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Masons reveal Zombie Preparedness Plan

April 1, 2010 4 comments

Okay, the post title is a bit sensationalized, but we finally have proof of our theory that high-ranking Masons really have codified the methods that they have used since the Middle Ages  for killing revenants (i.e., zombies and vampires) in their secret rituals. What we have discovered is not so much a preparedness plan as a procedure manual that describes the methodology.

I’d like to say that I hacked the secret files to the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, because it sounds so dramatic, but the truth is more mundane. When I was down at the offices recently, one of the admins had left his PC on, and I noticed the passwords on a sticky note at the top of his monitor. When he stepped out for coffee, I just copied them down. Yeah, so not Kim Possible, but it worked. When I got home, I fired up my laptop and started browsing the folders. I skipped over the usual stuff on the Kennedys, the NASA/Zeta-Reticuli connection, public water flouridation, and found it hiding at the very end under Zombies.

Here is a link to a PDF file right on the Grand Lodge site that describes the ancient Masonic zombie-killing techniques.
EDIT: The higher-ups at the Grand Lodge have taken down the link, but I saved a copy which I’ve uploaded to my Google Docs. You can see or download it here: Zombie Expulsion.

Followup:

The secret lesson of Hiram and the Ruffians

Freemasons & Zombies: The Conspiracy

Freemasons reveal zombie preparedness plan

For those of you who are reading this on your phones and can’t open the PDF file, I’m reprinting the text below.

Read more…

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The secret lesson of Hiram and the Ruffians

March 19, 2010 6 comments

 

One of the great things about the internet is how people with seemingly nothing in common can exchange ideas without ever actually meeting in person. Such is the case when I recently began exchanging emails with an amateur historian, an epidemiologist, and a professor of sociology. At first, it seemed that our only common bond was that we all share an interest in Freemasonry; however over time it developed that we all had some questions about our gentle Craft that have never been satisfactorily answered. As we began discussing the dilemma, we also found that we were able to integrate our various fields of knowledge in order to work through the problem. In doing so, we believe that we have managed to solve one of the most puzzling  issues in the early history of the fraternity.

We now have some serious evidence pointing to the origins of what is commonly known as The Hiramic Legend in the Master Mason degree.

Some brief background: Early Freemasonry had only two degrees, the Entered Apprentice, and Fellowcraft (i.e., Fellow of the Craft). This situation was extant before the 1717 formation of the Grand Lodge of England, and continued for some years afterward. Yet, sometime in the mid-1700s, records show that various lodges seemed to have begun performing some variation of this legend. The origins of the drama are unknown, but is often attributed to being some kind of morality play. The drawback of this theory is that the legend draws on the Biblical story of Hiram Abiff; in the Old Testament, Hiram is a relatively minor character. More confusing is the rather obvious paradox in which the Masonic legend deviates so drastically from the actual Old Testament story: in the OT, Hiram Abiff comes to help King Solomon build his famed Temple, and when finished, goes home to his family with some considerable payment. In the Masonic drama, however, Hiram is shown to be struck down before the completion of the Temple by three Fellowcrafts, who then attempt to hide his body in a makeshift grave out in the dessert. This is the most extreme departure from Biblical scripture recorded in any of the dozens of Masonic ceremonies, and it stands to reason that there is a purpose for this. By taking what we know about Masonic history from that era, and placing it within the context of the social and cultural aspects of the time,  we believe that we have discovered that purpose.

To understand the social context, we need to consider that the early 1700s was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution; prior to this period, most people lived an agrarian-based lifestyle. However, as more factories were built in and around the cities, larger populations were drawn into the urban areas, and by the mid-1700s, larger numbers of people left the farming communities to see work in the factories. Not surprisingly, the population explosion led to issues of public hygiene: the spread of disease, the disposal of wastes, and the proper internment of the growing number of the deceased.

