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A New Mason's Impressions

Saturday, 01 March 2008

Ryan Modlin Appeals for More Insight

There are some points I was aware of before making enquiries into Freemasonry about five years ago. It was a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. It was ‘a most happy association of friends which provides interest, a discipline of life, many social activities and has a long history of charitable support’. It was not a secret society, nor a religion, although its members are required to have a belief in God and its principles are common to many of the world’s great religions. It was fun and provided a wonderfully happy social life for its members as well as having a serious side. It was the largest single contributor to charity in the country second only to the lottery. You will get out of it what you put in. And it will make you a better person.

From these points and from the sheer number of friends and colleagues who were already Freemasons, I decided for myself that this amounted to something very interesting I wanted to pursue. 

Many of the Freemasons I have met recently, most notably at the Northern Conference of The Cornerstone Society, will point to the fact that in none of the above comments is the great inner personal and spiritual strength that can be attained by a participation in our ceremonies and rituals. 
The night of my initiation, I was terrified. Everyone kept approaching me wishing me luck and telling me to enjoy it. But I had absolutely no idea what to expect, so how could I possibly prepare to enjoy it? 
Candidates are often rushed through their three degrees in small lodges so that they can take up offices within the lodge. I soon realised that I was missing something. 
As I came to my passing, at only my second full meeting, it occurred to me that I was about to learn more signs, tokens and words, and yet I was not quite sure I could remember what I had been shown and told at my initiation. I had been given a card with some questions and answers and told to learn them. 
I answered the questions clearly and that was it. They were not referred to again. I received a similar card at the conclusion of my passing and given similar instructions as last time. I distinctly remember opening the lodge in the second degree on the night of my raising. This was the first time I’d been up to the second degree. Taking my ceremonies in alternate months meant I hadn’t had the opportunity of seeing a lodge opened and closed in the second degree. I had been asked to prove my proficiency in the second degree and yet there was so much that I hadn’t been exposed to, such as the tracing board and lectures. I didn’t even know what the liberal arts and sciences were. 
I was desperately worried that I was still coming to terms with opening and closing in the first, really had no idea how to open and close in the second and yet I was about to be raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason in the third degree. 
My induction into the Craft was disappointing, since there was a lack of impressions left on me by the ceremonies. This is not a criticism of the Brethren who conducted the ceremonies. On the contrary, the first thing that struck me at my initiation was the incredible accuracy and meaningful delivery on the part of my friend and proposer who took the chair for the ceremony, and the Brother who delivered the charge. The Charge and being restored to light are the two things that really stick in my mind from my initiation. 
Unfortunately, all I remember from my passing is answering the questions and taking some odd steps up a winding staircase. 
Since my raising, I have become absorbed in the ritual of Freemasonry and have found myself exploring the allegory and spiritual direction that can be gained from it. My disappointment stems from the fact that I wasn’t aware this really existed until it was too late. I had allowed the ceremonies to pass over me so that I might concentrate on repeating the prompts of the deacons. 
We need to explain to a candidate beforehand that he is about to embark on a physical, spiritual and mental journey from darkness to light and that the ritual should be absorbed and interpreted to his own ends. 
Had this been so, I would have listened more intently and immersed myself in the ceremony and participated in it rather than merely being part of it. I could have allowed the ceremony to have a real meaningful effect on me at the time of experience. 
At my raising, I again answered the necessary questions. I distinctly remember the darkness, a reference to death, being hit very tamely by three tools and being laid on the ground and covered in a white sheet. Why not employ three distinct blows, to bring the mind sharply into focus on what is occurring? On the other hand, I have to say the ceremony was further explained in a detail lacking in the previous two, and for the first time I had a dawning sense of appreciation, although I didn’t quite know of what and why. Again, the role play and skill of the Brethren was to be commended, but again, participation in the ceremony hadn’t had a profound effect on me. I had not been advised that what I was about to experience could shape my personality, outlook and way of life by allowing myself to absorb the excellently worked ritual and applying it to my own life. 
It was only from this point that my masonic knowledge started to develop. Our Director of Ceremonies gave us a lecture on the first degree tracing board. He then gave us the traditional history of the third degree ceremony and, most importantly, he enrolled the three ‘junior’ Brethren of the lodge and me to learn and perform the first section of the second lecture. This gave me a greater insight into the second degree that had so quickly passed me by. It informed me what the second degree ceremony involved and in particular when referring to one point of the compasses, it occurred to me that the second degree was a midway point in which I was supposed to have made some form of ‘progress’. So, at last I was starting to get a small appreciation of what masonry is all about, and when I take part in and watch ceremonies, I try and enter into the atmosphere and share the experience of the candidate. Seeing the ceremonies worked and learning the ritual keeps the messages at the forefront of my mind. 
My initial disappointment has now vanished; I find that I am throwing myself fervently into masonry. It is without doubt the greatest thing I have ever done and I have no problem in recommending this to anyone who is prepared to listen. The personal and spiritual development that Freemasonry is guiding me through is tremendous and works in perfect tandem with my church. The ritual, for me, is teaching me to look at myself in a new way. 
To strive to reach an understanding of myself so that I may reach a deeper understanding of the universe with which we are all entwined. This is the aspect of Freemasonry, above all others that should be extolled to everybody, especially potential candidates. 
Start by adding the personal, mental and spiritual development that can be attained by a participation in our ritual to the list which I gave above. Have no fear in sharing your experiences; not only with your Brethren in Freemasonry, but to those who are not on the square, that they too may learn to appreciate it in a similar manner or at least have a better understanding as to why it is so popular with so many men (and women) in society. 
Discuss this aspect of Freemasonry with candidates during the initial visit to the potential Brother’s home. It is a quality of Freemasonry that should rank as highly as any other. 
Finally, the candidate’s proposer or a nominated Brother might conduct an ‘appraisal’ before and after each of the three ceremonies. Beforehand, this should be to prepare the candidate mentally for what he is about to experience, naturally without giving anything away. And after a ceremony to discuss what the candidate has experienced, to answer any questions and to further help him understand the journey he is on. This is something I have done recently with my own candidate and have learned that he firstly enjoyed the ceremony and secondly that he was already applying his own thoughts and interpretations to the initiation having followed the course of the ritual intently. 
I believe this is the way to revitalise the Craft and encourage more young men to join.

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