Review of Freemasonry

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a book by W. Bro. Julian Rees

Three to guide

'Having been kept for a considerable time in a state of darkness what, in your present situation, is the predominant wish of your heart?'


'Brother Junior Deacon, let that blessing be restored to the candidate'.

Bruno Gazzo Julian Rees

This book has been conceived as a companion volume to its earlier partner Making Light. Unlike that book, however, these essays can be read aloud in open lodge as well as being studied on your own at home.
Bruno V. Gazzo, Editor of PS Review of Freemasonry interviewed the author to find out more...

BG: First of all I would like to say  I have really appreciated  your work because you supply “First quality food for thoughts” not the “Truth”.

My first question regards the concept of  Freedom in Freemasonry.

In a piano sonata the musician follows stricts rules of composition, nevertheless he is free to create an original piece of music.

In freemasonry we have oaths, obligations, rules, but  it is our  peculiarity to be overall  Free Men.

Is there freedom without rules?


JR: I think there are two aspects to Freedom here – the freedom with which we come to the lodge to be initiated, and the freedom we exercise thereafter. As regards the second, freemasonry is without dogma, therefore once we have imbibed the vow, the ritual, the rules set out for our masonic conduct, we are free to interpret, to visualise and to evaluate what we are learning. Once we can hear the song, we are free to sing it, but we have first to find it, and know it to be true. That sounds a little confusing, but when the truth of something hits you, it’s like a blinding light – you simply know it to be absolutely true. Find your interpretation of the allegories and symbols, and then test it out on your fellow Freemasons.


BG: In your book you write: "In a macro sense the lodge is a model of the Universe".

Could we say that in a micro sense is it a model of a man?


JR: I would rather say that both man and the lodge are micro models of the macro universe. On the hermetic principle “As above, so below, to achieve the wonders of the One”, I am the micro equivalent of the Creative Principle – the lodge illustrates my nature by its form and function. I am indeed “enabled to unfold the beauties of true godliness” by my masonic art – it’s up to me to use that enablement.


BG: Could you describe in a few words the process of enlightenment in Freemasonry?

The light is inside us and our task is to take off the veils or is it something different?


JR: It’s something like that, although I prefer to think of it as viewing the allegories (and the words used to name them) from a different perspective, rather like turning the corner as we ascend the winding staircase. At the end of our first degree initiation, we are said to have had light restored to us, but the ceremony itself is frequently perceived as confusing, so true enlightenment may properly occur only afterwards, as we begin to journey. This was in my mind when I wrote, in particular, the first part of Making Light – that a newly-made Brother might begin to make sense out of what has happened to him, and see it as the first stage only on the journey towards light, not the arrival at enlightenment itself. It’s too long to go into in a few words here!


BG: Freemasonry is not a secret society, but a society with secrets and these secrets concern the traditional modes of recognition.

Nevertheless every Freemason knows that there is a secret he is not able to communicate.

What could you tell me about?


JR: You are quite right, and the secrets concerning modes of recognition are (pace United Grand Lodge!) no longer important – they can all be read about in books. What is supremely important is that the secret, the true secret, is individual to each one of us. To reveal it, is to dissipate its strength, its true purpose and value. Umberto Ecco said that to name something is to destroy it – to cover it in a word which does not transmit or communicate its true nature. I believe that at the end of our third degree something so momentous should have happened to us that we cannot speak of it even to a Brother Mason, and this is why we have to make do with substituted secrets, forms with which to indentify ourselves to fellow Master Masons – no more than that. The genuine secret should by now be in our hearts, our centre, that place from which we cannot err, because our heart knows it to be true.


BG: A chapter of your “The Stairway of Freemasonry” is dedicated to the pilgrimage.

Chartres labyrinth is a one-way path towards the center . You cannot err.

You write all Freemasonry is a journey, a journey without end.

Could you explain better what do you mean “without end”?


JR: On one level, if we say that if we are a micro-model of the Great Architect, then we are already perfect. We all know that examples of perfect men and women are few and far between! It is clear that, to achieve enlightenment and spiritual and moral progress, we have constantly to strive to be better human beings, morality being an absolute. This is what we mean when we say that it is the journey, not the destination, that is important. Those who have found out how to journey find it liberating and joyful, not a chore such as being obliged to go to church on a regular basis. Of course many of us go to church because we want to, and that is another pilgrimage undertaken with joy and satisfaction. So the day we stop journeying we stop fulfilling ourselves, and start neglecting our centre.


