What Freemasonry Teaches: We Don’t Know

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Robert H. Johnson

“What facts, theory or doctrine does the Grand Lodge expect the Committee on Masonic Information to inculcate? The Grand Lodge has not said. Obviously, it is not to teach what is in the ritual, for that is already thoroughly taken care of. What is the Grand Lodge’s authorized and approved version of the history of Freemasonry? It has none, except what is found in ritual. What is the Grand Lodge’s interpretation of the symbolism of Freemasonry? It hasn’t any, except the ritual. What is the Doctrine of the Grand Lodge about the philosophy, religion, or principles of Freemasonry? Obviously nothing, except what is already taught in the ritual. Therefore, if your committee circulates any information at all, it must be in addition to the only authorized doctrine of the Grand Lodge, viz., the ritual. Hence, we have the anomaly of a committee officially and solemnly authorized to disseminate unauthorized materials.”

These words are from the Committee on Masonic Information (Formerly Education), under the Grand Lodge of the state of California, in the proceedings for 1947, Pg 206. What is outlined is something we all know deep down, but have little patience or stomach to digest. This idea that what we have, has no meaning outside the ritual. This is stated by numerous Grand Lodges all around the world, if not in print than certainly by inaction. There is an inherent ideology which prevents a lodge or Grand Lodge in the United States at least, from stating that any one symbol means anything concrete. Sure, we offer new members small pamphlets on our history, who some famous masons were and outline a few rules a Mason should live by and if you’re extremely lucky, there might be an allusion to some deeper concepts.

Hence the mystery of our origins before recorded proceedings. The mystery of our operative ancestors and innumerable tomes of speculation regarding the teachings, what they mean and why we do them are readily available to anyone to read, open for further speculation and writing, even by those without the slightest expertise. We only have printed and documented proof of our existence, which is tainted at times and in some cases anecdotal evidence by second and third source parties.

The documented history of Freemasonry therefore, has had the most credible and accurate writings. But our craft isn’t about teaching its modern history. If it were, our first brethren would be studying what they had literally just accomplished. It is supposed to be a “Peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols” Or in other words, a different system of a way of living, taught with stories and depicted through pictures or symbols. But what are these teachings?

Is it simply Love for all mankind, Faith in a God and Hope in an afterlife? Almost no one agrees that it is as simple as this. Authors such as; Manly P. Hall, Arthur Edward Waite, Blavatsky, Doyle, Pirtle, Pottenger, Steinmetz, Krieger and a slew of writers living today argue that there is indeed a deep symbolism of the degrees. Ideas vary from author to author, but suffice it to say that the main take away is that; Freemasonry is truly ancient perhaps antediluvian in nature. It teaches the idea of a perfection of man or apotheosis. It teaches that there is a secret doctrine and that absolute practice of these realized concepts within the mind of the initiate leads to a true spiritual awakening to something commonly referred to as a Cosmic Consciousness.

These concepts are truly mind boggling to some. They are even offensive to others, especially when these ideas clash with the religious theology of the person so reading it. It can create a deep division of the mind if one is a Freemason, who is of the persuasion of a theosophy which is incompatible with these seemingly enlightened ideas and is reading these texts. One tends to shut down in these instances. We call this cognitive dissonance. An inconsistency in thought patterns regarding information put to the reader. It’s too convenient to keep believing the wrong information than it is to subject yourself to the new information that’s been presented, whether factual historical record or perhaps peer reviewed scholarly written esoterica.

But what do we know? There is nothing out there which affirms that these posited ideas of our actual purpose are absolute. We know for certain our craft has innumerable made up concepts to deal with the many areas we cover. Look at a Masonic ring, it might have, as a design, three etches on each side. When the buyer asks if this is because it symbolizes the three degrees, the seller says, “Yes!” But to be sure, it was actually just designed that way, no symbolism intended. Somehow we feel a need to fill in the gaps, it’s the way our minds work.

The Landmarks of Freemasonry are a prime example of creating something that was non existent. They were written based on lose ideas presented in any one of the diverse manuscripts which exist for your intimate perusal. These are as ancient as the 1800s, when Mackey and others laid them out, for the first time. Again, we have a human need to organize, write down, reference and categorize everything.

There are those who claim our [Freemasonry's] origin is from Ancient Egypt, and much has been written about this. However, there are also scholars who claim this is absolute nonsense. That we came from the descendants of Noah, again, nonsense. Why nonsense? Because there is no factual historical record to be examined. Where we came from lends to the credibility of what we are said to teach. E.g. If we came from Ancient Egypt, than perhaps we would truly value the magical elements of ritual. If we came from Ancient Greece, perhaps we would value more the sacred geometry.

The question remains, what does Freemasonry teach? Certainly, Grand Lodges refrain from taking a stance on what it is, we wouldn’t want to alienate hundreds of thousands of members. So we’re left with the maxim, “Freemasonry is many things to a great many people.” This just isn't satisfying, and perhaps it is the reason for all the appendant bodies. Believers of certain paths can join up and get active in one or several other “Masonic” groups dedicated to theosophical ideologies or perhaps just to have a social club.

Certainly brethren, we are more than Faith, Hope and Love. We should indeed admit to ourselves that the esoteric ideas which are written of our craft, which are not so much authorized interpretations shared by any Grand Lodge are most likely the product of Renaissance and Enlightenment period members joining our ranks and influencing the direction of the craft. For in our fraternity was a safe haven for these free thinkers, these titans of philosophy and romantic chroniclers.

It is thanks to these members that we have a craft left at all. A craft who’s documented origin is that of operative, that is, actual stone masons and their guilds in which obligations were taken over the guilds bylaws, not it’s holy book. From this, we sprang forth. A society who's chief concern was that of Unity. An influx of free thinkers then came into the craft, and changed it forever. This fraternity is in a constant state of change.

In the end, we teach ritual. We teach how to make a square corner, hold your rod and how to memorize words. “You forgot a word in there.” “You did a back hook step instead of a prep step.” We’ve heard it all, haven’t we? The ritual vultures leave no ritual uncorrected. If we only teach ritual, than what is the supposition? If there’s nothing deeper, what is the point? If you argue that the ritual teaches something else, than what is it? And why hasn’t it been stated officially?

To be sure, there are some Grand Lodges which have made tantalizing statements in the materials given to the members. See the Illinois Grand Lodge Committee on Masonic Education’s Intender Guide; “The Master Mason Degree Proficiency Booklet” Pg. 10

The Symbol of the Temple for each of us is founded upon the idea that man himself is a living Temple, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe resides.

This has since been removed. The new version of the Illinois Intender Program negates this concept completely, and yet we ask, “What are we teaching?” Are we not teaching these things any longer? Apparently not, which is why so many young Masonic authors are taking it upon themselves to dive into such topics. A matter of grave importance comes with these newly discovered ancient ideas notwithstanding is an unyielding strong grip on reality.

Too often a Brother may dive into the depths of Masonic philosophy only to risk nothing less than one’s own sanity in the search for divine truth. Perhaps if our lodges were to develop a posture on the philosophy of Freemasonry as it relates to enlightenment and not just the ordinary perpetuated concepts, we would foster developed thinkers, attract new members, provide a safe place for study and discussion and be a nucleus for progressive ideas to be born, which the rest of humanity might eventually look to for direction. Brethren, what are we teaching…officially?


RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Waukegan Lodge No. 78 where he is a Past Master. He also serves as the District Deputy for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry and is also an avid home brewer. He is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.

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