FREEMASONRY: A Revealing Look at the Spiritual Side -Part 2

Excerpts from a “Lighthouse Trails booklet FREEMASONRY: A Revealing Look at the Spiritual Side by Carl Teichrib.”

Interpretations

Freemasonry has long been called a secret society. But this is a misnomer. Properly defined, a secret society is an organization that intentionally remains unknown to all outside of the closed group. Not so with the Lodge. Its existence and the location of its buildings are public knowledge. Moreover, the Craft’s internal secrets of recognition—its grips, signs, and symbols—have long been publicly circulated. Likewise with its ritualistic texts, constitutions and monitors, handbooks and memorization aids, commentaries, encyclopedias, works of history and jurisprudence, and the writings of its scholars and philosophers.

Foster Bailey, who was a Masonic lecturer and the National Secretary of the Theosophical Society, made this statement: “There is little that is not known today about the Masonic work, and nothing that cannot be discovered by anyone who diligently seeks it.” (quotes mine) Others have said similar things.

However, hints of a deeper reality—a spiritual interest—cannot be overlooked. Bernard E. Jones’ Freemasons’ Guide and Compendium points to religious underpinnings.  And Bailey’s book, The Spirit of Masonry, is devoted to the spiritual endeavor pulsing within the Craft. Others have asserted similar connections between religious philosophy and Freemasonry.

This spiritual association is a point of contention within the Lodge itself. Is it essentially religious and spiritual in nature, or is it something else?

Upfront, it must be noted that Masonry does not have an authoritative text to offer clarification in the way many religions and some ideologies do. Using religion as a comparison, Christianity has the Old and New Testament, Judaism the Torah and Talmud, Islam the Quran, and Hinduism builds on the Vedas. But a Masonic scriptural authority does not exist. Grand Lodge constitutions and monitors offer an official look into the workings of the Lodge, including duties and principles and explanations—with references to the “Great Architect of the Universe” and the Bible—but they lack deeper analysis.

Where does the Mason receive knowledge of the Craft’s meaning? Primarily from three sources: Grand Lodge constitutions and monitors, the writings of Masonic philosophers, and the individual’s experiences within the Lodge. Personally gleaning from his own observations and study, the Mason legitimately asserts that every man interprets Freemasonry in his own way.

Herein we have a dilemma: The claims of Freemasonry are many and diverse from within the Brotherhood itself. Regarding spirituality, two conflicting positions are often encountered:

The Craft is only a beneficial and benign society, a place for good deeds and self-improvement. It is a moral society.

Good deeds and moral lessons are part of the experience, but the Craft carries a deeper spiritual meaning and religiously oriented message.

How will we know what the Craft is about if, after hearing opposing sides from the Brotherhood, we discover everything is subjective?

This leads to an observation I’ve made when discussing this religious-spiritual identity problem with Freemasons:

Local Masons and the visible voice of the Lodge, public announcements and openly distributed literature, inevitably proclaim the first position—it is a moral and benevolent body with no religious or spiritual meaning.

Conversely, men who have achieved significant stature within the organization, such as a Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, or who are recognized as noted philosophers or historians within the Craft, are quicker to admit the second position.

Returning to the subjective nature of interpretation, that it rests upon individual observations and study, I was compelled to accept this ruling. I chose, therefore, to interpret the Craft through the second group and not the local Mason whose experience has been narrower. While experience plays an important role in shaping that person’s understanding of the Lodge as an individual, it has little bearing on deciphering the broader meaning and purpose of the Craft.

Manly P. Hall, arguably one of the most important Masonic thinkers of the last century, recognized the divide within Freemasonry:

In fact, there are actually blocs among the brethren who would divorce Masonry from both philosophy and religion at all cost. If, however, we search the writings of eminent Masons, we find a unanimity of viewpoint, namely, that Masonry is a religious and philosophical body.

To discover the philosophical and spiritual fabric of Freemasonry, we must turn to the voices that have shaped it and who have invested their lives in its application.

Next subject post: In their own words: Religious Universalism