of the objectives of Freemasonry, as promoted by the United Grand Lodge of
Victoria (Appendix A), is to
‘Provide opportunities for self development’.
is the growth of the individual person’s abilities by the individual himself.
Such development can of course be greatly influenced by the people and
organisations with which the individual relates.
previous periods of operative masonry, the craft guilds were largely concerned
with the development of the individual as a skilled craftsman. The operative
stone mason left the ranks of Apprentice and became a Fellow of the Craft when
he was able to demonstrate that he was a skilled workman who had mastered the
requirements of his trade. With the development of speculative Freemasonry,
self-development was expanded to include a broadening of the mind, intellect and
talents in general, through education and learning, not only for individual
benefit but for the greater benefit of society in general (Information
For Fellowcraft, UGLV).
ANZMRC publishes a quarterly newsletter, Harashim (Hebrew for Craftsmen), which is circulated worldwide in PDF format by email.
paper will examine the current Masonic approach to self-development, by
considering the Craft’s understanding of the world and the individual, some
streams of thought that have influenced current Masonic views, and future
implications for the Craft.
view of the world
state of the world and the individual’s interpretation of it greatly affect
the range of opportunities for self-development. The unified view that
Freemasonry holds about the universe, and the individual’s place within it, is
contained in the rituals of the first, second and third degrees, and is
summarised in the Retrospect of the Third Degree (Appendix
perceives the universe to be composed of two dimensions, material and spiritual.
With regard to the spiritual dimension, Freemasonry takes a monotheistic view.
That is, one God is acknowledged, and is believed to exist as a distinct being,
who created the world and who works through and in the world. God also being the
ultimate basis for determining moral and good human behaviour.
to the first degree, the Retrospect
says (from line 20):
. . .
above all, it taught you to bend with humility and resignation to the will of
the GAOTU, and to dedicate your heart, thus purified from every baneful and
malignant passion, fitted only for the reception of truth and virtue, as well to
His glory as the welfare of your fellow-creatures.
to the material world, Freemasonry exhorts the individual to expand his
knowledge and to develop his intellectual abilities to gain understanding. As
the Retrospect states (line 27):
. . .
were led in the second degree, to contemplate the intellectual faculty . . .
Retrospect provides a very useful
outline of the Masonic approach to the material world, as it contains guidelines
for individual behaviour and self-development.
view of the individual
Retrospect teaches the individual at
least five great truths concerning life:
That we all enter this world helpless and dependent on others for our immediate
survival and development.
That we also enter this world equal, not in terms of physical attributes or
mental abilities or material endowments, but in terms of our mortal condition.
admission into Freemasonry in a state of helpless indigence, was an emblematical
representation of the entrance of all men on this, their mortal existence. It
inculcated the useful lessons of natural equality and mutual dependence . . .
That because human beings share a common mortality and dependence upon each
other, there is the need for charity and support one another, particularly in
times of trouble or distress.
. . .
it instructed you in the active principles of universal beneficence and charity,
to seek the solace of our own distress by extending relief and consolation to
your fellow-creatures in the hour of their affliction . . . [line 15]
That self-development is achieved by the expansion of the intellect through the
study of nature and science, and the application of reason to the experiences of
. . .
you were led in the second degree, to contemplate the intellectual faculty, and
to trace its development through the paths of heavenly science . . . [line 27]
your mind, thus modelled by virtue and science, nature, however, presents one
great and useful lesson more—she prepares you, by contemplation, for the
closing hour of your existence . . . [line 32]
That the active pursuit of reason and the expansion of the intellectual faculty,
subject to the will of God, will lead ultimately to truth and virtue, that is, a
totally fulfilled life.
my brother, is the peculiar object of the third degree in Freemasonry. It
invites you to reflect on this awful subject, and teaches you to feel that to
the just and virtuous man death has no terrors equal to the stain of falsehood
and dishonour. Of this great truth the annals of Freemasonry afford a glorious
example in the unshaken fidelity and noble d—— of our GM HA . . .
we see that, while human mortality and universal charity are emphasised,
Freemasonry considers self-development largely in terms of the expansion of
reason and the human intellect. Freemasonry is part of a long historical
tradition which defines personal development in terms of the intellectual
and writers up to the nineteenth century, with their emphasis on reason and the
intellect, the development of rational systems, and the importance of experience
and observation, can be seen to have had considerable influence upon the Masonic
view of self-development. This paper shall briefly outline these three
and the Intellect
knowledge and the intellect, since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, have
been recognised as central to an understanding of life and the universe.
