On the last Thursday in February of 2015, the final cable-tow was unraveled and the final hoodwink was removed, revealing all the light of Freemasonry unto my innocent eyes. I had finally achieved the sublime degree of Master Mason after so many years of patiently waiting and working toward that achievement. I tried to hang onto the moments as it was happening, absorbing all that I was able. The experience was emotionally daunting, superior to both my preceding degrees in the amount of mental and physical exertion. The gamut of all emotions washed over me, which I’m sure is the intention of the degree (see third degree interrogation). By the end, I was a mix of happy and humbled.
After the degree was over, the Secretary of the Lodge called me west of the alter to receive the Holy Bible upon which I had been obligated and signed by every brother in attendance, the monitor, a cypher, the bylaws, a Master Mason pamphlet (similar to the Entered Apprentice pamphlet), and a square & compass pin. The Worshipful Master gave me a pin from his own personal collection, and the District Inspector gave me one of the new Grand Master’s pins. Afterward, we feasted upon pastrami sandwiches and beer, while fraternizing among our fellows of the Craft. It was truly a joyous occasion among brothers.
Although the third degree is the ultimate degree of freemasonry, it is only the beginning. There is so much to do at this point. There are appendant degrees and concordant orders and youth groups and clubs and committees and more and more and more. Some people may read this and say, “Wait, the I know there are degrees greater than the third, how is that the ultimate degree?” Well, I’m not the guy to give you an answer that may be satisfactory, but what I know is this (my personal “Truth”):
- Each of us are a one-dimensional point, and we can trace the trajectory of our lives in a line from that center point.
- When we become an EA, we create a unique line that moves outward from the center in a single direction. The length of that line depends on the breadth of our learning.
- When we become an FC, that line becomes the radius of the circle surrounding our center-point. We are now in a second-dimensional plane, representing the boundaries upon which our passions should be contained and realizing that every avenue of our learning (each radius) leads to that same boundary. We have become the circumpunct.
- When we become a MM, that plane bulges outward with all the new light we have obtained. All the light of Freemasonry is the catalyst toward becoming a whole, a three dimensional sphere. By now we should realize that all humankind is contained within that sphere as well, and we are all the same with many different perspectives, but each perceiving the same common boundary.
- To that end, MM is the ultimate degree of Freemasonry. Each additional degree only provides more light within that sphere. Where only a portion of the sphere has become lit, more and more will light up as we continue to obtain the light from our learning. The various additional degrees allow us to increase the light within the sphere, but not grow beyond it.
That is how I visualize the light I have received and why I feel I need to keep up the search for more light. Further, I believe Freemasonry alone will not make that sphere completely lit. There is much light elsewhere that should be sought. We can find more light in seeking out the good among the many beliefs of humankind. Each of those beliefs are shrouded by a particular perspective, but if they be “Truth” they should all reach toward that common boundary beyond which resides that which cannot be contained or known in this world or the next.
A candidate is “brought to light.” “Let there be light” is the motto of the Craft. It is one of the key words of Masonry…By an inevitable association the word came into metaphorical use to mean the coming of truth and knowledge into the mind. ‘When a candidate ceases to be ignorant of Masonry, when through initiation the truths of Masonry have found entrance into his mind, he is said to be “enlightened” in the Masonic sense (Definition of Light, Masonic Dictionary).
Although Masonry may not the be-all-end-all or the only means to achieve light, I do believe it is a system that works and has been shown to work for many men since time immemorial. Therefore, I do believe that any good men, being on a search to better themselves in this life and to better the world as best they are able, should have an interest in Freemasonry and the benefits it can provide. The major benefits being light, but also fraternity, charity, and spiritual, moral, and leadership development.
That being said, it is necessary for a petitioner to have a spiritual belief without which that sphere as described above is alone. There is nothing beyond unknown, and all that is and ever will be can be contained within that sphere. If that is the person’s belief, they will not find what they need in Freemasonry for they already have all that they need, and that is good for them. They have no need to seek this particular light.
