Official Visit to New Caledonia Lodge No. 11

October 27, 2008

Worshipful Master, Distinguished East,
Past & Present Grand Lodge Officers,
Brethren All

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 Grand Lodge.

�Oh, you are a Mason?� said one of the ladies, raising her eyebrows. �What is it you guys are doing, anyway� was her next question.

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 conversation.

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 paragraphs!

The first explains, quite concisely what Freemasonry is:

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 religionit 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 Ritual.

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 service clubs.

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.

I 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 hostile).

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 declare that:

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 the Order.

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 Freemasonry

  •  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 symbolism

  •  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:

A �secret society�

Masons like 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.

The secrets 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.

Just 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.

So, my 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 do?�



Home | Groups of 3 | The Cornerstone | The FC Degree | The Great Light | Symbols & Secrets | From Time Immemorial | The Taxil Hoax | What Do You Do? | Digital Chaos

This page was last updated 12/29/08 � rongo.ca