ChatGPT and the Trivium

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Jim Stapleton

As Masons, we are encouraged to study the seven liberal arts and sciences. The trivium refers to the first three - grammar, logic, and rhetoric. People employ these language arts to communicate, tell stories, and make persuasive arguments. The arts of the trivium have been practiced by humans throughout history.

However, the ability to utilize grammar, logic, and rhetoric is not necessarily unique to humanity anymore. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been developing for some time, and there have been many predictions that its rise will bring forth changes to our civilization. We have seen some AI examples over the past couple of years - facial recognition, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa, to name a few. Recently, a company called OpenAI released ChatGPT, a language model that can generate human-like text based on the input it is given. What does that mean? Basically, the AI can have interactive conversations, write essays, summarize texts, etc., based on data used in its training.

Even though ChatGPT can have interactive conversations, it is not sentient. The AI is trained to recognize patterns from numerous online information sources. The developers further teach it to refine the conversations, making them more natural. However, the AI is only as good as the base material to which it is exposed. So, it isn’t perfect and has the potential to be biased. We have already seen examples of other AI tools that have demonstrated racial biases, such as facial recognition systems.1

Since so many people have been talking about ChatGPT lately, I decided to give it a try. What did I ask it about? Masonry, of course! The first task I gave the AI was to write a poem about Entered Apprentice Masons. Here is what it wrote:

Entered Apprentices, just at the start,

Of a journey through the art of the heart.

With a thirst for knowledge, and a quest for truth,

They seek to understand, the ways of the brotherhood.

In the lodge, they learn, of the ancient craft,

Of the tools, the symbols, and the secrets that last.

Of the wisdom of the ages, and the power of the mind,

And the strength that comes, from being truly kind. 

With the square and compass, as their guide,

They walk the path of the Freemason's stride.

With each step, they gain, a deeper understanding,

Of the beauty of life, and the joy of expanding.

So here's to the Entered Apprentices, so bright and bold,

With a heart full of hope, and a spirit so cold.

May they always find, the truth that they seek,

And may their journey, through the Masonic brotherhood, be unique.

Not too bad, right? The part that talks about Entered Apprentices having “a spirit so cold” does not make a lot of sense, though. ChatGPT must have gone for an easy rhyme!

Then I wanted to see if ChatGPT could create something even better. Since it is capable of replicating patterns, I asked it to write a Masonic poem in the style of William Shakespeare. The AI generated this:

Shakespearean Masonic Poem

From East to West and North to South, we meet with one accord,

In temple grand and sumptuous, where light and love outpour'd.

In unity and peace, our bonds of friendship we'll entwine,

And to the world, our message send, of wisdom, hope and thine.

With gavel, compass, and square, we craft our work so fine,

And on the plumb, we'll make it true, with beauty and design.

The lessons we impart, of strength, of faith, of liberty,

Are gifts to men of every land, in truth, in love and charity.

So hear ye, brethren, of this craft, so noble and divine,

In whom the light of wisdom shines, as bright as stars that shine.

May our work be true, our hearts be pure, our hands be firm and strong,

That to the world, we may impart, the message of our song.

I think the Shakespearean poem was an improvement over the Entered Apprentice poem, but is it better than what a person could write? AI can replicate patterns and generate content, but these systems cannot experience emotions. We call grammar, logic, and rhetoric liberal arts for a reason. Great stories and persuasive arguments are able to reach people on an emotional level. While AI is becoming more sophisticated, it is still important for people to study trivium!

  1. SITNFlash. “Racial Discrimination in Face Recognition Technology.” Science in the News, 26 Oct. 2020, 


Jim Stapleton is the Senior Warden of USS New Jersey Lodge No. 62. He is also a member of the New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786. Jim received the Distinguished White Apron Award from the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. He was awarded the Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award. Jim is also a member of the Society of King Solomon.

“Against Interpretation” of the Master Mason Degree

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Patrick Dey

“…interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world — in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.” It is to turn the world into this world. (‘This world!’ As if there were any other.) The world, our world, is depleted, impoverished enough. Away with all duplicates of it, until we again experience more immediately what we have.”

—Susan Sontag, “Against Interpretation”

In her seminal essay “Against Interpretation” (1966) Susan Sontag argues that it is more important to experience the art and to form terms and definitions to explain our experiences of it, engage in deep discussion of our experiences, rather than interpreting the themes and elements, i.e. finding meaning, in the art. Another way of putting it is that we should not view art as a “code” to be broken, trying to interpret what X, Y, and Z means, but rather we should embrace the experience we have with the art itself.

Why we feel compelled to interpret art, or anything for that matter, Sontag argues is because we refuse to let art stand on its own; it must be justified to exist. Post-Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, in the Age of Reason, anything we do not understand or seems off-putting must be justified. Sontag gives some examples, such as the Greek Stoic philosophers arguing away the blatant adultery regularly committed by Zeus as some symbolic matter, or Philo of Alexandria arguing away scientifically inaccurate Hebrew history in the Bible as being merely spiritual paradigms. For Sontag, in the Age of Enlightenment, such bizarre and immoral narratives could no longer justify themselves on their own, but we can neither rewrite the texts nor discard them, so we must interpret them to make them “intelligible.”