(c.427–c.347 bce, The Republic)
saw the soul as being divided into three parts; the rational part or intellect,
the will, and the appetite or desire. He saw the ideal society, like the soul,
also being partitioned into three sections or classes, the philosopher kings,
the guardians, and the ordinary citizens. The philosopher kings were to lead the
people, for by reason and thought they came closest to an understanding of truth
and ultimate reality—what he called ‘ideas’ or ‘forms’.
(384–322 bce, Metaphysics)
did not speak of a separate world of ‘forms’ or ‘ideas’. He maintained
that the world of the senses, or the material world, is the real one. Aristotle
sought to find, by reason, cause-and-effect relationships between things in the
early Christian writers tried to interpret Christianity and to relate it to the
philosophy of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
(345–430, The City of God) taught that all history is purposeful or directed
by God. He is above everything, and human beings and the world are God’s
creation. The supreme goal of human beings is a mystical union with God.
Aquinas (1265, Summa Theologica), who was influenced by Aristotle, took religious
philosophy a step further. He argued that the universe was organised on the
basis of reason, and that a knowledge of it leads to God. He said that a person
should use both faith and reason in believing in God.
views of these early philosophers, concerning the importance of reason, and the
intellect, for understanding the universe and for drawing close to God, are
echoed in the words of the Retrospect:
. . .
you were led in the second degree, to contemplate the intellectual faculty, and
to trace its development through the paths of heavenly science, even to the
throne of God. The secrets of nature and the principles of intellectual truth
were then unveiled to your view. [line 23]
does not see a conflict between scientific endeavour and a belief in God. It
views knowledge about the universe as leading to a better understanding of the
creative laws of TGAOTU. As a consequence, Freemasonry emphasises the importance
of the intellect and reason in coming to understand the universe and the place
of human beings in it.
the use of their intellect, human beings have been slowly able, through
observation and reason, to develop an understanding of the physical, emotional
and spiritual environments, or systems, in which we operate.
system is a mental image which assists us to understand a more complex reality;
for example, a river system, a legal system, or a number system. It helps us to
obtain an overview of the whole situation, and to understand the important
variables that affect the object being studied.
was during the period of the European Renaissance (1400–1600), that scientists
used observation and reason to investigate the physical characteristics of the
earth and to develop the concept of a solar system. Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo
and Johannes Kepler saw themselves as discovering physical truths through
reason. They laid the foundation of measurement, experiment and mathematics upon
which Sir Isaac Newton (1687, Principia
Mathematica) built his great system of the world. Newton, in fact, described
the world as a giant machine, or system.
systems view of understanding is clearly evident in Masonic teaching, as seen
from the answer given by the second degree candidate to the question, What is Freemasonry? ‘A
peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’ (Degree
Ritual, UGLV 1991, p 51).
systems view is also evident from the Retrospect:
it is first my duty to call your attention to a retrospect of those degrees
through which you have already passed, that you may the better be enabled to
distinguish and appreciate the connection of our whole system, and the relative
dependence of its several parts. [line 5]
the 1700s, influenced by Newton’s work, philosophers adopted a practical
approach, and believed that experience and observation gave rise to knowledge.
For example, John Locke (1690, Essay
Concerning Human Understanding), spoke of the mind as a blank tablet upon
which experience writes. Experience acts on the mind through sensation and
reflections and these two processes give human beings their ideas and
understandings. David Hume (1739–1740, A
Treatise of Human Nature) also argued that all our knowledge is limited to
what we experience; that the only things we can know are objects and events of
sense perception and experience.
teaching emphasises the importance of experience and observation, not just
visual observation but also mental observation or contemplation. From the Retrospect
we see the importance of experience and the contemplation of that experience for
gaining an understanding of ourselves, life and death.
your mind, thus modelled by virtue and science, nature, however presents one
great and useful lesson more—she prepares you, by contemplation, for the
closing hour of your existence, and when, by means of that contemplation, she
has conducted you through the intricate windings of this mortal life, she
finally instructs you how to die. Such, my brother, is the peculiar object of
the third degree in Freemasonry. [line 32]
Masonic view of self-development has been influenced by past philosophers, and
particularly by the development of scientific method following the European
Renaissance. Freemasonry understands self-development in terms of an increase in
knowledge, acquired by observation, reasoning, experiment, measurement and the
construction of mental systems, to assist an understanding of the world and the
meaning of human life.
a system of rational personal development, Freemasonry has an important role to
play, both now and in the future—although the world of the mid-21st century
will be substantially different from that of today.