Although we can trace Freemasonry back to the late 1400s and early 1500s, it wasn’t until the early to mid 1700s that we see the rise of organized networks of Masons, via the formation of Grand Lodges. There are no records as to why several London lodges decided to formalize their arrangement, but it wasn’t long before other lodges joined the network — and it was a network, as the lodges we more able to freely exchange information, including the variations of their rituals and ceremonies. It is significant to note that during this period, There were still only the two degrees in Masonry;  “Master” Masons were those who were literally Masters of their lodges. Likewise, the degree ceremonies were relatively simple and the basic ceremonies were essentially the same in each lodge, although many lodges had their own particular set of “lectures” for the candidates.

At some point in the early to mid 1700s, we see records of lodges adding a type of morality play to the degree ceremonies. The main character varies in some of the earliest versions, but by the third quarter of the 1700s, that character was solidified as Hiram Abiff, and the stories became more consistent. Interestingly, they all contain similar elements: A character is beset by three assailants, and is then murdered; each assailant using a different weapon and attacking a different part of the character’s body. In many variations, the Hiramic legend specifies that Hiram is struck across the throat, in the chest, and in the head. The assailants (often referred to as the “Ruffians” in North America) strike with tools commonly associated with Masons: A square, a rule  (sometimes called the 24 inch gauge), and a mallet or setting maul.

While Masons often assume that the assailants use those particular tools as a way to tie in to the tradition working tools in the various degrees, as we unearthed more information about the underlying social context, it became obvious that this line of reasoning has it backwards; that is, the legend itself is an instructional play that uses these tools as a way to reinforce knowledge to which only a few were at one time privy.  And while we can not yet account for the reasoning behind using the character Hiram Abiff (except that he is a relatively minor character in the OT, and the change of storyline would be easily forgotten), we believe that the traditional lessons taught by this drama — about his integrity and bravery in the face of death — intentionally overshadow the real lessons that needed to be passed down to the new generations of Masons living in the crowded cities and urban areas. In this light, it is the Ruffians themselves who are the teachers and exemplars.

Read more…

From EA to WB

January 5, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s the joyous season here in Connecticut… no, not the season that you’re thinking of; that’s passed already. Sweaters and blenders have been returned, the last of the turkey, ham, or goose has been eaten, and there are more needles on the carpet than on the tree. No, as the Masonic year generally coincides with the calendar year (give or take a month, depending upon the lodge), it’s now Installation season. Out with the old and in with the new!

The Installations of officers are often semi-public events here in Connecticut. I can hear some of our brethren in other areas gasping for breath, but really, now that we’ve pretty much shown everything on the History Channel and You-Tube, why is this an issue anymore? In my area, the “secrets of the chair” are imparted several weeks beforehand, which obviates one of the needs to hold an Installation in a tyled lodge. Just before the Installation ceremony itself, the lodge is tyled and the outgoing Master opens the lodge for the last time and then goes to Refreshment. The then fun begins, and afterward, the new Master closes the lodge.

Some members still prefer a closed ceremony, but I submit that it’s a great way for a man to introduce his friends and family to his lodge; if only to show that his brothers and fellow members are a great bunch of guys to work with. Indeed, most new Masters are rather proud to have been elected to lead a lodge, and it’s quite natural for them to want to show it off. Accordingly, Installations – at least for those who have not done it several times over – are often held on a weekend and a large reception party is held afterward.

I was Master in 2006, which means that I’ve been out of an office for almost as long as I’ve held an office. This makes me “a moss-backed, old turtle” according to some members of Friendship Lodge, several of whom had better be careful or I’ll smash their tail lights with my walker. But having been out of office for a while is giving me some interesting perspectives on why Past Masters develop the not-totally-undeserved reputation that invariably follows them. These new guys are, well, new, dammit! They do things differently than I did. I worked hard at changing some of the old, boring, inefficient things that Masters before me had done, and now, these upstarts come along and change things that I did.

And good for them! Friendship is an active lodge with a lot of younger members who are generally happy to participate. For years now, we’ve had every officer’s chair filled, and have often had a backlog of people waiting to get into the officer’s line. I can’t imagine that people around here are interested because we keep doing the same old thing all the time.