This phenomenon, the imperative need to interpret and find meaning that Sontag is critical of, is equally abused with the Hiramic Drama of the Master Mason Degree. How many times have you had to sit through a lecture by a brother who works in law enforcement, who thusly interprets the Hiramic Drama through the framework of law enforcement? How many times have you read or listened to education on the interpretation of the Hiramic Drama as the alchemical process of producing the Philosopher’s Stone? Or how the Hiramic Drama is Gnostic? Or is interpreted through the framework of Kundalini yoga? Or interprets it through rabbinical and Kabbalistic writings? Or tries to shove Hiram Abif into Joseph Campbell’s motif of the “hero’s journey”? I myself have an interest in Merovingian and Carolingian chivalric legends, so I interpret the Master Mason Degree through the legends of Renauld of Montebaun (St. Reinhold). The interpretations, or rather translations, are endless. And it is a translation. It is converting the opus into some other context with its own different set of terms, definitions, and meanings, like translating a text into another language. It is just like the old adage: all translation is a sin. Each person has their own interests and biased background of knowledge, and each sees what they want to see in the Hiramic Drama.

By the very act of interpreting the Hiramic Drama, we are resigned — resigning ourselves to defeat, admitting to ourselves that the narrative of the drama cannot justify itself and thus must be interpreted to become intelligible. Something is wrong about it, so it needs to be interpreted.

For instance, the names of the Ruffians are peculiar. Their names are almost Hebrew, similar to the brothers of Tubal Cain: Jubal and Jabal. Yet, they have non-Hebrew suffixes: -a, -o, and -um. This has been interpreted as evoking the “Aum” in Hinduism, and the proliferation of interpretations from that are excessive. There is the rather antisemitic interpretation of Jewishness (Jew-bel). They can be interpreted as the Latin feminine, masculine, and neutered declensions placed upon a Hebrew name. Et al. What is wrong with just accepting the similarity of their names designates them as brothers, and the different endings to their names simply differentiates them from each other? But the names are peculiar and therefore many feel compelled to interpret their names. I myself am guilty of trying to interpret their names.

There is something nice about their names. It works. It is kind of familiar, not too strange, but definitely foreign. There is something aesthetically appealing about saying Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum. It is kind of difficult to think of any other names. Gerard de Nerval would re-envision the Hiramic Drama in his tale “The Story of the Queen of the Morning and Soliman Prince of the Genii” as found in his autobiographical novel Journey to the Orient. De Nerval was not a Mason, but he knew of the Hiramic Drama and reimagined it through his own artistic vision to suit his own narrative — we should not try to interpret de Nerval’s tale through our understanding of the Hiramic Drama, but rather contemplate it on its own merit. In de Nerval’s tale, the Ruffians are renamed Phanor, Amroti, and Methousael. Maybe I’m a little biased after having heard “Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum” for so many years, but de Nerval’s names just don’t seem right. There is something much more enjoyable about saying “Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum.” Say it aloud. It feels nice to say it.

This is exactly how some… nay, many authors will write. They are calling you to read it aloud. They want you to feel those words on your tongue, between your cheeks, and across your teeth. One of my favorite passages from Moby Dick is: “Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn…” We could waste hundreds of pages of ink and paper interpreting this mere phrase, but really we should sit back and read it aloud to appreciate the way the words come out of our mouths. It’s nice, isn’t it? “Seat — thyself — sultanically… among the moons of Saturn.” “Seat — thyself — sultanically…”

Further, interpretation leads to modifications in the ritual. We know changes been made over the centuries, such as the removal of the Broached Thurnel and replacing it with the Perfect Ashlar. Masonic critics would say that the Revivalists did not understand these things (i.e. they could not intelligibly interpret them), so they removed or replaced them. We can’t really comment on whether such is a good move or not, but we will acknowledge that changes have happened, and that is what we have inherited today, with modifications, and they will continue to change.

And this is another aspect of interpreting the content of the Degrees of Masonry: changes and additions will proliferate. It may be minor and is modified to emphasize something someone interprets in the ritual. For instance, in Colorado ritual, at the start of the enactment of the Hiramic Drama, the candidate is conducted from the East to the West in a sort of arc, then straight toward the altar, then directly South for the first encounter. This makes the letter G, and it is stated in our ritual books to do this exactly for the purpose of creating the letter G. Likely someone noticed this procession kind of looked like the letter G and decided to modify the floorwork to actualize it. We certainly do not see anything like this in the earliest Masonic exposés.

Another factor that arises from interpreting the Hiramic Drama is the perception that things are missing and need to be filled in. Obviously, the Master’s Word is lost, so that needs to be filled in, and that’s how we got the Royal Arch. Access to the Secret Vault in the Royal Arch leads to the Royal and Select Master Degrees. The opening of the Secret Vault is interpreted as the removal of the keystone, and thus the Mark Master Degree gets modified to include a lengthy pageant. The modified Mark Master only features the finding of the keystone, not the setting of it in the arch, so there is another gap that needs to be filled by the creation of the Most Excellent Master Degree. Et cetera. Et al. Et merda.

In the 19th century, there were many Masons who were critical of these new degrees and new Masonic bodies. Lawrence Greenleaf would state: “Ancient Craft Masonry and its integrity is destroyed, for the multiplication of degrees and its extension would be limitless.” And with the creation of new bodies to fill in interpretative gaps in the degrees, new bodies are created for no other purpose than creating new bodies, and Greenleaf would say once more: “…and so the craze for innovation goes merrily on. Next!” Henry P. H. Bromwell would also echo a similar sentiment, emphatically stating: “There are three degrees and no more.”

