As Masons, we may know a phrase much like this one: To learn to subdue my passions and to improve myself in Freemasonry. Some lodges use very similar words in various parts of the ritual, and it is a beautiful phrase. I heard a very similar phrase myself, and it left an impression on me even to this day. I might have said these words, or again, very similar, myself.
Why so vague? The exact phrase and words are meaningless without context, denotation, and connotation combined. In fact, they take on different meanings with the placement of commas. George Steinmetz rightfully points out in his book “The Lost Word: Its Hidden Meaning” that commas weren’t used as much in older writing styles, and this tells me we should study the rituals and older poems with a bit of openness. Let’s separate out some of the phrases by deconstructing sentences or chopping up long, wordy passages such as written by Albert Pike or other authors of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Steinmetz goes on to examine this particular phrase of interest, and he applies an interesting logic. Freemasonry is a trinary system, so this phrase in context doesn’t make sense. The question being essentially: "Why are you here?" The logical response would be either one single answer, or three. If we look at the phrase as written, we see two: Learn to subdue passions, and, improve myself. Here we see Steinmetz at his best, taking a look at what we’ve seen or experienced for years and giving a different perspective in that we don’t know how they phrased this mouth-to-ear a couple of hundred years ago.
With the addition of two commas, this phrase now makes more sense: To learn, to subdue my passions, and to improve myself in Freemasonry. There it is. There is the trinary system in action, and looking a bit more deeply, we see the first phrase might apply to the EA, the second to the FC, and the third section to MM. That is, to learn is the summation of the intent of the Entered Apprentice, to subdue passions is necessary for climbing the winding stairs, and improving your SELF in Freemasonry is synonymous with the lessons of the Third. The phrase also applies to each degree as a complete answer. The lessons of the EA also are to learn, subdue passions, and improve, while the FC lessons are to expand upon the lessons of the EA. Becoming a MM doesn’t mean you are no longer EA or FC, and another excellent lesson is the realization that as a MM, the lessons of the EA and FC continue to be an integral part of your being an MM.
We often hear the same ritual spoken the same way, the same inflections, the same phrasing. Let us challenge that approach. Why not start and stop in different places? Turn words into phrases? Change the inflection on words and syllables to test for different meanings?
This isn’t a cited paper so much as an opinion piece, but I pulled the original concept from pp 28-29 “The Lost Word: Its Hidden Meaning” by George Steinmetz. Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Richmond, VA., 1953.
Bro. Randy and his wife Elyana live near St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Randy earned a Bachelors's Degree in Chemistry with an emphasis in Biochemistry, and he works in Telecom IT management. He volunteers as a professional and personal mentor, NRA certified Chief Range Safety Officer and enjoys competitive tactical pistol, rifle, and shotgun. He has 30 plus years teaching Wing Chun Kung Fu, Chi Kung, and healing arts. Randy served as a Logistics Section Chief on two different United States federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams over a 12-year span. Randy's Masonic bio includes past Lodge Education Officer for two Symbolic Lodges, Founder of the Wentzville Lodge Book Club, member of the Grand Lodge of Missouri Education Committee, Sovereign Master of the E. F. Coonrod AMD Council No. 493, Co-Librarian of the Scottish Rite Valley of St. Louis, Clerk for the Academy of Reflection through the Valley of Guthrie, and a Facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society. Randy is a founding administrator for Refracted Light, a full contributor to Midnight Freemasons, and an international presenter on esoteric topics. Randy hosts an ongoing weekly Masonic virtual Happy Hour on Friday evenings. Randy is an accomplished home chef, a certified barbecue judge, raises Great Pyrenees dogs, and enjoys travel and philosophy.