Because Freemasonry has been said to be “a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” there is a need for a petitioner to be a man of moral caliber prior to becoming a Freemason. This is represented in their character and reputation by the fact they are free from felonies, crimes of moral turpitude, and are men of good repute and rapport among those who know them. This is why Freemasonry is said to make good men better; it cannot make bad men good. Therefore, I believe that every man professing a belief in a supreme deity and is of good moral character as defined above should petition to become a Freemason. However, not every man who petitions will have the qualities necessary to become one.
For me, one of the greatest qualities a potential Mason should have is reserved openness. That is, I think they should be open to new information and the perspectives and beliefs of others, tolerate and respect the different varieties of human-life, and hold off from making quick judgments and generalities. However, they should not just accept such information, perspectives, beliefs, differences, or refrain from conclusions without any reflection or thought about their own concerns on such subjects.
We all have our own “Truths” and opinions and have every right to hold them and expect a mutual respect for such beliefs. We must also recognize that certain such “Truths” may cause disharmony among brothers in a lodge and should not be discussed as openly as others. As such, a kibosh is placed upon discussions of religion, politics, nationalities, and borders. There are likely many more topics in the modern world and the future to come that should be kept from the sanctity of the lodge.
I believe that this reserved openness is truly a major component of circumscribing one’s passions. Only a man who is able to do this (and to continue to do this) will have the greatest benefit from Freemasonry. It reminds me of the Jewish philosophy that inspired a tattoo I have on my left leg. In the image below, you’ll see a angel and devil in a kind of yin/yang (as they become one at the boots) are bound to seven chains each that are ripping apart a sacred heart. They represent the good and evil inclinations tugging at my heart strings so to speak.
The Jewish philosophy it’s based on goes like this:
Humans are born with a good inclination (Yetzer HaTov) and an “evil” or “natural” inclination (Yetzer HaRa). In Judaism, the evil inclination is philosophical, not a demonic force; It is the needs of the physical body, in which a preponderance on such a need might lead to gluttony, lust, pride, etc. Similarly, the good inclination is philosophical, referring to the ideal good, which would be purely seeking out God and studying Torah. One must maintain balance between these two inclinations. If one does not moderate these two forces, they may lean to close to good and then they do not eat, do not have sex, and they die without reproducing. Likewise, they may become criminal leaning to close the evil.
Man is the creature created for the purpose of being drawn close to God. He is placed between perfection and deficiency, with the power to earn perfection. Man must earn this perfection, however, through his own free will… Man’s inclinations are therefore balanced between good (Yetzer HaTov) and evil (Yetzer HaRa), and he is not compelled toward either of them. He has the power of choice and is able to choose either side knowingly and willingly… (Moshe Chaim Luzzato, The Way of God)
This seems very Jedi and Sith, right? I almost feel like the prequels are an allegory of this philosophy. We have Anakin who is supposed to bring balance to the Force.The Force is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together” (Obi-Wan Kenobi, “A New Hope”). It has opposing sides of philosophical good and bad. Anakin represents each of us, trying to balance those opposing forces.
Although the Force is the supernatural power of the fictional universe of Star Wars, its description is so similar to the panentheistic philosophy I subscribe to (also check out Star Wars and Stoicism and the Force and the Zohar). Going back to my example above, God is all that is unknown and cannot be contained by the sphere of the universe, rather the universe is within God. God surrounds that sphere, penetrates it, and is everything within the sphere. All things within the sphere contain God, outside of the sphere God is not contained. Much Hindu and Jewish thought (Hasidic and Kabbalah) shares the same philosophy.
I feel that Albert Einstein’s comment meant to alleviate the pain of a sister’s death for a young girl summarizes much of my thought on this well:
A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest-a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely. But the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security (Albert Einstein, age 70).
I’ve presented all of this to show how much light can be obtained out there that isn’t necessarily Masonic. We should be seekers of the light, as we can always find something to learn from something out there. We must remember that all things, even historical ones, are perceived by each person individually and through their own lens interpreted. What we find to be a “Truth” of our own, may not be so to another, and it is in a sense not moral to force your “Truth” onto someone else. That being said, this is my “Truth” take it as you will. As always, I will continue my search for more light.