Worshipful Brother Eric

Eric 2009

Some time between Christmas and New Year, we installed Brother – Worshipful Brother Eric into the big chair. I’m very proud of WB Eric. He is one of the first people that I, as a new officer, helped to conduct around the lodge. Now, understand that I’m not a particularly large guy. When I met Eric, he was a very young, very nervous, and very big guy. My job was to guide him through his initiation, which involved wrestling him around the small lodge room, and trying to keep a grip on his arm through the copious amounts of sweat. Think “tugboat” and “ocean liner”, and you’ve got the picture.

Anyway, after having my tux cleaned, Eric and I became friendly. It’s been a pleasure to see him go from being nervous and shy, to becoming a planner and organizer, and someone who can talk about his goals and aspirations.  When I was a Junior Warden, Eric was at my right hand, and remained there until I was out of the East, passing from Senior Steward to Junior Deacon, to Senior Deacon. Each year, each position, saw a little growth and maturity, and I’ve been proud of him ever since.

Look well the the East, Worshipful Eric. I’m sure that you’ll do a great job.

… gang aft awry

November 23, 2008 Leave a comment

Sometimes when you look at something on paper, you’re completely convinced that it’s going to be a disaster, but when you actually have the experience, it turns out to have gone rather well.

On Sunday night, WB Jim calls me up. “You know that Master Mason degree that we’re helping with over at Unity 148 on Tuesday? We’ve got a problem. I need you to be King Solomon.”

Oh man. I’ve got less than 48 hours to prepare, and I’ve got a pretty heavy workload for the next couple of days, plus a visitation the night before. Was I supposed to study in my sleep? Ah, but such is the life in any Masonic lodge, and we are always prepared for these small incidents when real life interferes with what we would like to do, right?

Over the next two days, it got even better. There’s no rehearsal, and we need a Senior Warden, too. Oh, and we can’t get together all of the Craftsmen that we need. And, uh, several of the candidates aren’t going to make it.

Man, could it get any worse?

By the time Tuesday night came around, I learned even more. I was expected to serve as Worshipful Master from after refreshment, through the drama, and then into the closing. This was a Past Master’s night, and some of the PMs hadn’t been to lodge in over 10 years. And in addition to the lodge we were helping, we had brothers from three or four other lodges filling in – all of which had their own little customs and ways of doing things, and we had about 15 minutes to get ourselves ironed out.

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, at first.

Fortunately, the Craftsmen – what few we had – were headed up by WB Frank of Frederick-Franklin 14, arguably one of the best ritual lodges in the area. WB Frank and I took a few minutes to go over some details, and since we’d worked together in the past, it was just a matter of communication. The SW, Bro. Doug, came from Silas Deane 147, and we only needed a few minutes to fill him in. I had thought that the SD was to be WB Jim from my own lodge, for part of the degree, but ended up being RW Gary, Grand SD and GL officer in this district, who seemed rather unfazed by the confusion in the temple.

The lodge opened, and it was interesting to see the older Past Masters of this lodge in action. If this were a Carl Claudy story, I’d be mentioning how they took over the room and how things moved along flawlessly, and how impressive it was to watch Past Masters at work. However, anybody who has read this blog knows that I’m only mentioned in the same sentence as Claudy when at least one of the other expressions in that sentence is “in contrast to.” There were some stumbles and memory lapses, to be sure, and I think that some of that could have been prevented by a rehearsal. But after a few minutes to warm up, most of the PMs managed to get into gear, and the degree moved along well- all the more impressive knowing that some of these men had not done this in years.

Before long, it was time for refreshment and the Hiramic drama.

Personally, I really hate not being well rehearsed and well prepared for degree work. Part of is it a desire to make a good impression on the candidates, and part of it (perhaps the bigger part, if I’m being honest with myself) is simply pride and ego. So I have to admit that when I assumed the East that night, I did get a bit flustered, and it took me a few minutes to find my center. But at some point it came to me; I lost my earlier feelings of annoyance and frustration, and WB Frank and I simply followed each other’s cues. The next thing I knew, I was at the gravesite and the degree was almost over. Too soon, too soon!

