Presented at the Vancouver Grand Masonic Day, October 18, 2000
by W. Bro. Keith Godfry
There has been much discussion for the past several years regarding the perilous state of Freemasonry. This paper is not intended to discuss this issue in depth, but this preamble will set the stage for a presentation of a technique called Silent Exemplification.
Declining membership is a hot topic in Masonic circles. Many reasons have been advanced for this but it is important to remember that issues such as membership numbers are cyclical, and the fraternity has enjoyed periods of prosperity, offset by times of trial.
There can be little doubt that society has changed dramatically over the last several hundred years of recorded Masonic history. Freemasonry has also changed over this period. The question is, what changes, if any, should be introduced to arrest the decline in Freemasonry?
I would argue that the first requirement is to clean our own house. Seeking and finding a better understanding of who we are and what we stand for can best do this.
This leads to the vital necessity for education to become front and centre in our Masonic work. Two objectives will be met by such education: Brethren will become better informed about Freemasonry and its meaning and will be in a better position to practice (with understanding) what is preached in our ritual.
Silent Exemplification is just one tool for Masonic Education. It is based on the premise that little, if anything, is done for a candidate after he has received the various degrees. He may get an occasional lecture or talk on some aspect of the ritual he as experienced, but he will be largely left to his own devices.
It is not surprising therefore, if a Freemason comes to believe that Freemasonry is only about charity and getting together over a Festive Board. He must be forgiven if the true essence of our Gentle Craft eludes his grasp.
As far as I can tell, Silent Exemplification as a tool to assist in the interpretation of our ritual and the education of our Brethren was first used in Saskatchewan. It was given a wider audience at the 28th Annual Inter-Provincial Conference of the Officers of the Four Western Masonic Jurisdictions, held at Banff, Alberta in 1968 (The Banff Conference, now the Western Conference).
M.W. Bro. D.L. Gibson presented an interpretation of the Fellowcraft degree at the 28th Banff Conference and the Master Mason degree at the 29th Banff Conference.
Although mention is made of a Silent Exemplification for the E.A. degree, I have not been able to locate a copy.
The following is my attempt to fill that gap. It must be emphasized that it is only one interpretation; others may have a different interpretation, and that is good and right. It is to be hoped that this paper will stimulate discussion, both here and in Lodges around this jurisdiction.
The E.A. degree marks the second stage in the career of a Freemason. The first stage (conception) starts when a man conceives an interest in Freemasonry. The process of gestation follows with discussion, petition, examination and acceptance. Then the day comes for the individual to be born into the fraternity of Freemasons. As will be seen during the Silent Exemplification, the analogy to a birth (or more correctly, a re-birth) is much closer than many Freemasons realize.
In many ways, the birth does not end with the actual birth itself, but continues through the infant stage until basic skills are mastered and a level of independence in achieved.
Transition to independent learning is achieved in the Fellowcraft degree, where the E.A. applies his living skills to explore and learn more about himself, his environment and his relationship to that environment.
Finally, adulthood arrives and is marked by the solemn occasion of being raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason. But learning does not, or at least should not, stop there. Just as in the profane world, a man continues to mature and learn in adulthood, so a Master Mason should continue to grow and seek even greater insight into that greatest mystery of all, the nature of man and his relationship to the Infinite.
This paper uses the technique of Silent Exemplification to explore and interpret the E.A. degree ceremony as proclaimed in the B.C. Canadian Ritual. As with all Masonic interpretation, there is no one right answer, and this Exemplification is no exception. The content is the current opinion of one person: the author. Although based on a variety of other sources, many listed in the List of References, it is expressly recognized that others may have different interpretations. That is good. If the paper initiates (pun intended!) a lively discussion about the interpretation of our symbols and analogies, then it will have achieved its purpose.
Preparation of the Candidate
At least one interview and a, hopefully, thorough review will have preceded the arrival of the Candidate on the evening of his initiation by the interview team of the candidates background, beliefs and motivations to seek membership. However, one question must be asked again by a Past Master before the ceremony can begin. The importance of this question (Do you believe in the existence of a Supreme Being?) cannot be overstated. It is the foundation stone for all that follows, and should not be skipped.