All of this is rooted in the dangers of interpreting the Hiramic Drama. You will note that I specifically call it the “Hiramic Drama,” not the “Hiramic Legend.” It is first and foremost a drama, then a legend second. As a drama, it is conducted for the experience of an audience of one: the candidate. It is meant to be experienced, not something to be nitpicked apart for inconsistencies and missing pieces to interpret and make sense of.

For all that we talk about the “initiatic experience,” we sure do spend a lot of time interpreting something that might be one of, if not the most powerful experience a man will have in his life. I stand by my conviction that the Master Mason Degree is the most powerful degree in all of Masonry. No other degree compares to it. Period. For all that the Order of the Temple is really powerful, it still does not come close to the Master Mason Degree, not by a long shot.

I still remember my raising vividly. I remember that I had a nervous smile when making the encounters. I remember the shock of the third encounter. I remember while sitting there constantly thinking to myself: “Wow, I’m symbolically dead! Like… I’m dead!” I remember how heightened my sense of sound was, being blindfolded, feeling the floor stomped upon, hearing voices calling around the room. Et cetera. It is the most intense and powerful experience I have personally been through, and I have been to six Slayer concerts.

That is what makes these so-called “higher” degrees deceptive. They present themselves as “more” Masonry, and after such a powerful experience as the Master Mason Degree, we think we will get more, even something greater than the Third Degree, and it is such a letdown. The experience of the Hiramic Drama is what makes it powerful; not the interpretation and the subsequent infilling of so-called “missing parts.” Why continue to denigrate the most powerful experience a Mason will have in their life with a plethora of experiences that always seem to come up short?

Let us do as Susan Sontag advises: let us just experience it. Let us stop trying to make sense of some things and just be present in the moment and have a heightened awareness of our own reactions to what is occurring. Not that one can no longer interpret what is happening to them during the Third Degree, what they perceive and understand about it, especially if it is contributing and even enhancing their experience of the degree. However, I would very seriously be curious to see an intensive study of the varieties of experiences Masons have had in the Masonic Degrees, similar in categorization and exploration as William James did in his Varieties of Religious Experience. Perhaps when we actually talk about “initiatic experience,” we can actually focus on our inner experiences, our ineffable and numinous experiences, rather than just using it as a springboard for interpreting the Third Degree.


Patrick M. Dey is a Past Master of Nevada Lodge No. 4 in the ghost town of Nevadaville, Colorado, and currently serves as their Secretary, and is also a Past Master of Research Lodge of Colorado. He is a Past High Priest of Keystone Chapter No. 8, Past Illustrious Master of Hiram Council No. 7, Past Commander of Flatirons Commandery No. 7, and serves as the Secretary-Recorder of all three. He currently serves as the Exponent (Suffragan) of Colorado College, SRICF of which he is VIII Grade (Magister), and is a member of Gofannin Council No. 315 AMD and Kincora Council No. 8 Knight Masons. He is a facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society, is the Editor of the Rocky Mountain Mason magazine, serves on the Board of Directors of the Grand Lodge of Colorado’s Library and Museum Association, and is the Deputy Grand Bartender of the Grand Lodge of Colorado (an ad hoc, joke position he is very proud to hold). He holds a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Colorado, Denver, and works in the field of architecture in Denver, where he resides with wife and son.

From the Archives: The 50 Year Member - Rising Tides, Raising Awareness

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bill Hosler, PM

The sounds of the wake of the water could barely be heard over the roar of the shallow bottom boats coming ashore. Out of the boat, a member of the crew was cradling a small black dog in his arms. The man continued to stroke the scared puppy's head. The poor thing was wet, hungry, cold, and tired. Out of his desperation, the canine somehow decided to trust his rescuer. “Maybe he felt he had no choice,” the crew member thought to himself as he took the poor creature inside the building.

As a dozen of people began to unload from the boat the 50 year member began to issue orders “Get these people inside!” The old man said in a voice loud enough for all to hear. “Inside there are blankets and warm soup. You are safe now, come on in.”

The old Masonic temple had not seen so much activity in many years. It had been several decades since their town had such a disaster. The rains began a few days ago. Two days and many inches of rainwater later, the Rivers surrounding the town began to rise. The flood protections the city relied on for so many years began to give way and a wall of water brought a flood of biblical proportions. Within a blink of an eye, many long time residents became homeless or worse yet, were trapped in what used to be their homes.

Luckily the temple was spared the fury of the Grand architect of the Universe's wrath and became a makeshift storm shelter as a temporary headquarters for the town's emergency command center. Diesel Generators were attached to the buildings electrical systems in case of a power loss. Salvation Army and Red Cross began to bring in cots, blankets and much-needed food and water for those who lost everything.

Many lodge members, who themselves lost their homes and possessions, were volunteering to help the needy by cooking or setting up cots or carrying in supplies. They were there to help where needed, not only to help others, but also to keep their minds off all that they had lost.

The 50 year member saw another rescue boat come ashore in what was once the lodges parking lot. Through the driving rain, the old man saw an elderly lady who, by her appearance, was in a rough situation. Her clothes were soaked and clinging to her skin, while her unkempt hair was shading her hollow eyes. It appeared like she was in desperate need of help.

The boat captain told the 50 year member “This lady was trapped on the second floor of her home. Bless her heart” the captain said, “She told us the waters flooded her first floor and she spent all night climbing to the second floor of her home. She hadn’t been up there in years. Poor thing hasn’t had any food or water or her medication in almost a week. If there is a nurse here, she needs attention.“

The 50 year member smiled at the lady and gingerly took her by her shaking hand while slowly helping her out of the boat. “Come on dear, let’s get you inside and into some warm clothes. Some good hot soup will help fix you up!” The old lady smiled and exclaimed “Heavens! What a big beautiful building. Look at those big columns out front. Is this a library?” As they slowly walked to the steps of the building. The 50 year member laughed and said, “No dear, this is a Masonic temple.”

