Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Origins of Freemasonry

There have been literally thousands of books written on the subject of Freemasonry, from well-researched scholarly tomes, to the most off the wall and amateurish conspiracy theories. Once I made the decision to become a part of "the world's oldest secret society," I spent a great deal of time delving into the history of Freemasonry and have to date read at least a half dozen books on the subject.

First, let me say that I have never bought the idea that modern Freemasonry evolved from medieval stonemasons. I grew up in a family that had several Masons in it, so I remember hearing this particular "history lesson" of the origins of the Craft at various times throughout my childhood whenever I or someone would spot an uncle's Masonic ring and ask "What is that?" Something about this explanation for the origins of Freemasonry just didn't seem cogent to me. And as my research has revealed, my "hunch" that there was more to the story than ancient stonemasons was probably right.

In a nutshell, here are some of the conclusions I've reached regarding the history and origins of the Freemasons:
  1. Freemasonry more than likely originated with fugitive Knights Templar, who fled to Scotland from Europe and England in 1307 when the Pope sanctioned the arrest of all Templars on the charge of heresy.

  2. In an effort to continue their Brotherhood "underground," the fugitive Templars met covertly as "masons," eventually adopting the working tools of the stonemasons and developing elaborate symbology based on these tools to teach and memorialize spiritual and moral lessons, as well as to teach and preserve the history of their Brotherhood.

  3. Being devote Roman Catholics, when the Templars were in effect cut off from God by being excommunicated by the Pope, they developed their own rituals which may have been derived from Jewish rituals they were exposed to in Jerusalem, or perhaps from Essene documents discovered when they were excavating the Temple mount in Jerusalem.

  4. The Templars/Masons recognized a fundamental theological truth that would eventually be fleshed out in the Protestant Reformation 250 years after they were condemned as heretics, namely, that every man himself is ultimately responsible for his own relationship to God, and no intermediary in the form of an earthly priest is needed. This would have been rank heresy to medieval Roman Catholicism.

  5. The Templars were French speaking, which can account for some of the oddities of Masonic vocabulary. For example, the Templars referred to each other as frére, "brother." Once they went undercover as masons, a "brother Templar" would be called frére Maçon. Over the centuries, as Masonry evolved in the English speaking lands of Scotland and England, frére Maçon became Anglicized into "Freer Mason" and finally "Free Mason."

  6. By the early 18th century, with the Reformation having changed the theological landscape forever, the necessity for the Templar/Masons to remain underground in fear of their lives had passed. Freemasonry became "public" with the formation of Grand Lodges in England and Scotland, but its true origins were still veiled by the cover of operative stone masonry in allegorical form.

  7. Freemasonry's ultimate triumph comes with the founding of the US, and its government based on a worldview that had evolved over the preceding three centuries in the underground Lodges of Freemasons.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Repetitio mater memoriae

The memory work continues, and my journey so far as an Entered Apprentice is as a catechumin. My coach tells me that I’m making good progress.

One precept that my Latin teacher in college hammered home was repetitio mater memoriae, “repition is the mother of memory.” Having nothing in writing to study means I have to remember the very questions I need to ask myself if I want to “study” on my own when I’m not working the material with my coach. Amazingly, I’ve found that I can do it. Since my first session with my coach last Friday I have been going over the catechsim in my mind off and on several times a day. Today was the first time I’ve worked with my coach since then and I was able to repeat the material we went over last week with only one mistake.

The material we covered today was a bit more complex, so we didn’t cover quite as much as last time. We are going to meet again tomorrow. Also, there is someone being intiated as an Entered Apprentice at a neighboring lodge on Thursday evening, and my coach and I are going. As an Entered Apprentice I can only attend a lodge that is open in the First Degree, which basically means I can only attend the initiation of another Entered Apprentice. I’m looking forward to being a part of someone else’s inititiation while my own is still fresh in my mind.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Can a Christian be a Freemason?

I ran into a man today, a perfect stranger, while we were both waiting in line. I had prepared for the wait and had John J. Robinson’s book Born In Blood with me to read. The man asked me about it, and I gave him a brief synopsis of what I’d gathered from the book thus far. He then proceeded to tell me that his “problem” with Freemasonry was that you only have to believe in “a god” to be a member, and if you are a Christian you believe in “the God.” I didn’t tell him I was a fresh initiate into Masonry. I just nodded my head and let him continue: “The very first oath they make you take, you have to deny Christ,” he said. I looked surprised. “Yeah, they lead you in blindfolded and half naked and you have to say you’re a poor candidate and then they ask what you are seeking and you say ‘more light’. But a Christian doesn’t need more light.”

It is said that there are three things that every Freemason contends with: Ignorance, Tyranny, and Fanaticism. This poor fellow was imbued with his fair share of at least one and possibly two of these. I never did tell him I was a “new” Mason. I didn’t tell him how wrong he was in his narrative of what a candidate is asked and swears to. Maybe I should have. But I’ve dealt with people like him many, many times and they are usually much happier if they don’t have to be burdened with the facts.

Can a Christian be a Freemason? The obvious answer to that questions is “yes.” Usually what people who ask it really mean is “Should a Christian be a Freemason?”

I am a Christian. Most people who know enough about Christianity to be able to discern the difference would label me as a “conservative” Christian. If at any point in my journey into Freemasonry I am faced with ritual, doctrine, teaching, or whatever that would cause me to deny Christ or the fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity, then my “journey” would end right then and there. From what I know of Freemasonry at this stage of my trek, however, I don’t think that will ever happen.