It is also an opportunity for the P.M. to advise the candidate that he will be asked questions, to which he should reply simply and honestly, and that in difficulty and danger his trust should be in God. Such preparation will help avoid the regrettable practice of prompting the Candidate, or of an answer that would be inappropriate.
The Candidate is prepared (in the B.C. jurisdictions Canadian Work) by donning a special suit, which enables the correct preparation. The L.K. is made bare so that when the Candidate kneels at the A. to take the O. nothing will come between his flesh and the A. The LB is made bare to expose the heart to the SI. Some authors suggest that this was also to establish the sex of the Candidate, but this would be a less than perfect test. The RH is made slipshod. This is thought to be based on the practice of removing the shoes before entering a place of worship. However, if this is so, why just one shoe? Why the R? Why different in each degree? A clue may be in the Book of Ruth, "Now this was the manner in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing; for to confirm all things, a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor; and this was a testimony in Israel."
The ceremony of Initiation is one of changing. It represents and offers a paradigm shift from a way of life based essentially on one set of, primarily selfish, materialistic, values to another, more spiritual, less selfish set of values. The passage in Ruth then would fit well with the practice of the RF being SS.
It must also be remembered that our ritual was developed during a time when superstition played a much greater role in societys beliefs than is current in the 21st century. Perhaps the practice had its origins in such superstition. An unlatched or missing shoe was thought to protect from or avert danger. Jason, who searched for the Golden Fleece, had no shoe on his left foot when he went before Pelias the Usurper. Whatever the interpretation, there can be little doubt that the SS condition was no whim or accident.
That the right arm was also made B, is also no accident. That arm was the most commonly used to carry a weapon. The likely explanation for the origin of the practice therefore, is in the weapon. However, the right hand has also been regarded as good, true, honest and faithful.
Three important conditions remain: deprived of all metal and money; H.W., and a with a CT. The requirement that a Candidate have no metal or money on his person has several layers of meaning. One is to emphasize the nature of Freemasonry as being opposed to violence and that the Candidate has nothing offensive or defensive on his person. Another is a reference to the building of the first Temple of Solomon, where no metallic tool was used. Yet another is that money cannot be used to purchase membership in Freemasonry. Metal was considered in ancient times to be the gifts of the Gods of the Underworld, useful, but limited and inherently dangerous. Metal and money are also associated with material possessions. Therefore, to be deprived of them is to symbolize the discarding of a materialistic paradigm before embracing one based on more spiritual values. It is, of course, also reminiscent of physical birth, when the infant had nothing, and was totally dependent on his mother for sustenance.
A HW is also symbolic of the darkness that preceded birth. But it likely has a more practical origin. It is my belief that modern Freemasonry as we know it today, and as it developed in the 18th century, was preceded by a period when membership in a society that promoted tolerance and freedom would have been extremely dangerous to ones health. Yet, as we know from Plots Natural History of Staffordshire, speculative Freemasonry was widespread "more or less all over the Nation" and that "persons of the most eminent quality... did not disdain to be of this Fellowship." Of these "persons of eminent quality" we have very little knowledge. Randle Holme and Elias Ashmole are two of very few who are known to have been Freemasons in the 17th century. What of all the others? A reasonable conclusion is that the great secret in the 17th century was membership in the Society. If the Society was a meeting ground for those expressing greater tolerance and freedom, in an England involved in great religious strife and civil war, it would not be surprising if membership was a closely guarded secret. To protect that anonymity, it would be essential, first, that candidates for admission be vouched for "under the T of GR"and, second, that they be hoodwinked before they had taken an oath of secrecy to protect the identity of the members.
In the CT, we find yet another dualism, a dualism of opposites. On the one hand, it is symbolic of a constraint and a means of punishment, yet on the other hand, it represents the means of life and support. So the Candidate enters the Lodge attached to his former life by the CT, dependent on it for his sustenance, constrained by it and not yet free, because of his dependency, to embrace the new way of life. If he rushes to return to the old ways, still constrained by the CT, he will suffer the consequences. It may be relevant to note that the CT is rope that is used to guide and control ships, but it is not a hangmans noose.
