This is not déjà vu! This is a second submission by Bro. C. M. Williams for From the Mentor’s Mouth. Like his previous contributions, it was originally presented to William Renton Lodge No. 29, Free & Accepted Masons of Washington on Bainbridge Island. Bro. Williams is still a Master Mason at large, looking for a new Lodge within the Grand Lodge of Washington. He is a regular guy who is interested in men’s issues including fatherhood, modern masculinity, veteran’s concerns, leadership, society, philosophy, Olympic lifting, strength training, cycling, and the outdoors.
William Renton Lodge No. 29, F&AM
Bainbridge Island, WA
June 24, A.L. 6015
I heard an interesting analogy listening to a podcast recently. Although the podcast was talking about Renaissance philosophy, I felt the allegory could also be applied to Freemasonry. Stephen West, the creator of the Philosophize This Podcast, compared the groundwork for our society to an IKEA instruction book. I’m going to take it a step further.
One thing I’ve learned from Freemasonry is words, whether from the Volume of Sacred Law, Lectures, or ritual work, often have at least three different meanings. The literal meaning of words is just that, the literal words as they are written. All too often factions fight over the literal interpretations of words and ideas. Arguments of these literal interpretation can divide Lodges, nations, societies, and religions.
Often there are deeper meanings behind what has been written on a page. Words can have symbolic or allegorical meaning. Moby Dick for example isn’t really about an elusive white whale. Gatsby’s car isn’t merely a fancy yellow car. Both allude to something else, a deeper meaning. Scholars have dedicated their lives to interpreting what authors meant behind their use of imagery.
Beneath the allegorical meaning behind words, sometimes lies more hidden or esoteric meaning. The Kabbalists for example, look for the secrets hidden within the word of God and philosophies behind the visions of the prophets. Gematria searches for hidden mathematical patterns in the Torah, which hope to unlock god’s power. Although Kabbalah is not directly related to craft masonry, it is mentioned in the higher degrees. Alchemist hid secret meanings behind many of their writings, often by creating blinds in order to throw off the casual reader. Their works are often riddled with imagery and allegory alike. Many of these areas overlap with Speculative Freemasonry. In a nihilistic world, where man is constantly searching for meaning, it’s no wonder interest in exploring the esoteric aspects of the craft is growing, particularly among younger members.
The problem with seeking hidden meaning, is that our pattern seeking brains will start to find meaning in everything we see, even when such attention is not warranted. The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is an informal fallacy in which one ignores contrary evidence and focuses only on supporting evidence. A practice akin to shooting the side of a barn, only to paint a target around the marks made. When seen from a distance, it is easy to assume correlations that are not there. Cognitive biases like this, make us suddenly aware of a certain type of car after a friends recently buys a new one, a model you hadn’t noticed until then. Suddenly you start noticing them everywhere. Were they always there or is the observer now more simply aware of them?
We are naturally a species with a pattern seeking mind. Recognizing patterns has been keen to our survival. Pattern seeking combined with a tendency to humanize things is what allows our subconscious to anthropomorphize faces on the front of cars; headlights for the eyes, logo for the nose, and grill for the mouth. Once your perception is altered it can be difficult to un-see it. Did the automakers design their cars to look like faces, or are we simply seeing things from a new altered perspective?
As a species, we notice patterns and we share those patterns among one another. Language, both verbal and written has helped us share these ideas, thereby increasing our chance to avoid a predator lurking in the bush, dangerous obstacles ahead, or even a dangerous intruder within our ranks.
Think of the misunderstandings which have occurred when two people use the same language. Compound these misunderstandings when texts have been passed down from the ages. Hebrew to Greek for example. Greek to Latin, and Latin into English. With so many possible interpretations of language, it’s no wonder the Ikea instruction pamphlet has been distilled down to the simplest pictorial how-to manual.
Every piece of “semi-disposable swedish furniture” comes with its own hieroglyphic manual and allen wrench, much like Freemasonry is “veiled in allegory” and offers its own working tools. The Ikea instruction book may teach you how to assemble your bookshelf, but it does not have instructions for what you will do with it. The books, nicknacks, heirlooms, and miscellaneous pocket remnants of one book shelf are completely different than those on the same Ikea bookshelf found in another home. Masonry is the much the same way. Each lodge has been given the same cryptic instruction manual and tools of assembly. Each Mason strives to build the same piece of furniture, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Each lodge strives to be a working and productive bee hive. Yet every Lodge is different. Every Mason is different.
One of my favorite aspects of the craft is not what we have in common, but the differences which bind us and make us stronger. Each member, meeting on the level, bringing a new perspective to the working lodge. Each lodge offers a unique experience different than other lodges in the area. Different but the same much like the Ikea bookshelf. What will you put on your bookshelf? What kind of Mason will you be? What kind of Lodge will you build?
 Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, An Introduction to Kabbalah, (The Kabbalah Society) http://www.kabbalahsociety.org/wp/articles/an-introduction-to-kabbalah
 Michael Shermer, Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise (Scientific American, 2008) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/patternicity-finding-meaningful-patterns/
 Barbara Isanski, Does the Devil Really Wear Prada?: The Psychology of Anthropomorphism and Dehumanization, 2010) http://www.psychologicalscience.org/media/releases/2010/waytz.cfm
 Douglas Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, (1991)