Initiation: The Degree of Entered Apprentice

My initiation as an Entered Apprentice Mason took place at the Masonic Temple on the evening of July 17, 2008. Having done a considerable amount of research on Freemasonry, I more or less knew what to expect. Perhaps that is partly why I wasn't really nervous—but I'm sure that had more to do with the warm fellowship and encouragement I received from all the members of the lodge prior to the start of the ceremony.

I'm not going to discuss any of the details of the ritual and ceremony involved in my initiation to the first degree of Masonry. Anyone reading this can do a Google search and find out the basic details of all three Masonic degrees. Keep in mind, however, that no matter what you read on the Internet, in books, or see in TV documentaries about Freemasonry, each Masonic jurisdiction will have slight differences in the detail of the ritual involved in each of the three degrees. This I quickly discovered during my initiation as an Entered Apprentice.

I will say that while everything about the ritual and ceremony was solemn and serious, the members of this lodge have a good time and enjoy "doing Masonry." They all evinced a joy about introducing someone new to the mysteries of Freemasonry. From the "education" I was given before the meeting started, to the dinner afterward, everyone seemed genuinely happy to have me joining their fraternity. All in all, it was an enjoyable and meaningful experience.

Unlike in some jurisdictions, the "memory work" required to proceed to the second degree at this lodge is done the "old fashioned" way, i.e., it's all given verbally. There is nothing in writing which the Entered Apprentice can study. He can't take notes. He can't record anything. He has to learn all the required material by a give and take verbal exchange with his "coach," who in my case is the Master of the lodge. Once the coach is confident the new brother has memorized the material and can proficiently recite it by memory, the meeting to "pass" the Entered Apprentice to the degree of Fellow Craft is scheduled. In South Carolina, an Entered Apprentice cannot pass sooner than 28 days from his initiation.

My memory work began July 18, the day after my initiation. After about an hour of working with my coach I was able to recite from memory (almost perfectly) about 25% of the material I have to learn. I will meet with my coach once or twice a week until I can recite it all, perfectly, from memory. Once I can do that, I'll have to do it in open lodge before all the brothers. Only then will I be allowed to pass to the second degree.

It is my plan to be ready to take the second degree as soon as the required 28 days have passed.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Balloting

The investigation process took about two months. My petition was originally supposed to be voted on at the June meeting, but one of the officers who was on my investigation committee could not attend the meeting so the vote was postponed until the July 3rd meeting.

Despite all the positive feedback I got from the officers during the investigation process, I was still apprehensive as the day approached when my petition would be voted on. Late in the evening of the 3rd I sent an e-mail to my friend whom I’d originally called about joining to ask the result of the balloting. I checked my e-mail the next morning. No reply. All day Friday went by. No reply. All day Saturday went by. No reply. Now I was starting to wonder. No one likes to deliver bad news by e-mail, so I was starting to wonder if I’d get a letter in the mail saying “Sorry, you were black balled.” And that’s all it takes. A single “no” vote and you don’t get in.

Voting for new members in the lodge is done by secret ballot. Each member casts his “yes” vote with a single white marble-sized ball. There is one black ball in the balloting box and if any member casts his vote using that, the petition is rejected. Period. No questions are asked, and no reason need be given.

Finally, on Sunday I received an e-mail from my friend informing me that my petition had been approved and I had been elected to receive the Entered Apprentice degree, the first of the three degrees of Craft Masonry. I’m scheduled to be initiated on July 17, 2008.

The Investigation

Every person who petitions a lodge for membership is "investigated." How thorough the investigation is varies among the Masonic jurisdictions: some are rather lax; some more strict. I'd say my investigation fell somewhere in the middle. It involved a background check and three meetings or interviews with lodge officers. Two of these were in person and one was over the phone. The questions and discussions were general in nature but centered around why I desired to join and my belief in God.

Here is a list of the requirements taken from the Grand Lodge of South Carolina web site:

General Requirements

  1. Must believe in a Supreme Being.

  2. Must be male.

  3. Must be 18 years old or older.

  4. Must have resided in the state of South Carolina for 12 consecutive months.

  5. Must be able to read and write English.

  6. Must be recommended by two Masons.

Investigation and Balloting
  1. Must apply by petition at a regularly scheduled business meeting.

  2. Petition must be in the petitioner's handwriting.

  3. Petition must accompany the specified fee. Fees are set by individual lodges and approved by the Grand Master.

  4. The lodge will assign a committee of three to inquire into the petitioner's qualifications and make a report at the next scheduled business meeting.

  5. If the committee is favorable, a vote of the lodge members present at a business meeting is taken.

  6. If the vote is unanimous, the candidate is invited to take the first degree of three degrees.


On April 10, 2008, just shy of my 49th birthday, I submitted my petition for membership to one of the local lodges.

Having grown up in a family that had a lot Masons on both my mother’s and father’s side, I already knew that I would never be asked or invited to join the fraternity. To join, you have to approach a Mason and ask. But once I made the final decision to join, I realized that I didn’t actually know any Freemasons “2ASK.” All my family members that I knew were Masons have long ago passed away. So I just went to the web page of one of the lodges that meets in the big Masonic Temple downtown to get a contact address. The names of the officers were all listed there and I thought I recognized the name of one of them. Turns out it was a man I used to work with a few years ago. I had no idea back then he was a Mason. So I called him up. He remembered me well, and that’s how I wound up petitioning the lodge where he is a member and officer.

My Masonic Journey

This blog is intended to be a record of my journey into Freemasonry as well as periodic articles on, about, or related to the subject of Freemasonry.

"Manthanein" is transliterated from Ancient Greek and means "to learn."