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From: Ron Blaisdell <ron@blaisdell.

To: mi-masons <>
Subject: Masonic Philosophy, an Overview Part 2 of 2
Date: Thursday, March 11, 1999 9:19 PM
One last article. Masonic Education is also a good topic.
Ron Blaisdell, PM
Capital of Strict Observance No. 66
Bro. Robert G. Aberdeen, P.G.St,
(The original work, presented during the Masonic Spring workshop,
Baner, Alberta, in April, 1974, has been revised by the author for
presentation to FIAT LUX LODGE OF RESEARCH No. 1980, GRA.)
(Part 2 of 2)
Well - that charge by itself is certainly something on which to
philosophize. There are, of course, many other considerations of
this aspect of Masonic philosophy. indeed, the Master Mason Degree
itself is almost wholly devoted to the spiritual. Or is it? The
paper in the Lodge Plan for Masonic Education which deals with the
interpretation of the ritual of this degree states that "it is,
indeed, a 'sublime' degree, which a man may study for years without
exhausting." Sublime means "having noble qualities" or "giving rise
to high or noble thoughts". The paper goes on to say:
In the first two degrees you were surrounded by the symbols and
errblems of architecture; in this degree you found a different order
of symbolism, cast in the language of the soul - its life, its
tragedy and its triumph. To recognize this is the first step in
interpretation of this sublime and historic step in "Craft Lodge"
Masonry. The second point is to recognize that the Master Mason
Degree has many meanings; it is not intended to be a lesson complete,
finished, closed.
There are many interpretations of the Degree, all true. But most
essentially, it is a drama of the immortaltty of the soul, setting
forth the truth that, while a man withers away and perishes, there is
that in him which perishes not.
Let's change the emphasis now and consider morality. Freemasonry has
been defined as a "system of morality," and is described in the
Canadian Rite as "....the most moral human institution that ever
existed ...." The definitions of "moral" include: "Pertaining to a
person's conduct"; "concerned with the rightness or wrongness of
thoughts and actions"; "acting according to the law of right and
wrong". I've always thought that the term "moral" was
interchangeable with the term "ethical" in the same way that we
interchange Masonry and Freemasonry. Ethic is derived from the Greek
word "ethicos" which means "moral" and moral comes from the Latin
"mores", meaning "custom" or "conduct". The word "moral" is also
used as a noun and in this sense means the lesson of a story or
fable. Perhaps this meaning is more applicable to Masonry than we
realize. I found one dictionary definition of "ethics" which seems
to draw a fine distinction - it calls ethics "the rules which
regulate duty or conduct." That distinction, I believe, is of some
importance when considering the teachings of Masonry. Masonry not
only demonstrates the important truths of morality, it also instructs
us in how to apply these truths to our daily lives and conduct.
Morality, we are told, "is a name for the forces that bind us in
the relations of amity and accord ...." Confucius, the Chinese
philosopher, said: "I have taught men how to live.
At the conclusion of the Master Mason Degree, the newly raised
candidate is charged, in part, "to improve the morals and correct the
manners of men in society ...." The phrase "to improve the morals"
implies to me that morals are subject to change. If they can be
improved, may they not also worsen? We speak of the current wave of
sexual freedom as a "new morality" or as a loosening of moral
standards. The point I'm making is that if morals can be changed and
improved, improved in relation to what? What is the standard? Are we
referring to that perfection toward which we must ever strive, the
"beauty of true godliness," or have we a more earthly standard? Who
sets these standards? Are they not contained in the divine precepts of
the Volume of the Sacred Law? The new Mason is told in the Charge to
regulate his actions by these precepts, and ethics is defined as the
rules which regulate duty or conduct. Further, he is charged to
consider the Volume of the Sacred Law as the unerring standard of
truth and justice. The Holy Bible itself, however, reveals evidence
of ethical advancement. The Mosaic Law of Retaliation (life for life,
eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot) is
contained in Exodus, Chapter 21, verses 23 and 24. The previous
chapter of the same book reveals the Ten Commandments and the 19th
chapter of Leviticus, the following book, contains the statement of
the Golden Rule: ". . . love thy neighbor as thyself."
Adding to the confusion of changing customs and morals is the problem
of differing standards among the various cultures. How do we know
that our morality is the only right one? Many differences in moral
standards between cultures are due to geographic locations. Differing
climates dictate differing modes of dress and this may lead to
traditional beliefs with no basis in fact. To a person who has gone
naked all his life because of the hot, humid nature of his
environment, whose entire background accepts nudity as an everyday
fact, may not the wearing of clothes, a covering and concealing of the
body, seem immoral? Can we legitimately question the moral validity of
the differing practices of other cultures? How do we know that right
is right, that good is good, that we ought to love our neighbor and
strive for excellence?