The old lady stopped in her tracks and with her now large eyes, a frightened look came over her face while her voice began to waiver “I…I…cannot go in there. My church has told me since I was a small girl this is where Satan lives. I learned in church, They sacrifice animals too.”

“Ma’am I can assure you Satan is not here, this is not his home. We do no sacrifices here. This is just a place where good men go, who learn the way in which we believe in living. Like, caring for each other, educating ourselves, treating ourselves and others as equals. Living how we wish to be treated, like we are doing right now, helping others in times of trouble.” The 50 year member continued “Even if Satan were to enter these doors he would soon leave because he would find no friends or allies here.“

“Look around you dear. Many of these people you see working here today are not just Freemasons; They are your friends, your neighbors, parents of classmates to your grandchildren. They may coach the local football team or even work at the grocery store where you frequent.”

“There is a good chance your doctor who cares for you or your pharmacist who gets your medication or even the policeman who puts his life on the line to protect you and I are members here. Freemasons and their families work and live in your town and every other small town or big city in this country."

"You can’t tell a Mason by his looks or the color of his skin, or even by his religion or where he worships his God. You may, however, be able to tell these men by the demeanor or behavior. Now let me ask you. If these men who help you live your every day life were so bad or evil enough to follow Satan, would they do all of those tasks to keep you healthy and live your life?”

The old man continued, “When you get to feeling better I’ll give you a tour of the building. I will hold nothing back and answer any questions you may have, but I need you to remember one more thing about these folks working here. Right now, many of these men and their families are in the same situation you are. I know of several of them who have lost their homes and their possessions in this awful flood. One of our Brothers is very upset because he is separated from his family. In all honesty, he doesn’t even know if they survived and instead of crying he is here helping others. Where is the evil in that? Maybe we should also ask ourselves how many of those churches who call me and my Brothers "Satan Worshippers", have used their sanctuaries as shelters. Several I have heard are locked up tight, leaving their members to fend for themselves while the so called clergy, who call us names, are nowhere to be found.”

The little lady, with her eyes now filled with tears, spoke in a shaky voice “I am so sorry I shouldn’t have judged any of you, since you were all so nice to rescue me from my terrible fate. I am a foolish old woman. I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Daisy.”

The old man smiled “Good to know you, Daisy. My name is John. Don’t worry, I take no offense. My main priority is making sure you are okay."As they climbed the buildings front steps Pudge walked down to meet them. The old man smiled. ”Daisy, this young man's name is Pudge. He will get you some warm food and something clean and dry to wear. I am going to ask the nurse to come by and see you in a bit. The old man spoke to Pudge over his shoulder as he returned to his post at the front of the building, "Pudge, when you get Daisy settled, can you help me find a place with some food for that puppy they just got in?”


WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.

Everyday Holiday Lodge Meetings

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Randy Sanders

I recently opened a calendar application and began overlaying multiple holiday calendars from different religions and nations.  It’s amazing how many different holidays we have daily across this terrestrial sphere.  Why am I missing out on all these parties?  We as Masons should embrace these festive occasions and embrace social intercourse as much as possible.  The grumpy and jaded need not apply here.

Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States always bring to me feelings of warmth, family, and joy.  I try to celebrate by remembering what little time we have on this planet, and I encourage you to do the same.  Every holiday brings a set of emotions and feelings to different people, so I propose we consider every holiday special to you no matter which you celebrate.  In some way or form, that holiday can be special to you, and I challenge you to celebrate every holiday.  Yes, daily.  Take time during each holiday to ask yourself: Why is this day a holiday, to which nation or group, to which religion?  For what am I grateful today?  Even if we don’t practice that particular religion or belong to that particular ethnic group, we have an opportunity to look at some event that marked a point in time where some of us came together.  

Let us consider any holiday from another group that we may not celebrate ourselves, then let’s look at the accomplishment of that holiday as a means to reflect upon the outcomes.  Many countries mark certain battle victories, and certain locations or countries mark various founders’ days as historical moments.  Remember your lessons in polarity and balance, as some groups may not agree it was such a great day if they lost the battle or were displaced or similar.  The more important lesson is we moved on.  We can all celebrate the fact there’s no more bloodshed from that battle or underlying struggle to that particular event.  Carrying a grudge from generation to generation because someone’s great-great-great-grandfather was treated unfairly only carries a poison to the next generation that clouds the mind with emotion and prevents them from living in the present.  Here’s a hint at life:  That poison is a roughness to your ashlar.

Our lesson continues to be focusing on living in the present.  Celebrate today’s holiday with the family, friends, and brothers we still have with us, and keep a special memory for those who have passed before.  We may not have a future opportunity to gather and celebrate, so take advantage of this time together with gratitude and grace.  Take advantage of this opportunity for brotherly fellowship.  Our lodges should be full of smiling faces, of brothers and their families gathering in fellowship, and of coming together as we have done for centuries.  

Let us also keep in mind our own thoughts and deeds for every holiday.  Let us reflect upon the good deeds we’ve accomplished while looking forward to the future.  Reflect upon lessons learned and how that might reset our own trestle boards toward our own future.  As we pause to enjoy family and reconnect where possible with those not living nearby.  Let us reconsider our charitable giving so that we continue to help others not as fortunate as us.  After all, every day is a holiday to explore, celebrate, and share with others in the darkness or in the Light.