wonderful thing about the future is that it can be guessed at. The future is not
known, for the universe and human life are full of paradox and surprise (Adams,
1992). Nevertheless, tomorrow is connected to yesterday via today, and we can
discern trends that are likely to become major characteristics of future society
which will substantially affect individual self-development. These trends
include an increase in personal freedom, an increase in scientific discovery,
and an increase in the rate of social change.
paper shall briefly consider these trends and their implication for personal
development and the role of Freemasonry.
the mid 1700s there has been an expansion of theory and practice supporting
increased individual freedom, particularly in the areas of the economy,
government and society. For example, there has been the development of national
economic systems based largely on the theory of competitive markets, in which
individual freedom to make production and distribution decisions is paramount.
government, the fundamental individual liberties of expression, religion,
assembly and equity have been enshrined in Bills of Rights, constitutions and
laws. In society there has been the development of a philosophical perspective
(sometimes called existentialism) which encourages social and behavioural
experimentation, human life being seen basically as a series of decisions that
must be made with no way of knowing conclusively what the correct choices are.
a world of increasing personal options, individuals will have greater freedom to
make their own choices. But they will also be increasingly made accountable for
areas of science and intellectual endeavour are making important contributions
to our understanding of the world and self-development. For example: in
chemistry, with the development of polymers, synthetic fibres, compounds and
pharmaceutical drugs; in microelectronics, with the development of the
micro-chip, the computer, the visual display unit and communication networks; in
medicine, with the development of ultra-sound diagnosis, fibre optics and laser
beam surgery, organ replacement and repair operations; in genetics, with the
manipulation and evolution of the DNA code of animals, vegetables, and bacteria;
and in astronomy, with the use of satellites to help discover the history of the
pace of scientific discovery is increasing over time and the effects are having
a profound impact on the way in which we understand and interpret the world, and
effect of increasing personal freedom and increasing scientific discovery is
that the individual in the twenty-first century will face a world characterised
by an increasing rate of change. Such change can be enormously beneficial, but
the difficulty for the individual is one of adjusting to an increasingly
transient world. What Alvin Toffler (1972) called ‘future shock’ will be
suffered by many people. The failure to effectively adapt to social change can
result in the individual suffering a sense of insecurity, disorientation,
alienation, and ultimately a lack of meaning of self and of life in general.
June 1992 the Weekend Australian
produced a series of articles under the general heading of ‘Creating the
Future’. This series brought together the views of nearly one hundred of
Australia’s leading thinkers. In a summary article at the end of the series,
the newspaper columnist Philip Adams made the point that our personal freedom,
technologies, pace of human life and inventions are out-distancing our
philosophies, ethics and laws. He observed that in every area of science we need
to be better informed, but we must remember that data is not information,
information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom. He wrote: ‘There’s
an awful lot of data around, and information in unprecedented amounts. But
wisdom? That’s in short supply. Indeed it may be becoming rarer, more
elusive’. (Adams, 1992, p 18)
then, is a major role for Freemasonry in this age of individualism, materialism,
free choice and transience: to provide a moral basis for wise decision-making
and self-development. Freemasonry, through its well-defined and stable authority
structures, rituals and illuminating allegories, provides an environment of
peace and harmony in which the intellectual faculty is encouraged to develop and
in which moral values and wisdom are fostered in the individual.
emphasises that self-development depends upon the individual’s improved
knowledge and understanding of himself and the world about him. Freemasonry
reminds us that self-development is undertaken in a material world, and that the
development of the intellectual faculty occurs within a mortal body. It uses the
tools of operative masons and translates their use into moral values and the
building of the spirit. It leads the individual ultimately to recognise that
reverence and respect for God is wisdom, and that to shun evil is understanding
Freemasonry is veiled by the mist of the past, it points to God and eternity. It
is concerned with the past, the present and the future, and belongs to future
ages. (Wiley Odell May, in Dewar, 1966, preface) Freemasonry has an important
role to play in providing responsible opportunities for individual
self-development, for its members and others, in a world which is increasingly
characterised by creative individualism, scientific discovery and pervasive
remains an unanswered question. If Freemasonry has an important role to play in
providing responsible opportunities for self-development for its members and
others in the twenty-first century, why is this not generally acknowledged by
the community? It could be because Freemasonry lacks an adequate understanding
of itself, and because it lacks an outlook recognised by the community as
relevant to the twenty-first century.
to undertaking the second degree ceremony, the candidate is asked, ‘What is
Freemasonry?’ and the required response is, ‘A peculiar system of morality,
veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’. (Degree
Ritual, UGLV 1991, p 51). But this is only a partial truth. Freemasonry
is not simply a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated
by symbols. First and foremost it is a way of understanding the universe in
which we live and how we relate to it and to one another.