We know that all peoples have certain rules of behavior and that these
rules may vary from man to man, from country to country and from
civilization to civilization. Everyone receives some kind of moral
education, beginning in his formative years and continuing through
adulthood. Somewhere along the line this education stops or "sets
in". Values are established. Freemasonry continues this moral
education, changing and improving the morals of men in society, with
reference to the highest standards accepted by that society. These
are the norms which we regard as true.
As stated in an earlier explanation, Masonry presents to its initiates
those fundamental truths which have been proven by time to be
necessary for right thinking and moral living. Thought, as well as
action. We accept, then, that at least some moral values are
permanent, but when we talk about maintaining the good order of
society, we must also accept that under certain conditions, even these
"permanent" values may change. Thus we may find moral problems in our
definition of ". . . murder, treason, felony and all other offences
contrary to the laws of God or man." Is abortion or execution murder?
Is draft-dodging treason? Is the Mosaic Law of Retaliation a law of
God? Must we always obey the man-made laws of our society which have
long been obsolete but
which still exist simply because we haven't gotten around to passing
the-necessary legislation to remove them? Would you act as Socrates
did when he drank the hemlock when the doors of his prison were open
rather than set the example of disobeying the laws of his country?
These are the type of questions that each must ponder for himself in
his search for truth.
Earlier, I suggested that philosophy has come to mean the search for
truth, but "truth" is never clearly defined. What do we mean by
truth? Truth is agreement with fact; yes, but as a tenet of
Freemasonry, truth must be exact.
Actually, truth refers not to the fact itself, but to what we believe
or state about the fact. I hold in my hand a long, narrow
instrument. It is something that I use to write with, but it is
neither true nor false: it is a fact. if I state "this is a pen" and
it is a pen, then my statement is true. If it happens to be a
pencil, my statement is untrue. If I believe it to be a pen when in
fact it is not, even if I have always called that specific type of
instrument a pen, my statement is still untrue. Just because it is
true as far as I'm concerned doesn't make it true. Truth consists in
stating the actual fact, This may seem pretty obvious to you but when
we search for ultimate truth, in the philosophical sense, we must
distinguish between reality, and dogma and opinion. We tend to call
our firm beliefs "truths" without knowing if they are, in fact, the
case. We may believe with absolute conviction that a thing is true,
but what we believe may be wrong. How do we prove that our belief is
true? To determine whether a thing is true or false we must apply
certain tests. Our methods of testing are central to the
philosophical enterprise.
We know that about some things we may be quite sure, while others may
require exhaustive study just to arrive at the point of arguable
probability. Physical objects can be identified with a high degree
of certainty, things that we can see, touch, smell, hear and taste,
Adding to these impressions our previous experience, we may be able
safely to conclude that the thing we're concerned with is true. The
senses, however, may be confused and experience may be hallucination.
In a darkened room a shadowy form may appear to be something which it
is not. Before we make a statement about such a form we apply tests -
we may touch it, walk around it, even turn on the light or strike a
match. Perhaps it's because we rely so much on the sense of sight to
provide the basic evidence for truth that we often say we are seeking
for light. To illumine the mind is to perceive truth. We find it
said, "light comes from God." Can we now read new meaning into the
phrase, "God said, let there be light: and there was light." Light
was the predominant symbol in all of the ancient mysteries, revered
because it was an emanation from the sun, the common object of
worship. Pythagoras called it the good principle of nature, and the
Cabalists taught that eternal light filled all space before the
creation, and that after creation it retired to a central spot and
became the instrument of the Divine Mind in creating matter. Light,
therefore, became synonymous with truth and knowledge, and darkness
with falsehood and ignorance. It is therefore a fundamental symbol
of Freemasonry, and contains within itself the very essence of the
speculative science.

To quote once more from the Lodge Plan for Masonic Education, on page
58: The purpose of secrecy is not to keep the candidate in the dark,
but to stimulate him to seek the light . . .
Again, on page 60:
Men . . . cannot work together except they all understand the work to
be done, hence the need for enlightenment.
And once more, on page 63:
. . . learning the trial lecture of the three degrees . . . will be a
possession for you within your own mind, from which you will
constantly draw inspiration and light in your daily life.
You've noticed that throughout this talk I've quoted several times
from the Lodge Plan for Masonic Education, published by the Grand
Lodge of Alberta. I've done this purposely because I wanted to use a
commonly-available and easy to read reference to Masonic philosophy
outside of our rituals. Those of you who have read the booklet
thoroughly and have contemplated its contents will agree that it
outlines most of the Masonic philosophy covered in this overview.
There is one other statement of Masonic philosophy with which we're
all familiar - the General Charge which is given once a year in each
Lodge, at the conclusion of the Ceremony for Investing the Officers
of a Lodge. I believe that it should be printed in our Book of
Constitution along with the other charges and that all charges,
particularly the General Charge, should be pointed out as the first
objects of study for each Master Mason as soon as possible after he
completes the degrees.