Randy and his wife Elyana live near St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Randy earned a bachelor'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 of 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 is a 32nd-degree KCCH and Knight Templar. His 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 open 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.

The Gavel

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
RWB Joshua Herbig

The Gavel has long been considered a symbol of authority. Within a Masonic Lodge, it represents the authority placed by the Members of the Lodge upon the shoulders of all Three Principal Officers: The Worshipful Master; the Senior Warden; and the Junior Warden. Yet, it comes mostly into its own in this role as the symbol of authority for the Worshipful Master. It is he who has been elected by the Brethren as the Chief Executive of the Lodge and mandated to rule and govern the Lodge with Equal Parts of both Regularity and Justice. We are often told about the authority of the Worshipful Master and his responsibility to keep the peace and harmony of the Lodge intact, sometimes with a single, definitive rap of his Gavel. With this in mind, let us more closely examine how and why the Gavel can symbolize the exercise of authority.

Freemasons place the Common Gavel as the second working tool to which a newly made Freemason is entitled, preceded only by the 24-inch Gauge and followed by the Plumb, Square, Level and Trowel. The first working tool, the 24-inch Gauge gives us a multitude of lessons, the primary of which is the measuring of our time and how we spend it upon this earth. It reminds us to shape ourselves and our behaviors to better exist within this physical world and the time which we have within it, which is set and must be managed accordingly, before moving on to the spiritual existence awaiting us when our time here is completed. This is a very important moral lesson, but there is more underneath the surface. The 24-inch Gauge, as a practical tool, is one means by which we are able to measure the world around us. It allows us to begin to take stock of our physical surroundings and begin to understand the External as opposed to the Internal. The lesson of measuring the physical world to better understand our place in it repeats with the Plumb, Square, and Level. These additional three tools provide moral lessons as well, but also provide practical ways with which we refine our measurements and understanding of the world that surrounds us. The correct use of these tools allows us to progress from definitive measurements found by using the tools themselves, into the ability to think and extrapolate from known ideas, moving from the External and translating that into a framework for understanding the Internal. These four working tools provide the measurements by which we understand our place in this world and measure how we are to work on and improve ourselves. They allow us to create and refine a template for improvement, but that improvement requires force and action in order to affect a change.

This brings us to the Common Gavel and Trowel, which are not tools of measurement and contemplation but are solely tools of action. They both represent different kinds of action, however, namely destruction and creation. They are the medium by which we actively translate our thoughts, ideas, and willpower, after careful contemplation using the lessons of the other tools of measurement, into force, by which we shape ourselves and the world around us. The Common Gavel allows us to actively shape rough and incongruent components into polished and useable pieces. The Trowel then allows us to reassemble those pieces to create a grand edifice, a building or structure whose beauty greatly surpasses the sum of the individual parts which were assembled to create it. It requires patience and effort to use the trowel correctly to build, yet as a tool, it is utterly useless if the parts with which it is creating the building are not correctly shaped and ready for their proper use. This process of breaking down and shaping is the sole responsibility of the Common Gavel, which is, at its most basic, a medium of destructive force.

While the Force of the Gavel is by its very nature destructive, as it is intended to break things apart or down, this force should not be blind and stupid, exerted with excessive strength onto any task set before it. Rather, it should be controlled; directed by a singular thought and desire to ensure that only enough force is exerted to produce the desired change or effect. A massive stone cannot easily be broken down with light raps from a gavel without needing an amount of time completely unavailable to the lifetime of a man, as we see with the 24-inch gauge. Conversely, the most delicately wrought stonework can be completely and utterly destroyed with the application of a mighty blow with the Gavel upon its delicate surface and structure. Yet at the same time, a single large stone can be broken down into smaller and more manageable pieces by a massive blow placed correctly upon it. Additionally, a small and delicate stone can be adjusted into the proper location within a structure by the application of light taps to gently shift its position. The force of the Gavel can very easily create unwanted destruction with blind or excessive force. It is only with precision and skill, a proper balancing of Strength and Wisdom that allow the Force of the Gavel to be used to create the best-fitting component parts which, when assembled, become a testament of Beauty.

The use of the Common Gavel is inherently necessary to produce the proper pieces to build an amazing edifice, but it is the prudent and judicial wielding of that destructive force that allows those pieces to be correctly shaped. The requirement for the Worshipful Master to use force or wield power in the proper governing of a Lodge makes the Gavel a fitting symbol of the authority invested in him by the Lodge to manage it. However, to the Worshipful Master himself, the Gavel remains a reminder of the inherent requirement to use that power and authority with control and forethought, applied only where and as needed, with only as much force as required to achieve the intended effect. For only then will the Worshipful Master truly balance the requirements of Strength with the forethought and lessons of Wisdom, to achieve within the Lodge a representation of that Beauty inherent in the heavenly kingdom to which we all strive.


RWB Josh Herbig is a Freemason from the area of Saint Louis, Missouri, USA. He is a Past Master of Gateway Lodge #40 in Creve Coeur, Missouri, and currently serves as the District Deputy Grand Lecturer for the 27th Masonic District of The Grand Lodge of Missouri, A.F.&A.M. He is also a 32nd-Degree Scottish Rite Mason and is a member of the Education Committee for the Scottish Rite Valley of Saint Louis, where he serves as Assistant Instructor for the Master Craftsman-Symbolic Lodge Study Group hosted by the Valley. Additionally, he is a member of Moolah Shrine, A.A.O.N.M.S. 