One more surprise, though was being able to hear the ritual style of somebody I’d looked up to for the last several years. RW Carl, the Chaplain for Unity, when he wasn’t reminding me about my hat, proved to have a melodious speaking voice, and an incomparable memory. It’s funny; I’ve known Carl for about five years on several committees, but never sat in lodge with him until this year, and have never heard him really have any speaking parts until the other night. I really enjoyed listening to him. Also enjoyable was watching WB Harry, the outgoing Master of Unity, perform a lecture that is normally done by the newer members. I’m sure that both he and Carl will make fine Stewards one of these days.

While I would never advocate “winging it” as a ritual style, sometimes it can’t be helped. Afterward, scarfing cookies in the kitchen while trying to decompress, we decided that it had actually been a pretty good degree after all, and we were all just a little bit proud of ourselves for having done a great job.



The Show

June 21, 2008 Leave a comment

Rick: Excuse me Doug E Fresh…
Doug: Yes?
R: Have you ever seen a show with fellas on the mic
with one minute rhymes that don’t come out right?
They bite.
D: They never write.
R: That’s not polite!
Am I lyin’?
D: No, you’re quite right.
R: Well, tonight on this very mic you’re about to hear
Both: We swear, the best darn rappers of the year.
R: So!
D: So!
R: Cheerio!
D: Yell –
R: Scream –
D: Bravo!
B: Also, if you didn’t know,
this is called ‘The Show.’

Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, The Show

So, I just finished rambling on about how I thought that long degrees with lots of information and lectures were a good thing, both for the candidates and for the brothers attending lodge. For the candidates, it’s an immersion experience; they are – or should be – awed by the amount of information in the initiatory experience, and although they can’t possibly absorb everything, it should at the very least present them with an overview of the teachings of the Craft. And for the older brothers, seeing good ritual work done allows them to gain new perspectives as their own life changes coincide with the various moral teachings available in the various lectures.

I’ve been to degree ceremonies that have gone on until very late in the evening, usually because of extended dramas or lectures that one doesn’t normally get to see in a typical Connecticut lodge. Sometimes the ceremonies go so well that few brothers leave early; nights like that point out that good ritual ceremonies really do have value for everyone, not just the candidates.

Sometimes, however, I find myself at degree ceremonies that last until very late – but not because of the rituals or lectures. Rather, it seems to be a factor of people wanting to make a large production out of the evening, for what are probably the right reasons – but perhaps missing the point in the execution. For degree work, certain situations just seem to cry out for something special: A good friend, a son, a grandson, a favorite nephew, even (as I’ve seen) a father of a member – especially if that member is the Master – are circumstances that anyone would want to make especially memorable.

But. . .  isn’t being initiated or raised not memorable enough?

I’ve been to several degree ceremonies – and they are always the EA or the MM degree – at which there have been several Grand Lodge line officers, Past Grand Masters, several District Deputies, and a number of representatives from the appendant bodies. It’s very nice to see such a show of support, and admittedly I was impressed the first few times I’d seen a wide array of Grand Lodge representatives at a degree. But now I’m beginning to wonder what the lodge has in mind when the officers plan on this type of arrangement. I mean, do any of them realize how long it takes to get 7 or more purple aprons out of the room, properly lined up, escorted back into the room, and then formally introduced?

Never mind, that was a rhetorical question.

There really isn’t any answer because the more purple aprons there are, the longer it takes to line them up by year, get their names, line them up again by rank, add a couple of names for the guys still sitting in the lodge room, line them up again according to the latest protocol, get the names of the late arrivals, pass the names to the Marshal who has now despaired of matching the names to the correct titles, have them walk back into the room in only the vaguest semblance of order, and then read the hastily scrawled names off of the 3 x 5 index card, after which they will be escorted to the Master’s station to shake hands and to be offered a hard, uncomfortable seat in front of the lodge, instead of one of the nice, comfy seats on the sidelines.

The candidates, of course, never get to see any of this. In fact, by the time the candidates actually get to meet the phalanx of officers, they are often too tired or overwhelmed to appreciate the trouble to which the lodge has gone, ostensibly on their behalf. They don’t know anything about officers or Grand Lodge officers or protocol until the end of the night, when the Master is compelled to call upon them, the Grand Lodge officers, for closing remarks.

And does anyone realize how long it takes to get 7 or more purple apron types to get through their closing remarks?

Never mind, that was another rhetorical question.

