newton, to mention just a few, have written
extensively about both the history and the philosophy of Masonry. While
these works are valuable study-aids for the serious student of Masonry,
they are of little help to the curious who needs to find out if
Freemasonry is for him.
There is, however, one publication each one of us can benefit from and
lend to a friend who is seriously interested in the Craft.
Don�t laugh, it�s called �Freemasons for Dummies� by Christopher Hodap.
Bro. Hodap�s Masonic CV is impressive and proves a thorough knowledge of
all aspects of Freemasonry. He has several other books about Masonry to
his credit and is a co-author of �A Laudable Pursuit� which is available
on the GLNS Website and our pictoumasons.org
You don�t have to take my word for it. I�ll quote from a book-review
written by Bro. Bil Vassily, Past
Master, Liverpool Syracuse Lodge #501, Grand Lodge of New York:
Now we have a single
volume that treats the subject in a clear and fair fashion.
Brother Chris Hodapp has
produced the very best one volume book on the general background of
Freemasonry that I have ever read. As is true with all of the "for
Dummies" series it is a primer about the subject. Since it is written in
the style of the "for Dummies" books, it is an easy read and doesn't get
bogged down in a lot of technicalities. However, since it is so general,
there will be some Masons that will find that a few details don't fit
their particular jurisdiction. This does not spoil the soup!
The history of the Craft
covers the subject in an across-the-board manner that gives the reader
enough to understand where it came from and how it evolved.
The section on religion
is an excellent treatment that is fair to the objections of some
religious bodies and helps the reader to understand some of the
criticisms of Masonry. Yet it gives viable arguments that support
Freemasonry in spite of some of these objections. And the hoaxes, myths
and misconceptions about the fraternity are very well presented.
Explanations of the
organization of Masonry and the history and place that the variety of
appendant bodies have within the fraternity, are excellent. The thoughts
about the future of this centuries old fraternity are positive and even
suggestions for its revitalization are interesting and timely.
In one volume,
Bro. Hodap covers all the essentials:
The legendary and historic origins of
The philosophy of Freemasonry
Politics, religion and why Masons don't
mix with them
How lodges and Grand Lodges are
organized: who does what and why
Masonic recognition and regularity
Prince Hall Freemasonry
Masonic ceremonies, rituals and
Rosicrucianism, the Illuminati, the
Knights Templar and the Freemasons
Myths and misconceptions about Masonry
Appendant bodies:York and Scottish Rite
Masonry, and extended Masonic world
Non-Masonic fraternal organizations
Freemasonry, society and the future
How to find and join a lodge
To give you an
idea of the style and tenor of the book, here is a brief excerpt:
to say that Freemasonry is not a secret society, rather, it is a society
with secrets. A better way to put it is that what goes on in a lodge
room during its ceremonies is private.
For a lot
of years, fathers, grandfathers, and neighbors baffled young men who
were interested in joining the fraternity by refusing to discuss
anything about it, out of a fundamental misunderstanding about Masonic
�secrecy.� They figured they weren�t allowed to tell anything about it.
Fortunately, that perception is changing, and Freemasons are not so
squeamish these days about talking about Masonry.
that a Mason may not discuss are the grips (handshakes), pass-words, and
signs (gestures) that are modes of recognition, and some details of the
Masonic degree ritual ceremonies. Undoubtedly, there are still
old-school Masons out there who will read something in this book and
believe that I should be driven to the state line in a trunk for daring
to talk about it, but they should chat with their Grand Lodge before
calling to check my measurements.
knowing the modes of recognition won�t get you into a Masonic lodge. If
you�re interested in becoming a Mason, don�t let some big mouth in a
book or on the Internet ruin the ritual experience for you by blurting
out all the surprises. If you aren�t interested in joining and you just
want to be able to gloat about knowing some secret information, there is
no shortage of books and Web-sites that tell them all. You can leap into
a gathering of Masons screaming �A-ha!� and blurt out a password if you
like, but the real secret of Freemasonry has to be experienced, not
explained, which is why your little stunt will be ignored.
brethren, I hope that this has given you some hints to be better
prepared the next time YOU are asked this question, �What do you guys