Entrance, Candidate and J.D. at Door of Lodge
The Candidate, properly prepared, knocks on the door of the Lodge with his right hand to seek admission. The process is both one of seeking and acceptance, and the J.D. confirms that the Candidate indeed comes willingly and is properly prepared to seek admission. The J.D. confirms that he is a man, FB, twenty-one years old and is "under the T of GR." These requirements are clearly not all derived from the operative craft; particularly the age requirement. Most apprentices in the Middle Ages would have been considerably younger than twenty-one.
The T of GR deserves a further comment. It has often been noted that there is no PW in the EA degree. One would certainly have expected that Initiation would demand a PW. This can only be understood if it is accepted that the T of GR substitutes for a PW.
If this is so, the importance of a thorough and complete investigation of the Candidate and his motives cannot be over-estimated. The current pressure to lower admission standards would violate the principal of the PW of the T of GR.
Candidate Received by IG
The Candidate is permitted to enter the Lodge and immediately is reminded that he will be receiving something that is special and should remain his personal knowledge.
The invocation of a blessing emphasizes that both the Lodge and the Candidate recognize the existence and pre-eminence of a Supreme Being. The blessing is followed by the demand of the WM, to which the Candidate should reply without prompting.
The procession of the Candidate from the entrance to the JW gives an opportunity for the Brethren to assure themselves that the Candidate is properly prepared. But it also has another purpose, to allow the Candidate to become used to trusting his guide. The WM has assured him that no danger will ensue and that his guide can be trusted with confidence.
Candidate Stops at JWs Station
The JW represents the body of man, which is finite. He is the first to test the Candidate. When satisfied, he pronounces the PW, the T of GR.
Candidate Stops at SWs Station
In the nature of man, the SW represents the Soul. He also represents the transformation or destructive aspects. He is the last to examine the Candidate before presenting him to the WM, who represents the Spirit. The Soul confirms to the Spirit that the Candidate is ready to be transformed.
But the WM, as the Spirit, although accepting the recommendation, must first question the intentions of the Candidate. Satisfied, the Spirit returns control of the Candidate to the SW and JD to bring him to the A.
Candidate Steps to the A.
Three is a profound number, but space and time do not allow this topic to receive the treatment it deserves. Suffice it to say that in this one simple process, the Candidate is introduced to one of the central symbols of Freemasonry, the square. The number and length of the steps represents a 3-4-5 triangle, perhaps the best known of the Pythagorean solutions to Euclids 47th Proposition. It is worth noting that the only other set of numbers that result in the production of a right angle are 5-12-13. No others (other than direct multiples) exist. Pythagoras also theorized that the earth was a sphere and that the earth and stars revolved around a central fire, but did not identify the sun as that fire. Copernicus admitted that it was Pythagoras who gave him the idea for the solar system.
Candidate at A.
The WM informs the Candidate that he is about to take an obligation that will require that he "keep inviolate the secrets and mysteries of the O." It is worth noting that there is a subtle but distinct difference between an oath and an obligation. An oath is an appeal to God as a support for the truth of a declaration. An obligation is a binding agreement. The Candidate therefore is entering into a binding agreement with the Brethren of the order.
One of the great mysteries (even perhaps a paradox) is the main content of the O. Unfortunately, time and space again do not allow the topic to receive the attention it deserves. The issue, simply stated, is just what are the secrets or mysteries that the Candidate agrees never to reveal, and further, never to indite, mark, etc.? This is particularly important, since the first thing he will be given is a set of questions and his Obligation, in writing, to memorize. Clearly, the secrets and mysteries do not refer to the ritual, or else virtually every Brother has violated the Obligation.
Perhaps the best explanation is that the content of the Obligation is an historic memory of a time when extreme danger was attendant if details of a meeting of Freemasons were to become known. That there is some historic support for this idea may be seen in the Grand Lodge MS. No. 2, dated about 1650, which states, "...directly or indirectly publish, discover or reveal or make known any of the secrets, privileges or counsels of Freemasonry." The United Grand Lodge of England and Wales has taken the position that the only secrets of Freemasonry are those associated with the signs, tokens and words that are associated with each degree. Presumably, this is to guard against a non-Mason gaining entry into a Lodge at labour.