The real point that I’m trying to make is that we, that is, the more experienced Masters, sometimes forget that the initiatory experience is already overwhelming; too often our inviting large numbers of Masonic VIPs who have no connection to the candidates turns what should be a moving and solemn experience into a spectacle. I once overheard an older member at another lodge tell a couple of newly raised MMs how lucky they were to have been part of what he termed “an historic occasion” at their lodge. After he walked away, the new MMs turned to each other and shrugged. “Whatever,” they seemed to say; not, I’m sure, because they didn’t care, but because they had no context, no frame of reference by which to understand the circumstance of having 2 PGMs, four District officers, and half a dozen poobahs from the local Scottish RIte Valley.

If you are one of those people of the cynical persuasion, you’d begin to think that the reason that lodges have these kinds of  spectacles events is to give a big ego boost to the WM. I’m going to stop short of that assumption and instead, charitably suggest that Masters are not thinking in terms of the candidates themselves. Rather, they are thinking in terms of making the degree ceremony an experience interesting enough to draw out the brothers who might otherwise stay home.

And this reasoning I can understand; part of our job success as Master of a lodge is to get the brothers to participate, or at least, to show up. But there are other ways to get them interested:Have a special dinner, say, a cookout or a surf & turf or some other theme night. Have a few visiting brothers do one of the lectures. Have the degree in costume. There are dozens of ways to make a degree night interesting for everyone that would not make it overwhelming for the candidates – or for the 80+ year old members who have to drive home.

Getting back to my original point, I sometimes wonder if having good, well-performed ritual work wouldn’t be enough of an incentive to attract the brothers who are the fence-sitters, the people who might come if only they thought it would be worth spending a few hours down at the old lodge. By “good,” I mean officers who actually study and rehearse their parts, and who have learned to put some feeling and character into their ritual work, and who can make the quality of the work itself the spectacle, rather than the quantity of the visitors.

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There are two types of people…

June 11, 2008 Leave a comment

Watching an old movie the other day reminded me of a discussion I had a while back with someone who intimated that I did not take my duties – or Masonry, for that matter – seriously. Predictably, he went on to mention some of the things that he, himself would do if he were me; including, not unsurprisingly, making sure that people who didn’t abide by the rules would be “dealt with.”

It became apparent that my well-meaning brother was under the a mistaken assumption in which he was confusing the tools that I use in my duties (“levity” and “a relaxed approach”) with my underlying attitude and approach toward them. Obviously, this brother and I hold fundamentally different philosophies as to how the structure of our fraternity works: he seemed to think that just telling people what to do is sufficient, and considered what I do as a District Grand Lecturer something akin to a traveling minstrel show.

See, as the District Grand Lecturer, my duties as assigned are actually pretty light: I just have to administer a test to make sure that the incoming Master is prepared, ritual-wise. However, several lodges have asked me to help them polish their ritual proficiency and floorwork, and so I spend most of my time at rehearsals, giving tips, making suggestions, and (hopefully) inspiring new officers to be better by coaching them along. Not surprisingly, this is exactly how I was taught in my own lodge by some experienced Past Masters. In theory, I could simply read the book to them and say “Okay, that’s what you’re supposed to know. I’ll be back next week to grade you.” In practice, I tend to be light-hearted and jokey (where have I heard that before ?), simply because that was the kind of style that inspired me. I figure that if I’m going to join a half-dozen guys walking around a cold lodge room on a rainy evening, then I want to at least make it enjoyable for myself. If the other people get something out of it, then so much the better.

In the aforementioned discussion, I found myself rather surprised to hear the suggestion that lodge officers should be given the ritual book, and have it explained to them that the rules of our Grand Lodge say that they need to follow the instructions. Their testing, as it were, could then be done by some other officer, thereby obviating the need for District Lecturers. I was surprised because, indeed, this is exactly the case as it has been for the past fifty or more years. Connecticut has a published ritual monitor, and it’s relatively clear what the Master and officers should be doing. The problem is, some people haven’t been doing it. In fact, by my estimation, a hell of a lot of people haven’t been doing it properly for quite some years, and many lodges have had several generations of officers pass without seeing proper ritual work modeled for the younger officers, who would then model it for the officers after them.