BG: Could we say that this book is in a wider sense the sequel of your successful “Making Light”?


JR: With Stairway what I wanted to do was to write something which could be used for short talks in the lodge, or to be read and contemplated on in private. In both cases, I hope that the questions will encourage Brethren to test themselves. There is a dire need for real masonic education, not just instruction in the words of the ritual, valuable though that is.


BG: How would you sum up what you are trying to do with Making Light and Stairway?


JR: When I was studying German at London University some years ago, our lecturer asked us, when writing a composition or an essay, to liberate ourselves from the dictionary, to put it away and try to do without. What I would like to see is Freemasons, having learned the words of the ritual, going away and working – I mean really working – at interpreting, freeing themselves from the words and the forms, and getting to grips with the content, the chocolates without the chocolate box, so to speak. The rewards can be astonishing!

After the aspirant has made his vow in the first degree

Many people regard this moment as the most crucial, the most poignant moment in the initiation ceremony, if not in the whole masonic experience. The aspirant answers ‘Light’, and in this seems to be encapsulated his longing for the light of knowledge, of truth, in himself. But before we study the answer, let us look again at the question.

In fact, it is necessary to read the question on two different levels. ‘Having been kept for a considerable time in a state of darkness, what, in your present situation, is the predominant wish of your heart?’ Does the Master refer only to the period that the aspirant has been blindfolded? Certainly he does mean that, but here we may consider a further, greater meaning. If we regard the aspirant’s journey thus far as being a journey away from darkness, the darkness of the unenlightened state, a state where his own selfish impulses may have guided him, where he may not be free to set those aside and serve his fellow-men selflessly, then he may well agree that he has been ‘for a considerable time in a state of darkness’ namely for much of his life up to now.

Consider for a moment the course of the aspirant’s progress so far. He has entered the temple in the west, the place of the setting sun, and therefore the place of darkness. He has been led round the temple once, proving himself to the Wardens as he progressed, but he did not stay in the east – he returned to the west, because he was not yet ready to approach the light. Because he is blindfolded, he does not know that in the east, the place of the rising sun and therefore of life, the three great lights are placed, those symbols whose allegory will be of most importance to him on his journey.

Now he has been instructed how to approach the east, by the three level steps. He has already been told, in the prayer, that he may ‘unfold the beauties of true godliness’, and may have begun to perceive that as an increase of light, or enlightenment. He has been told by the Master that Freemasonry possesses ‘great and invaluable privileges’, and he may have a sense already that those privileges may encompass such enlightenment. He has made his vow. In it, he binds himself not to do anything whereby the secrets may become known to others by revealing them to the light, whereby they may be seen by others, since their true value may lie in being able to see them with the heart, rather than with the eyes.

So the aspirant is restored to material light, and at this point, before his attention is distracted by outward influences, the Master directs him to the three Great Lights in Freemasonry, the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and Compasses.

The Sacred Volume is the greatest of the three Great Lights. It represents the revealed will of God. It is spoken of as the greatest, since in all of Freemasonry, our ultimate goal is to focus on our relationship with God. The aspirant may here once more remember the prayer: ‘ . . . that he may the better be enabled to unfold the beauties of true godliness . . .’ and in the other degrees this union with God will be further emphasised.

The Master refers to the three Great Lights as ‘the three great, though emblematical lights’ in Freemasonry. So, for the aspirant, they will work as emblems, symbols, in which allegory will assist him in realising their power. The sacred writings are to govern his faith. Attending to God’s will may mean for him maintaining a true, straight path, a path to which he will always return if, in the future, he should find himself diverted from the pursuit of knowledge and light. The square is to regulate his actions, and are a symbol of the morality to which he aspires, leaving behind the old, base Self, to approach a higher plane. Square conduct implies adhering to a line of correctness in his dealings. The compasses are to keep him in due bounds with all mankind, therefore never overstepping the bounds of truth, moral conduct and propriety.

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