PS Review of Freemasonry

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Editor's Interview: MAKING LIGHT
In this book Making Light - a Handbook for Freemasons Julian Rees shows many largely unknown aspects of the Masonic symbolism. The Editor asked the author: "Isn't esoteric talk of this kind going to put some Freemasons off?"...
A Seeker After the Inner Meaning of Freemasonry


W. Bro. Julian Rees is a PM of Kirby Lodge No. 2818, London
Past Junior Grand Deacon, United Grand Lodge of England.

            Freemasonry means many things to many Freemasons, but central to the masonic quest, it seems to me, is the idea encapsulated in Hermetic philosophy of duality in the universe. The most basic expression of this is the form of our temples: a double cube, one symbolic of the human state, the other symbolic of the power beyond the material world – eternity is a name we may choose to express it. Hence, as we all know, Hermes Trismegistus, in the inscription on the Emerald Tablet, refers to ‘That which is above is the same as that which is below, to achieve the wonders of the One’, or Macrocosmos and Microcosmos united. At my masonic initiation I am blindfolded in order to concentrate my spirit away from my well-known material microcosm, towards the non-material, spiritual side of myself, the macrocosm, to understand, for a brief moment at last, the power of unity. And, later on in my masonic journeyings, I come to understand a development of that power of unity, and that such a power comes to encompass all of my brethren, a group which now includes me as a link in that chain. Thus unity becomes a sine qua non of my masonic existence.

            In the eighteenth century in England, when religion and politics became closely interwoven, catholicism came to be characterised as the Jacobite, Stuart, and therefore anti-establishment rebellious elements, ranged against the Hanoverian, protestant, anti-Stuart established monarch and government. So it was that discussion of religion and politics in masonic lodges was forbidden, not least to remove the suspicion that lodges might be considered by outsiders as seditious elements in society. Such a stance ensured a cast-iron unity between Freemasons since Freemasonry thereby became, uniquely, a place where men of good will, despite possible opposing views, might agree, in a solid, shining example of unity.

            How perverse it is, therefore, that three centuries later, so much disunity persists in the global masonic community. Various obediences, practising various forms of the ancient Art, co-exist, some in harmony, some in disharmony. To my mind, the most extreme example of this disunity is illustrated by the existence of two male-gender masonic systems in each of the States of North America – a so-called ‘mainstream’ Grand Lodge, populated mostly by white Freemasons, existing alongside a Prince Hall Grand Lodge, populated almost exclusively by African American Freemasons. I say ‘extreme example’ although happily, in the last twenty years, the two systems have come to recognise each other in most, but not all, of the States. It is a living scandal that in some of the southern States, the so-called ‘mainstream’ Grand Lodge will not recognise their Prince Hall counterparts. I find this situation deeply offensive, and against all masonic principles, since it negates the very raison-d’être of Freemasonry, namely unity through brotherhood.

            But nearer to home also, on the continent of Europe – to which, I sometimes have to remind my friends, Great Britain does in fact belong, more than simply geographically – divisions bedevil our spiritual quest, divisions which, frankly, are unworthy of us as Freemasons. Chief among these divisions is the seemingly eternal GADLU/non-GADLU debate. It is not so much that I deplore these differences in themselves. After all, they represent important cultural traditions that each obendience holds dear, and which should be respected. What I do deplore is that these differences prevent us from celebrating our ancient Craft together. And more than this, I may be forgiven for saying that our leaders sometimes seem to lack the will to solve these differences. For some obediences, a dialogue with those who do not share its principles does not seem to be high on the agenda.

            As regards the GADLU/non-GADLU debate, I am reminded that, a few years ago, the International Order of Co-Masonry Le Droit Humain held a colloquium near London, the main theme of debate being as follows: ‘Do we work to the Glory of the Great Architect of the Universe, or to the Perfection of Humanity?’. Most of my masonic brethren to whom I put this question, replied ‘It’s the same thing!’ For me, this debate sums up what is essential. I want to share with you a crucial aspect of this. In the Emulation ritual of the first degree, the Master says a prayer over the candidate, invoking the Great Architect’s blessing on his initiation. Part of this prayer exhorts the Great Architect: 

            ‘Endue [the aspirant] with a competency of Thy divine wisdom,

            that assisted by the secrets of our masonic art he may the better

            be enabled to unfold the beauties of true godliness.’ 

Now it is perfectly clear to anyone, Freemason or not, that the aspirant has only one place from which to unfold, or to unveil or to display, true godliness, and that is, from within himself. What we mean here is the validation of his own divinity, his own eternal spark, the light within, the spirit of man – what other names do I have to give it in order to make it clear? This is not godliness understood in any ecclesiastical sense. It is the spirit of man, that non-material part of him which Freemasonry, uniquely, can empower, can bring into play in his everyday life.

            Convergence is at the heart of what we do, or what we ought to do. And just as I have been scandalised at the failure of some white Freemasons in America to recognise their black brethren, so we ought to be scandalised at the widespread exclusion of women from our ancient Craft. Such an exclusion, justified no doubt by the social conventions which ruled in the early eighteenth century, conventions which held that women were not fully-fledged citizens but subject to the rule and will of men, have long ceased to be either valid or relevant. In a world in which a woman may aspire to the presidency of the French republic or prime-ministerial office in Britain, it is simply perverse to judge that a question of gender determines who should, and who should not, attend my lodge.

            In my own country, the United Grand Lodge of England is by far the largest masonic obediance. At the turn of the twentieth century, almost exactly one hundred years ago, Co-Masonry came, from France (of course!) to England. It is a very sad fact that the two feminine Grand Lodges in my country came out of a schism with that original Co-Masonic body. Those two Grand Lodges are exclusively feminine, admitting no men to their meetings, but we would have to ask ourselves, were they not in fact copying that very exclusion that had been visited on them by their male counterparts? The liberated slave does tend to copy the repressive tactics of the erstwhile slavemaster. In my country therefore, the Order of International Co-Masonry Le Droit Humain offers the only route by which the true convergence is being achieved.

            Here also, in the matter of gender-Freemasonry, I have to say that our leaders have shown a sad lack of imagination in their handling of the question. When asked recently why the United Grand Lodge of England did not recognise women Freemasons, a senior officer gave it as his opinion that women could not be Freemasons, because, he said, the square, the basic element of Freemasonry, is a male symbol: the corresponding female symbol is, he said, the circle! One can only pause in wonderment at such absurdity. No, from what I gather, it is up to France to show us a true example of universality, in this and in other masonic aspects.

            I am aware that in what I have said I may appear to have been over-critical of my own Grand Lodge. There is much to be admired about English Freemasonry. If you scratch the surface of an English lodge, you will find much to learn, much of the core values of our ancient Craft. And there is no doubt of the fact that Freemasonry, in all parts of the world, is very different today to what it was thirty or more years ago. We have, I believe, a far greater awareness of our shared spiritual and cultural values; we have the means to develop ourselves for the good of humanity, to go out and to show the world where real goodness and harmony may be deployed to increase the wellbeing of humanity. But we will not do it by appearing to stand still; we will do it by working together; we will do it by shedding some of the useless shibboleths; we will do it by the convergence which Freemasonry requires of us, all of us, together, united in the spirit, remembering Anderson’s immortal words: 

            But though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country

            to be of the Religion of that country or nation, whatever it was,

            yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that

            Religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions

            to themselves; that is, to be good men and true, or men of honour

            and honesty, by whatever denominations or persuasions they may be

            distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the centre of union, and

            the means of conciliating true friendship among persons that must

            [otherwise] have remained at a perpetual distance.

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