This is where I come in. I see that there is a disconnect between what the officers should be doing and what they are doing. So, in my light-hearted and jokey way, I’ve been giving ritual coaching. While I agree that the officers should be doing things a certain way, I don’t believe that throwing a rule book at them will make them change their behavior. My counterpart believes that it doesn’t matter – they knew what the expectations were when they signed up; or at least, they should have done so, because they agreed to it.

So, which one of us is correct?

Actually, he is.

Unfortunately, being right doesn’t always fix the problem.

This is a common situation for people in organizations because of the nature of the various types of people who are in – indeed, who are needed – to run an organization.

Freemasonry, like every other organization, is comprised of people who take on various roles. Most organizations have people who have a command of every rule and regulation, down to the sub-articles and clauses. It needs to be stressed that these people are very important to the organization because without rules, you have no organization! During any discussion in which group members want to “hurry up and do something”, it’s easy to dismiss the comments of the rule-keeper when what the members are proposing run a little out of bounds. “Oh, you’re just being fussy” or “Rules were made to be broken” are typical responses to those who strive to keep order. In our rush to be post-modern action heroes, we often fail to think our actions through to the possible consequences. Organizations in which the members do not follow rules soon devolve into anarchy. Those who keep track of the rules help to keep the structure of the organization intact.

Large organizations typically also have members who understand that the underlying purpose of those rules is to have a better organization, one that is more effective, more enjoyable, or more satisfying to the members. They also understand, however, that sometimes the rules – or the imposition of new rules – have unintended consequences which affect the performance of the organization. To these people fall the unenviable task of trying to achieve long-term goals while working within the scope – if possible – of the existing structure. If they are successful, the rules are usually modified in order to accommodate the new strategies. Masons – indeed, members of any organization – need to realize that both types of people are essential to the health and longevity of the organization, and neither is more important than the other. As Entered Apprentices, we are taught the importance of a proper, true and square foundation to our temples. Those rules and regulations are the foundation of our organization, and it is essential that we understand their importance. Yet, we also understand that we are all human beings, and as such are all different in terms of abilities, skills, and talents with the tools at our disposal.

Friendly competition between the left-brain and right-brain people is necessary for the continued health of the Fraternity; indeed, this is the root of that “noble contention of who best can work and best agree;” but I think that many of us are prone to forget this when we get caught up in overseeing our own very small piece of work that we contribute.

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Picture: The Fairly Odd Parents

Information Overload

June 8, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve known my Canadian brother Justa Mason for a few years, and I’ve learned that you can always depend upon him to present a responsible opposing viewpoint to virtually any situation. Actually, what I’ve learned is that you simply can’t stop him from presenting an opposing viewpoint. On a recent post about our Past Masters MM Degree in which I described the dramatic additions to our Connecticut version of the Hiramic Legend that some lodges have been known to perform, he asked a particularly pertinent question:

I understand; the MM degree is long, and Friendship Lodge adds another dramatic section to the Connecticut version of the Hiramic Legend, which adds to the memory work. In our state, some lodges choose to add sections to the degree that give more background, which helps the candidates to better appreciate the lessons of the story. A number of them add the same section that we do, and one of my lodges, Frederick-Franklin 14, adds yet another section which serves to give even more insight into the character of Hiram Abiff.

Tom, I will opine here all this additional stuff does wonders for the member who can show off his memory skills.. and very little for the candidate.

What value is all this extra ritual if he can’t absorb any of it? His mind’s on overload to begin with. Shouldn’t stuff like this be done on a separate night where he can let it sink in?

What is the reason behind subjecting him to all kinds of optional ritual on a degree night?

That’s an excellent point. Most of us assume that if some ritual is good, then more is better, and lots more should be great.

Admittedly, I, myself, have pointed out that our candidates sometimes have a difficult time processing the information presented. I’ve even made light of it by writing, in a post about ritual:

The lectures and speeches are filled with symbolism and instruction, and those of us who have put the time into learning them know just how difficult it can be to deliver them with meaning.

All this just for the candidates?

You mean those new guys standing there in the front of the room with the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look? Those guys?