you can have a morality or morality system, you must have understanding, a
conceptual view of the world and humans within it. Understanding precedes
morality. Morality is simply acceptable motivation and behaviour, based on a
given understanding of the world. There is the need for a new approach, a
conceptual analysis of Freemasonry.
explanation of the Masonic approach to self-development presented in this paper
suggests the following conceptual model (Figure
1) of interrelated components.
paper in fact provides and initial exploration of the ritual, philosophy and
self-development components of this model of Freemasonry. The paper also implies
that the significance of the model components may vary over time. That is, the
model is not static.
important role that Freemasonry can play in the twenty-first century is not
generally acknowledged, because the community does not see Freemasonry as
relevant. Aspects of morality and charity have been effectively passed from one
generation of Craft brethren to the next via Masonic ritual. However, there has
been a failure to adequately spell out the philosophy, the outlook and
assumptions, underpinning Freemasonry, and a failure of the Masonic approach to
adequately respond to changing individual and community values. Figure
2 provides a diagrammatic representation of the problem.
brief outline of the development of western values and perspectives since 1600
will illustrate how Freemasonry has failed to remain relevant in an ever
historical research indicates that Freemasonry was very much influenced by the
English and French Enlightenment which began in the 1600s and lasted till the
late 1700s. The Enlightenment was characterised by the view that knowledge and
society is not advanced by habit or superstition, but by reason, that is, by
logic and the rational scientific approach to understanding. The Enlightenment
saw the continuing separation of the State from the Church, with men and women
increasingly putting their fate in their own hands rather than in that of God or
Enlightenment was also characterised by the notion that the law should be based
on natural and equal rights for all. That is, the right of education, freedom of
speech and religion. The period of the Enlightenment was accompanied by the rise
of British middle-class respectability and semi-religious activities, and the
establishment of gentlemen’s studies, libraries, galleries, clubs,
views of the Enlightenment generated the assumptions and perspectives which
underlie Freemasonry of the 1700s and 1800s. These Masonic perspectives and
a belief in a single Supreme Being
the presence of an all-seeing eye and an invisible hand to oversee human
a view that God created the world so that it could be understood by the
reasoning power of humans; and that the laws of nature can be discovered by
mathematics—in particular, geometry
understanding that human nature and conduct is well ordered and, like the
physical universe, a science of human nature and society is possible
that there is a link between scientific reasoning, understanding and the
discovery of truth
an acknowledgment of the importance of education, for it teaches good methods of
the promotion of the value of labour, the work ethic, the protection of trade
the acceptability of secrecy in organisations to control membership and
assumptions and perspectives still underlie much Masonic ritual and practice.
However, the philosophy, perspectives and assumptions underlying current
Freemasonry are substantially different from the prevailing values, attitudes
and understandings in the community today. For example, prominent community
the separation of religion from everyday life
a quest to find sustainability rather than God
an awareness of the conflict of objectives.
invisible hand is not seen to operate, and what is good for the individual is
not necessarily good for society: for example, the need to reconcile individual
liberty on the one hand, with equality on the other.
is also the demand for confirmed historical accuracy, with a general ignorance
of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. There is an acceptance of the link
between education, scientific reasoning and understanding, but not necessarily
between education and the discovery of truth. It is acknowledged that there are
few rational truths or absolutes. Statements about the world or human behaviour
are never certain, they are only probable at best, and value systems are based
largely upon situational ethics. There is the declining importance of skilled
physical labour and trade labour, and the increasing requirement for
organisational accountability and transparency.
conceptual model (Figures 1 and 2), by highlighting the key attributes of Freemasonry,
not only focuses attention on philosophical aspects of the Craft, but also
provides coherent direction for future Masonic research:
more specific and precise definition of the model components: for example, a
more complete understanding of current theories of knowledge formation and
more complete analysis of the key relationships between the model components:
for example, the link between philosophy (such as Buddhism) and Masonic ritual.
the measurement and quantification of the model components and the direction and
strength of the key relationships between the components: for example, the
relationship of morality (such as beneficence) to self-development.
the change in the model components and relationships over time: for example, the
impact of World War Two veterans upon the development of Freemasonry.
the application of the conceptual model to the analysis of organisational
performance: for example, the divergent roles and functions of Grand Lodge and
is no doubt that Freemasonry has a great deal to offer in terms of wise
decision-making in an increasingly transient world. Whether Freemasonry will
make a substantial positive contribution to future society will ultimately
depend upon reconciling the disparity between the philosophy, the perspectives
and assumptions of Freemasonry, and current community perceptions and values.