Interestingly, there is historical support for this position. Randle Holme, a Freemason, wrote on the back of the Harleion MS No. 2054 in about 1660: "There is a sevrall words and signs of a free Mason to be revailed to yu--keep secrelt not to revail the same to any in the hears of any pson...."
The Grand Lodge of BC and Yukon has not, to my knowledge, taken any particular position on this matter.
The phrase "without evasion, equivocation or mental reservation" is also worthy of some comment. It was used for the first time, according to Bernard Jones, in the Protestant Oath of 1678/79 and has formed part of the Declaration made by the English Sovereign before taking the Coronation Oath. The first to take it being William of Orange in 1688.
The inclusion of penalties as found in all three degrees is a subject of great controversy in Masonic circles. Suffice it to say here that many jurisdictions no longer include these penalties in the ritual, and some never have. There is also no uniformity in the way the penalty clause is given. For example, the old Bristol working has the phrase, "...or until this horrible punishment shall be inflicted, the less dreadful...of being further branded...." It is perhaps worth noting that the earliest mention of a physical penalty I can find is in the Register House document, dated about 1696. There is no mention of such penalties in the oldest Masonic documents, the Old Charges. They appear first in detail in the various exposes of the 18th century, and can therefore be regarded as being introduced primarily during the development of the ritual in the early part of the 18th century.
After the Obligation, comes the moment of transformation. As with a real birth, the Candidate is first restored to light. He is now out of the symbolic womb in which he has spent the last 20 or 30 minutes and can start to explore his new surroundings. The first things he is given are the tools representing the paradigm shift, the tools that will be there to guide him in his new way of living, the VSL to guide his exploration of his relationship with the Infinite, the S to guide his behaviour and the Cs to govern his relationship to all mankind.
Candidate Moving to N Side of A.
He is also introduced to those lesser lights, representing the Sun (the JW, the body), the Moon (the SW, the soul) and the WM (the Spirit).
His last tie to the old way is then removed, the umbilical cord is cut and the Candidate is free to explore his new world.
Having started on the road to a new way of living, the Candidate is given the means of recognizing those who have preceded him on this journey. It is interesting that in all the degrees, the communication of the S is preceded by a S. Ward believes that there is a symbolism in this S. That symbolism is the process of trampling with the l.f. on the Serpent of Evil. There are several cultures which have traditions regarding which foot to use and when. The Latin for right is dexter and for left sinister, itself having a meaning similar to that alluded to above. The English word right derives from a word meaning direct or straight, and the right is commonly referred to as a good omen, and we generally greet another with the right hand. It is also worth noting that the form of the feet is a Tau cross.
Despite all this, it may be that the FRS in Freemasonry is nothing more than an attempt at uniformity, possibly influenced by the practices of early military lodges.
Candidate Moves to the JWs Station
Here the Candidate is tested by the JW, again representing the Body. Since the Candidate is unfamiliar with the new paradigm, the JD, who is the link between the Body (JW) and the Soul (SW) assist him during the test. After being found knowledgeable, the Candidate is passed by the JW (the Body) to the SW (the Soul).
Candidate Moves to the SWs Station
Again, the Candidate is tested, this time more extensively by the SW representing the Soul--and again he is passed. The Candidate has left the control of the Body and is now under the direction of the Soul, which immediately presents the Candidate to the WM (the Spirit). Again, the Spirit reminds the Soul that it is the Soul that must invest the Candidate with the outward sign of his initiation.
An area of great confusion is that of the pillars. Which is left and which is right? King Solomons Temple was oriented East-West, that is the Holy of Holies was at the west end of the Temple and the only entrance was at the east end of the Temple. On the right as the worshipers entered, that is on the northeast corner, was B. and on the left was J. Hence, the position of the pillars as given to the Candidate is from the viewpoint of a person leaving the Temple.
Unfortunately, it must be admitted that the Apron charge is followed more in its breach than in its observance, and many freemasons with years of membership would do well to revisit this piece of work. The essence of this Charge is the recognition that disputes that are unresolved have the nasty habit of surfacing again and again. However, it is sometimes interpreted, incorrectly in my view, as prohibiting lively discussion and, yes, sometimes dissension in a lodge. I would propose that a, if not the, central theme of Charity is not just, or even, money, but is found in the gentle respect that should be given by one Brother towards another who has different views.