Josh is currently working as a Project Manager for a Mechanical Contracting Company serving the greater St. Louis region. Josh also Retired as a Sergeant First Class from the United States Army Reserves on April Fool’s Day of 2019, after 22+ years of service and multiple overseas and home station deployments. In his free time, Josh enjoys several hobbies, from making Masonic Gavels to scuba diving, snow skiing, welding, and some minor blacksmithing. He currently lives in the Old Monroe, Missouri area with his wife Julie and their three children.

From The Archives: The 50 Year Member: The West Gate

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bill Hosler, PM

The 50 year member was getting excited. Today was going to be a monumental day in his life. (Well, okay, not like the day he got married or the birth of his children, but still life changing). Today was the day he was going to purchase his first smart phone. Not just a flip phone like most of the guys in the lodge have but a real, up to date smart phone!

For years, the old man had resisted becoming like everyone else, walking around with a phone stuck in their ear, unaware of their surroundings. It had seemed silly to him; why couldn’t a call wait until you got home? If it was that important just drop a dime into a payphone and call them!

Then the 50 year member had started looking around as he was out in the world. The pay phones were gone! He realized it had been a long time since he carried a dime or any other form of currency, just money on a plastic card he carry in his wallet. He also watched Pudge, and his ability to answer any question or perform a multitude of tasks just by looking at the phone he carried in his pocket! After noticing this, the 50 year member decided having a cellphone could be a benefit and not just an “electronic leash” as he used to think of it.

This was a day for firsts. Not only was he going to buy a mobile phone he was going to try his first “fancy coffee”! The old man had been drinking coffee all his life. Black, no sugar. His father had always said “If you are going to drink coffee, you better learn to drink it black. There will be places you go that won’t have cream and sugar.” Dad had learned that in the army during the war. The 50 year member hadn’t ever encountered issues like that, but he guessed his dad was right.

The 50 year member was standing in the coffee shop staring at the menu board trying to decide what kind of coffee to try. There were so many choices! Most of them he couldn’t pronounce let alone figure out what was in them. You couldn’t even ask for a large! "What is a venti?"

As he is trying to decipher what to try, Pudge walks in and slaps him on the back. “You order yet?”, Pudge asked. “Are you kidding?” The 50 year member said with laughter in his voice. “People talk about Masons and their secret codes! I think I am going to need a translator just to order .” Pudge laughed and volunteered to pick a coffee for him if he would grab a table for them. The old man gratefully agreed.

As they sat down and waited for their coffees to cool, the two started discussing which phone would be the best for him. Pudge said “I have been dealing with this salesman for a while. I have been thinking about talking to him about our lodge and see if he would be interesting in joining. He seems like a decent guy.”

The old man was staring at his coffee cup. “What is in this? It’s so hot I can’t taste it! I hope I don't scald my tongue! I never had a coffee with whipped cream. Is this coffee or dessert?” He asked aloud while trying to blow into the cup to cool it down. “I don’t understand the chocolate sprinkles on top.”

Pudge was laughing. “Did you even hear what I said?” The old man said “I understand why they put the little cardboard sleeve around the cup now. I have never seen coffee this hot before!” Pudge was laughing “John, are you still here?” The old man looked up and said “Sorry, maybe it’s all the caffeine. I did hear you. Do you know this fella outside of his job?” “No” Pudge said “But I know we need members. The representative from the Grand Lodge who visited us recently said so, and this guy seems ok, so I thought it was a good idea.”

“He might be a wonderful person” The old man said “He might make the perfect Mason, but you can’t tell about a man’s character just by a few interactions. You know he will be friendly and a perfect gentleman while he is at work - his job depends on it. You need to get to know the man. Find out what he is like when he is out in the world. Maybe after a while, say after a few months, if you deem him to be worthy, bring up the subject. If he seems interested, maybe give him one of those pamphlets we produce.”

The old man blew on his coffee again, hoping it was finally cool enough to drink. “We don’t need more men. We have plenty of them on the books now. Members go through the degrees and then never return. Instead of just running men through the lodge room like cattle at an auction, collecting initiation fees, just to see them walk back out the door with a new apron and a Dues card in their hands, never to hear from them again until we hear their name read in lodge for suspension of non payment of dues, we need to figure out why they don't come back and keep them interested in coming back every week.”

The old man lowered his head and began to stir his coffee with the little green stick the barista gave him “The fellas who wear the gold collars can't seem to understand this. They just keep hoping if we keep adding names to the books, some of them will stay. I guess in a way they were right; I stayed and Pudge you stayed, but how neat would it be if the majority we brought in would hang around?” Pudge sitting in deep thought, unfurrowed his brow. “I know you are right. We stayed and kept coming. I think fellas like you and I need to keep working on our lodge, and maybe we can figure out ways that may encourage other new guys to return to lodge or newly obligated Brothers to continue coming back.”

“Exactly!” The 50 year member stated as he took the top off his coffee cup. “Maybe I'd I take the top off this thing it will cool off. It's like mixing strong coffee with ice cream. It's weird but I think I could get addicted to this.” the old man said. Pudge laughed.

The old man continued “Masonry is kinda like this coffee shop. They have to make coffee that people will like. If they don't, it won't be long and they will be out of business. If they just serve strong black coffee that the old men drink and tell customers "We know this is really what you want and we have served it that way since 1945", folks might buy one cup to try it, but they'd never come back. We need to start giving young men the ingredients they want in their coffee so they will keep coming back and getting their coffee from us!”

