What Is Character?

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

I’m lucky enough to sit in lodge with two Midnight Freemasons, Todd Creason and Greg Knott in both Ogden Lodge #754 and Homer Lodge #199 here in Illinois, where I am a dual member.   I am serving as Todd’s Junior Warden in Homer this year.  I was recently humbled when WM Todd Creason, asked me to give a presentation and facilitate a discussion about character for the next Homer lodge meeting.      Both he and Greg have been amazing mentors to me, and we’ve become great friends as well.  While doing my research for my presentation, I came to learn that the word character comes from the Greek root word: kharakter for “engraved mark”, “symbol or imprint on the soul”, and “instrument for marking”.  This immediately made me think of the marks that operative masons put on their work. 

“In stonemasonry, regulations in Scotland in 1598 by James VI’s Master of Works, William Schaw stated that upon admission to the guild, every mason had to enter his name and his mark in a register. There were 3 types of marks used by stonemasons.
1. Banker marks were made on stones before they were sent to be used by the walling masons.  These marks served to identify the banker mason who had prepared the stones to their paymaster.  This system was employed only when the stone was paid for by measure (ie: by the number of stones installed), instead of by time worked.  Banker marks make up the majority of mason’s marks, and is generally what is accepted when the term is used.
2. Assembly marks were used to ensure the correct installation of important pieces of stone work. IE: Stones marked with a numeral would identify the order in which they should be installed.
3. Quarry stones were marked to identify the source of a stone, or the quality.”
The above should be familiar to any of you who have undergone the degree of Mark Master in the York Rite.  If you haven’t gone through York Rite, I don’t want to give any of the degree away.  Like the Operative Masons, we Speculative Masons should also mark our works in Masonry.  How do we do this? My answer is by our character.   

I remember reading a booklet before joining called “Should I Ask?” by the Supreme Council Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.    In it, they begin with a chapter called, “The Masonic Commitment to Character”.  It begins with a quote by Dr. Albert Schweitzer, “It is not enough merely to exist….. Every man has to seek in his own way to make his own self more noble and to realize his own true worth.”  It goes on to say this quote captures the meaning of Freemasonry.  It explains that man’s most valued possession is his character.  It states that the belief of Freemasons is that the strength of the family, the church, the community and our country rests with men of strong conviction, firm ethical and moral values and a devotion to our democratic system of government.  As Masons, it goes on to read, we help each other identify through our devotion to these values.   It goes on to mention that in this day and age, where very few aspire to rise to become the best in life, that it’s good to know there is a group where a man can work to really improve himself.  Furthermore, in lodge meetings that there is no talk of politics or religion, although every Mason must believe – to his own understanding—in deity and devotion to his country.  It states that Masons are concerned with developing their minds and enlarging their scope of knowledge.  Because every man’s personal desire to build his own character is at the heart of being a Mason, that you must ask to join.  It finishes speaking about how men from every walk of life belong to Masonic Lodges, and they share a belief in brotherhood, country and the Masonic acts of charity and compassion.

We emphasize this in Speculative Masonry with the symbol of the plumb.   The plumb is a symbol of rectitude of conduct, integrity, and upright moral character which makes a good man.  In Operative Masonry, the wall of a structure is tested with the plumb.  If the wall is not exactly perpendicular, then it endangers the strength and stability of the structure as a whole.   Just as we meet on the level, we must each build our character to withstand the test of the plumb, or risk weakening the Fraternity we seek to serve.

How does one define character?   Character is shaped and influenced by our upbringing, i.e.: where we grew up, our parent’s examples and our academic and religious education.  But the test of character is whether one can hold to their morals, no matter how sorely tempted or how painful the outcome of the situation.  Character is usually most tested in times of tragedy or emergency, but it can be tested in every situation in one’s life.  How you react to these situations, is how you leave your mark as a Mason.  This is how your character is ultimately defined.  If you are able to rise above the situation and choose the outcome that is least selfish and most disciplined, then you are well on your way to making that rough ashlar a perfect one.

Why should one develop character?   Choosing to live one’s life with character often means living a disciplined and unselfish life.   It means benefiting the whole community before the individual.   It grants us the ability to master our surroundings, by choosing the correct ways to overcome them. This offers us a sense of freedom, as it allows us to see what is right and empowers us to do it.   Lastly, as we are molded by our companions, we can mold others by being exemplars for them.         

You see, much like the Operative Masons received their wages by the number of stones that bore their mark, we as Speculative Masons will receive our wages by the marks we leave on our fellow man.  We all will eventually stand before that ultimate paymaster who will judge if we are worthy of receiving our wages or not.  For the Speculative Mason, our hope is that we are allowed to travel in the ultimate foreign country, where we can continue to work and receive Master’s wages.  That is a wage well worth working towards.   


WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D. and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL).   He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees.  When he’s not busy enjoying Masonic fellowship, Darin spends his time as a DM for his children’s D&D campaign, reading, golfing, watching movies and listening to music.  You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.

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