way forward is not to double our efforts on ritual, or to increase our
benevolence, or even to strive for new members. These will necessarily follow if
we rediscover the Masonic vision of the ritual-writers. To go forward we must
first understand the philosophy upon which our ritual is based. Then we must
reinterpret that philosophy in the light of a changed world.
example, it is about developing a meaningful understanding of God for all
monotheistic believers. It is about uniting these believers into a caring,
peaceful and harmonious brotherhood, which transcends religious, cultural,
national, ethnic and locational boundaries and barriers. It is not about secrecy
and exclusion. It is about world community, expansive inclusion, transparency
is not simply about benevolence shown to those in distress, the aged, the sick,
the poor, and disaster victims. It is equally about the moral development of the
young, through the removal of discrimination and vilification and through such
activities as drug-free sport and recreation. It is about the development of the
skill and intellectual levels of all humans to ensure sustainable families,
friendships, communities, and material lifestyles.
is about moral regeneration, in all aspects of life. And it begins with the
individual, the young and the family. We failed to capitalise on the large
Masonic memberships of the 1950s and 1960s because of excess secrecy, habit and
protocol. In effect, we locked our families out of Freemasonry.
Masonic vision is about providing its members with a moral basis for
decision-making. It is about values and standards based on a VSL, not upon
professional association standards and situational ethics. To catch the Masonic
vision requires a return to the underlying principles and tenets, the
philosophy, upon which Freemasonry is founded. And having understood that
philosophy, to interpret and apply it to a radically changed world.
P: ‘Choosing the Right Direction for Change’ in the Weekend
Australian, 27/28 June 1992, p 18.
D: ‘Enlightened Histories of Our Times’ in Freemasonry
Victoria, Issue 83 February 2000, pp 14–15.
J: The Pleasures Of The Imagination:
English Culture in the 18th Century, Harper Collins.
J: The Unlocked Secret: Freemasonry Examined, William Kimber & Co, London
(1994) New International Version, Zondervan.
J: ‘Spirituality in Freemasonry’, Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, London
March 2000, <http//www.canonbury.ac.uk/closed/lectures/julian.htm>.
D: France in The Enlightenment, trans
A Goldhammer, Harvard University Press.
A: Future Shock, Pan Books 1972.
Grand Lodge of Victoria: Degree Ritual (1st 2nd & 3rd Degrees) 1991.
Information for Fellow Crafts.
(1982) vol 1, pp 129–130; vol 15 pp 345–352.
AIM OF FREEMASONRY IS TO:
Practice universal charity
Provide opportunities for self development
Foster moral standards
Seek excellence in all pursuits
Ritual, UGLV, 1991, p 1)
Bro —, having taken the great and solemn
obligation of a MM, you have now a
demand of me that last and greatest trial, by which
alone you can be admitted
to a participation in the
mysterious s . . . ts of a MM. But
it is first my
duty to call your attention to a retrospect of those
degrees through which
you have already passed,
that you may the better be enabled to distinguish
and appreciate the connection of our whole system,
and the relative dependence of its several parts.
Your admission into Freemasonry in
a state of
helpless indigence was an emblematical represen-
tation of the entrance of all men on this, their
mortal existence. It inculcated the useful lessons
of natural equality and mutual dependence, it
instructed you in the active principles of universal
beneficence and charity, to seek the solace of your
own distress by extending relief and consolation to
your fellow-creatures in
the hour of their affliction;
all, it taught you to bend with humility and
resignation to the will of
the GAOTU, and to
dedicate your heart, thus purified from every bane-
ful and malignant passion, fitted only for the
reception of truth and virtue, as well to His glory
as the welfare of your fellow-creatures. Proceeding
onward, still guiding
your steps by the principles
of moral truth, you were led in
the second degree,
to contemplate the intellectual faculty, and to trace
its development through the paths of heavenly
science, even to the throne of God. The secrets of
nature and the principles
of intellectual truth were
then unveiled to your view. To
your mind, thus
modelled by virtue and science, nature, however,
great and useful lesson more – she
prepares you, by contemplation, for the
of your existence, and when, by means of that
contemplation, she has
conducted you through the
intricate windings of this mortal life, she finally
instructs you how to die. Such, my
brother, is the
peculiar object of the third degree in Freemasonry.
It invites you to reflect on this awful subject, and
teaches you to feel that
to the just and virtuous
man death has no terrors equal to the stain of
falsehood and dishonour. Of this great truth the
annals of Freemasonry afford a glorious example
in the unshaken fidelity and nobled . . . of our
GM HA, who was s . . . just before the completion
of KST, at the construction of which he was, as
you are doubtless aware, the principal architect.
Ritual, UGLV, 1991, pp 92–94)