“You’ve got a point John” Pudge said “Businesses have to keep up with the times to keep customers coming in. We have to give the people what they want without ruining the original product. Just like this coffee shop.”

The 50 year member had a big grin on his face as he jumped up from his chair “Well! I think we solved that problem! I say we get out of here and look at these phones! It might be the caffeine talking but I have had this much energy in years!” the old timer said with a laugh in his voice “I feel like I could run to the phone store! Say, I think after we buy this phone we should stop at a kitchen supply store and buy one of these fancy coffee machines for the lodge! Just imagine if we give a cup or two of this stuff to the Past Masters before we open lodge; they might actually stay awake for degree work!”

Pudge got up from his chair laughing “Maybe. Or maybe I can get you home and get your new phone  charging so it will be fully charged when you wake up from your nap after this caffeine buzz wears off and you crash.”


WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.

Desiring Machines: Is Letter-Perfect Ritual Really That Important?

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Patrick Dey

Some time ago, Robert Johnson directed me to an entry in Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry under “Parrot Masons.” The entry is worth quoting in full:

“One who commits to memory the questions and answers of the catechetical lectures, and the formulas of the ritual, but pays no attention to the history and philosophy of the Institution, is commonly called a Parrot Mason, because he is supposed to repeat what he has learned without any conception of its true meaning. In former times, such superficial Freemasons were held by many in high repute, because of the facility with which they passed through the ceremonies of a reception, and they were generally designated as Bright Masons. But the progress of Freemasonry as a science now requires something more than a mere knowledge of the lectures to constitute a Masonic scholar.”

Ouch. Apply some ice to that burn and chill for a while.

Recently I was pondering something in tandem with this: that of the desire to be. Where were we first prepared to be made a Mason? “In my heart,” we say. This implies there is a deficit, a lack, and there is a desire in our hearts to become Masons. It is Desire that is at work here. We, as Deleuze and Guattari would say, are desiring machines (Deleuze and Guattari tend to call most things that operate under some capacity “machines,” including people themselves). There are deficits, and we yearn to bridge them. The analogy of a bridge is appropriate. We as Masons are taught to build our spiritual temples, but operative masons also built bridges as well, so let’s stick with bridges for now. Desire is like a half-built bridge that takes us from one shore to the other, but we are always building the bridge to cross that deficit.

Let us revisit Descartes for a moment. We all know his theorem “I think, therefore I am.” His entire argument is nearly flawless. Taking a solipsistic point of view, he can prove nothing exists. However, something is contemplating this, there is something thinking, or at least something desiring to think. He can prove nothing but the fact that something is thinking these things. Thus: je pense, donc je sui. Really the only flaw with his argument is that he never defines what “I am” is, but that is another matter. Let us accept this. Something is thinking, a thinking machine, therefore the machine exists. Yet, I think Descartes was onto something better and jumped the gun a bit: I desire, therefore I am. I am a desiring machine, therefore my machine exists. Descartes says that something is “wishing” to think. It is hard to prove the thought, as thoughts are fleeting, gone as soon as they come. But the desire remains. Something still desires to think, regardless of what exists of the thought that follows.

We don’t think we are Masons and therefore we are. No, we desire to be Masons, and that is our first preparation. It is not a thought; it is a desire. It is asked of us when we are made a Mason: “What is it you most desire?” Light. We desire “Light.” Prior to that moment we are in a deficit (darkness) and are brought from darkness to light. Yet we continue to be in a deficit. We as Masons are always in a deficit of Light. What is said to us in the Fellow Craft Degree? “You have received Light, but partial.” And again in the Master Mason Degree, “that we look forward to greater Light in Masonry.” Though we desire more light, further light, greater light, we continuously build a bridge across a deficit of darkness towards Light, but we never quite get there before we forever drop the working tools of life.

If there is one truly valuable moment in the Cryptic Degrees of the York Rite, it is the speech given by Hiram Abif just before his death in the Royal Master Degree. Hiram says that his work will never be done. “That we may build industriously while our strength endures; laboring to complete our work ere the shades of evening come in which no man can work…” Hiram is always working, not just on the Temple, but on his bridge to span the spiritual darkness to Light.

And here we return to the Parrot Mason. What is it you most desire? To be a letter-perfect ritualist? Does that make you a Mason? I know a guy who has memorized the entirety of the chapter “Squeeze of the Hand” in Moby-Dick, does that make him a whaler? I know another guy who has memorized the dates of every battle and skirmish of the American Civil War, does that make him a Civil War veteran? What is it to be a Mason?

Are you a Mason because someone else calls you a Mason? I suppose according to the laws and constitutions of all Masonic jurisdictions that the purpose of the Lodge is to “make Masons,” that to be called a Mason one must belong to a lodge. But are you a Mason because you are called a Mason? I suppose in title one has become a Mason, but being — ontologically being — a Mason would be, so it appears to me, a desiring for Light.

Again, we are desiring machines. I do not think I have obtained Masonic Light, rather I desire Masonic Light and continuously build towards it. Masonic Light is partially a noun (“you have received Light, but partially” — the part of the Light that can be bestowed upon you at the altar), but mostly Masonic Light is a verb. Let me say that again: Masonic Light is a verb. It is something Masons are working (verb) towards, or should be working toward, not something that is given.

Is the Masonic Working (i.e. the working of Masonic Light) the reciting of a lecture letter-perfect? Did you receive the Light because you said the oaths verbatim as in the book? Did you work it because you made the effort to show up to the degree and were present? Is that really all it takes to be a Mason?