I'd like to touch on one or two points brought out in the General
Charge. We are told in the first paragraph and again, just before
the moving portrayal of the ideal of a Freemason, that we should have
but one aim, the attainment of the chief point in Freemasonry, which
is to endeavor to be happy ourselves and to communicate that
happiness to others. This, then, should always be uppermost in our
minds. But - what is happiness? Pleasure and mirth? The absence of
painful experience? Peace of mind? A sense of satisfaction and
fulfillment? How is it to be achieved? We are told that the chief
employments in the tyled recesses of the Lodge are constituted in a
calm enquiry into the beauty of wisdom and virtue, and the study of
moral geometry. Perhaps we should refer this as well to the tyled
recesses of our minds, whether within the Lodge or without.
I am constantly amazed at the ritualist who delivers the Work
letterperfect, with dignity and with meaning that seems to come from
the heart, and then spoils it all by telling the kind of story at the
Festive Board that has no place at a Masonic gathering. To him, the
Ritual appears to be the be-all and the end-all of the Craft. There
are others who seem to feel that Freemasonry consists in taking in
new members at the one end and cranking out past masters at the
other. of course, not all Masons who have yet to delve into Masonic
philosophy are "one-or-two-night-a-month" Masons by any means. Many
of the men who come knocking at our door do so because they have
always tended, as we say in the General Charge, to move quietly and
modestly in the spheres of their lives, generally conducting
themselves as Masons should, and they're looking for companions
with similar standards. Perhaps I should be satisfied with that.
Perhaps I would be, if all the men we admit were of such a nature.
After all, not everyone is interested in studying. Their improvement
will surely come about through their association with Freemasonry and
their participation in its activities, though it will take much more
time and assuming that we can maintain their interest long enough.
Perhaps I seem impatient. If so, it's because I'm anxious to
share that which I've found in Freemasonry with those who are still
wondering if what they see on the surface is all there really is to
the Craft.
Let me conclude by sharing with you a bit of prose about fireplaces
that appeared some time ago in the Ottawa Journal and was reprinted in
the Reader's Digest. As I read it, it reminded me of the
philosopher's approach to Freemasonry. It is, in a way, allegorical,
and makes us think about Masonic philosophy:
There are utilitarian souls who assume that a fireplace is meant only
to warm people. But he who tends a fire knews that it means much
A man who has a fireplace need never be lonely. A fire, correctly
tended, requires thought and attention; in return, it offers warmth,
music and beauty. And the glow from the hearth means a glow in the
A man who cherishes his fire wants a solid backlog of oak or hard
maple. If he is fortunate enough to cut his own wood and has a
choice, he sees to it that he has several kinds. The resin of pine or
cedar means quick, hot heat, yellow flames and a pleasant odor; yellow
birch gives an orange-blue flame, burns long and steady; old apple
wood means fragrance and a clear, bluish flame. Elm has deep russet
flames. Balsam and spruce crackle and spit and must be watched.
Don't poke your fire too much, but use judgement as you put on the
logs. A moderately high fire creates its own draft. A good hearth
tender uses his broom occasionally, but doesn't worry if a few ashes
spill out.
Tending fire is for the patient man. It fosters deep thoughts and a
contentment with the simple basic things in life . . Mechanical heat
has its good points and one wants it. But somehow it is more
meaningful if flames paint a picture in a ftreplace and a man has a
chance to tend his fire.
Why not make your fire - Freemasonry?

Aberdeen, Robert G., "What Am I Doing Here?", Edmonton: Edmonton
Masonic Research Group, 1974.
Alberta, The Grand Lodge of, Ceremony for Investing the Officers of a
Lodge, Calgary, 1973.
----,Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Alberta, A. F. & A. M.,
Calgary, 1969
----,Lodge Plan for Masonic Education,
Calgary, 1970
----,The Work (Canadian Rite), Calgary, 1970.
Duncan, A. R. C., Moral Philosophy, Toronto: CBC Publications, 1965
Grunebaum, L. H., Philosophy for Modern Man, New York: Horizon Press,
Highroads Dictionary, Revised Canadian Edition, Toronto: Thomas
Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1959.
Holy Bible, The, Temple Illustrated Edition, Philadelphia: A. J.
Holman Company, 1957.
Hook, Sidney, Contemporary Philosophy, New York: American Library
Association, 1968.
Juthner, Robert E., "Masonic Philosophy: Its Heritage, and Relevance
to Daily Living", Baner: The Nineteenth Masonic Spring Workshop,
Mackey, A. C. and R. T. Clegg (rev.), Mackey's Symbolism of
Freemasonry, Chicago: The Masonic History Company, 1960.
Reader's Digest, Canadian Edition, Westmount, PQ; Reader's Digest
Magazines Limited, January 1974.
Thouless, Robert H., Straight and Crooked Thinking, London: Pan
Books Ltd., 1973.
Ward, J. S. M., The E.A's Hancbook, Fourth Edition, London: The
Baskerville Press, Ltd., 1974.
end of part 2 of 2