I could not say it better than Justin Trudeau in his eulogy to his father: "Because simple tolerance, mere tolerance is not enough. We need genuine and deep respect for each and every human being, notwithstanding their thoughts, their values, their beliefs, their origins" That, Brethren, is the true meaning of the Apron Charge. If we have that deep respect, then we can disagree yet still sit together in harmony. But if we denigrate the individual because he has different ideas, then we must surely leave the Lodge before its Harmony can be disturbed.
Candidate Moves to NE Angle
Here the Candidate is reminded again that he has started on a new path, and that the foundation for the new paradigm for his way of living has been laid. But he is cautioned that the structure he is now able to erect can only be done by labour, and by his labour alone.
The challenge to the new Brothers feelings towards Charity is done to emphasize several things. First, with the evidence of the largess around him, he is shown humility. Yet he is also shown that it is the intention, when supported by the means, that counts. And that no matter what his means, there will be those who will need his support. To me, this also again suggests that Charity is not limited to the ability to pay, and that a Brother may well benefit as much, if not more, from a sympathetic ear and a consoling voice.
Candidate Moves to the WT
The WTs the new Brother has for his use emphasize the need to be measured and that the construction of his new persona will require effort, first to get the right size (appropriate to his skills and abilities), then to create the rough shape and lastly to finish and smooth the final shape. The gavel, actually a small maul, represents the force of conscience, and should be distinguished from the gavel with which the WM controls the Lodge. The chisel is used to smooth and prepare the stone, and points out the value and advantages of education and discipline.
Candidate to the JWs Station
The climax of the initiation ceremony is found in the JWs lecture. This is so full of symbolism that it is necessary to leave a proper discussion to another time. A few points of interest can, however, be mentioned.
The allegation that the Egyptians hid their mysteries by hieroglyphics is now known to be false, and those hieroglyphics are no longer mysterious, even if difficult to translate.
But what on earth is a parallelepipedon? The description that would be more fitting would be an inverted pyramid, with its point at the centre of the earth. The definition of a parallelepipedon (the Greek form of the word parallelepiped) is a six-sided solid object, with each of its opposite side being a parallelogram. The weird and wonderful shapes that are possible under this definition boggle the mind! Why the Brother (or Brethren) responsible for the selection of this word to describe the shape of our L would choose such an erudite yet inaccurate word is unknown: perhaps they did not like the loose, but accurate, oblong square.
It is particularly interesting to note that the perfect ashlar is not described, at least directly, as the end result of the efforts and effects of the chisel (education and discipline) on the rough ashlar (formed by the gavel, or more correctly, the maul). Its use is described as "to try and to adjust his instruments on." In other words, it is a standard so perfect that it is suitable to be used to set up the other instruments. This can be interpreted as an admonition to apply the tools of learning and discipline until one becomes a standard, which Brethren can refer to when adjusting and trying the instruments of morality that they are using to construct their own house, "perfect in its parts and honorable to the builder."
Candidate Moves to the A.
The ceremony of initiation is concluded with a Charge, which summarizes the experience of the Candidate. It is interesting to note that reference is made to the Trowel, a tool that formerly played a significant role in our ceremonies, but has fallen into disuse in the Canadian working, being retained in other workings.
The charge summarizes the paradigm shift that the Candidate experienced.
To summarize, the paradigm shift is to move away from a materialistic, self-centred mode of behaviour to one that will enable the newly initiated Brother to become "respectable in life, useful to mankind and an ornament to society."
By becoming more spiritual, the new Freemason is encouraged to enter on a program of self-development that will require introspection and inward work, but will result in behaviour that is less selfish and of more value to the society in which he lives.
So mote it be.
Selected List of References
- The practice of every moral and social virtue,
- The use of the VSL as a standard of truth and justice,
- The acknowledgement of the Deity,
- The Golden Rule of action towards others,
- The responsibility to preserve, protect and embellish our God-given talents,
- The need to be a good and responsible citizen,
- The practice of the four cardinal virtues, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice,
- The practice of Benevolence and Charity.
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