Obviously, Mackey would disagree, hence his derogatory name of “Parrot.” And obviously, being a Mason is a constant striving to cross the deficit of darkness to Light. It is a continuous process of becoming, by way of following the tenets of Masonry, inculcating and embodying the lessons and virtues that are communicated to us in the Degrees. Further Light is not the immediate act of petitioning the Shrine, York Rite, Scottish Rite, et al just after becoming a “proficient” Master Mason. It is not how many titles and accolades one can accumulate. Will one ever be done accumulating titles?

When asked what you most desired, was your answer: “To be a Past Master, Past Grand Master, Past High Priest, Past Illustrious Master, Past Commander, IX Grade SRICF, Past Sovereign Master, Past Potentate, Past Worthy Patron, et merda”? Unlikely. Or did you say: “I want to do letter-perfect ritual of all the degrees in Masonry from Entered Apprentice through the 33rd Degree”? Also unlikely. So where did the change occur? At what point after a man was initiated as a Mason did he start to become the guy on the sidelines grumbling that the brother delivering a lecture switched up a word?

At what point did the Masonic fraternity go from not putting much emphasis on the ritual — back when there was no written ritual — to becoming obsessed with letter-perfect ritual? In my home jurisdiction, there are awards given to brothers who can demonstrate they know all the catechisms or all the lectures within a year’s time, and there are guidelines of how many prompts they are permitted to receive and how many mistakes they are allowed to make. Does that make them a Mason? Does having a little card in their wallet that says they know all the catechisms by heart make them a Mason?

Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to have consistency in ritual work between brothers and lodges, and it is nice to do it well and fluently. But the immense emphasis put on perfect ritual does not make that brother a good Mason, especially if they did not learn a single thing from the words they memorized and are regurgitating before a new initiand.

Being a Mason is a verb. Masonic Light is a verb. Both are unending bridges under construction across the great deficit of darkness.

What is it you most desire?


Patrick M. Dey is a Past Master of Nevada Lodge No. 4 in the ghost town of Nevadaville, Colorado, and currently serves as their Secretary, and is also a Past Master of Research Lodge of Colorado. He is a Past High Priest of Keystone Chapter No. 8, Past Illustrious Master of Hiram Council No. 7, Past Commander of Flatirons Commandery No. 7, and serves as the Secretary-Recorder of all three. He currently serves as the Exponent (Suffragan) of Colorado College, SRICF of which he is VIII Grade (Magister), and is a member of Gofannin Council No. 315 AMD and Kincora Council No. 8 Knight Masons. He is a facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society, is the Editor of the Rocky Mountain Mason magazine, serves on the Board of Directors of the Grand Lodge of Colorado’s Library and Museum Association, and is the Deputy Grand Bartender of the Grand Lodge of Colorado (an ad hoc, joke position he is very proud to hold). He holds a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Colorado, Denver, and works in the field of architecture in Denver, where he resides with wife and son.

Friendship Recession

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Jim Stapleton

We need to have a talk about an issue plaguing America - loneliness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact. The problem can have severe impacts on a person’s life. Research shows that loneliness is associated with depression, anxiety, suicide, heart disease, and dementia.1 I know what you are probably thinking - loneliness must be due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, loneliness was increasing before the Pandemic.

For decades, there has been a friendship recession in the United States.2 A friendship recession is an increase in the amount of alone time, a decrease in the number of friends a person has, and the time devoted to friendship. The Survey Center on American Life conducted a study in 2021 looking at the friendship recession. “The survey found that since 1990, the number of men with at least six close friends decreased from 55% to 27%. Similarly, for men who identified as having zero close friends, the numbers jumped from 3% to 15%.” 3

Men aren’t the only population affected by the friendship recession, but the impact on men has been greater. It can be difficult for men to establish and maintain friendships. Overall, men are less trusting of others, they lack time and fear rejection.4 This leads to men having smaller social circles, and it appears that there is a connection between the size of a person’s social circle and levels of loneliness.5 However, men don’t have to be destined for loneliness. 

In my humble opinion, Freemasons have a cure for the friendship recession. When a man becomes a Freemason, a door is unlocked to an enormous social circle. Participating in activities like meetings, degrees, and rehearsals goes a long way toward establishing quality friendships. Traveling to other Lodges and Jurisdictions can also help to expand a man’s list of friends. Unlike superficial connections on social media, the bonds forged in Freemasonry are strong. Masons regularly encourage their Brothers to improve and rise to new challenges. Masons are there for each other when a helping hand is needed. 

Our Brotherhood can fill a void that many men feel in their hearts. That is worth celebrating and communicating to the world. That should be one of our primary messages when we communicate with prospective members.

1. “Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Apr. 2021, 

2. Witt-Swanson, Lindsey, et al. “American Men Suffer a Friendship Recession.” The Survey Center on American Life, 7 Apr. 2022, 

3. Kaplan, Jessica. “What Is a Friendship Recession and Why Are We Currently in One?” Reader's Digest, Reader's Digest, 5 Jan. 2023, 

4. “The Devastating Toll of Men's Loneliness.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 

5. Cox, Daniel A., et al. “Men's Social Circles Are Shrinking.” The Survey Center on American Life, 7 Apr. 2022, 

Jim Stapleton is the Senior Warden of USS New Jersey Lodge No. 62. He is also a member of the New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786. Jim received the Distinguished White Apron Award from the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. He was awarded the Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award. Jim is also a member of the Society of King Solomon.