Yeah, those guys. Those guys can barely remember what to do with their hands and feet, and we’re expecting them to absorb some esoteric lesson, which has often been delivered by people who would have not been allowed speaking parts in the local amateur theater group. On the surface, it does sound like a waste of effort. Why go through the trouble to present such material – done well or not – if the candidates aren’t grasping the meaning?

RW Paul (the latest Nutmeg State Mason to start blogging) has another perspective, one which I’ve heard a number of times:

I am on the side that the extra lectures add value, of course I enjoy ritual and often perform some of the extra parts so my opinion is bias.

I have heard this argument in my district as well. But based on the comments by Grand Lodge that there is a lot lousy ritual being done, I think the lodges that still can perform these eleborate degrees should be proud.

I would much rather sit through extra long well performed degree than a short poorly performed degree.

Connecticut, like most US states, uses some variation of the Preston-Webb lectures in which there is a catechismal section (a Q&A section) and two other sections that elaborate on the symbols and allegories of the respective degrees. Each section can be ten to twenty minutes long, and in my experience generally seem to have been memorized by ol’ Brother Joe who retired to Florida a few years ago, so nobody does them anymore. I’ve seen these sections presented on non-degree nights a few times, but as degree nights typically get a larger turnout, it seems like the energy is better spent having them done when the largest number of people can potentially benefit.

Often, arguments – i.e., debatable points – are presented as a matter of extremes. Paul’s last sentence is an example of this, and Justa’s entire message does the same thing, albeit more subtly. I believe that there is a position between those extremes, however.

First of all, I firmly believe that lodges can deliver extra ritual that is good and well-performed. I know it’s true: I’ve seen it done. That said, one could argue that if they can do a good long degree, then they should be able to do a good short degree, too. Yup, I’ve seen that as well. But there are several advantages to a degree ceremony that pulls out all the stops, for both the candidates and for the other lodge members.

As to the candidates, I could point to the importance of total immersion in the initiative experience to create the most overwhelming feelings of awe which may inspire intense thoughts or associations on a deeper level. I suppose that I could also claim that – like the ‘shotgun’ approach – it’s important to throw as much as possible at the candidates in hopes that something will stick. Personally, I think that it’s rare for most lodges to get motivated enough to perform sections of a degree ceremony on off-nights, especially sections that require a certain amount of dramatic talent. It’s easier to present the material when all of the candidates happen to be in the room. Just the preparation for a degree ceremony tends to inspire the lodge members who are actually rehearsing the parts; I think that it would be difficult for some of them to “get psyched” enough to do inspiring work as a program after a regular stated communication.

But there’s something else that we miss: Yes, the candidates will miss some things with a longer degree. Hell, they’re going to miss things with a short degree. But later on they are going to be watching that same degree performed on someone else, and then they’ll have the opportunity to catch a few things that they’d missed.

And why do we assumed that the ritual ceremony is all for the new guys? What about the regular brothers? I’ve noticed that degree nights have a much larger turnout than regular business meetings. Wouldn’t it be nice if the older members had the opportunity to hear that rarely-done piece of ritual? Most of them might miss it if it were done as a “program” in a regular business meeting.

Let me repeat something that I wrote over a year ago in the post referenced above:

Our fraternity has some of the most morally instructive and spiritually inspiring ceremonies, all of which are delivered from memory at no small personal effort. When did we lose the motivation, the initiative to do it for ourselves?

I’m at the age where I attend almost as many funerals as I do weddings; but for each occasion I have lately discovered that during the ceremony I suddenly “hear” something new. Yes, I may have seen the ceremony and heard the same words a dozen times, but each time I hear something that I never noticed before. Why? Maybe a minister or rabbi delivers a line with more or less emphasis, or maybe because of where I am in my own life’s journey some passage that I’ve heard countless times before will strike me with a new insight. Who hasn’t been sitting at a wedding and suddenly turned to their partner upon hearing a line that reminds you of your love? Who hasn’t been to a funeral and been suddenly reminded of your own mortality? That is the purpose of ritual and ceremony – not only to instruct the new members, but to remind us – the old members – of our previous instruction.

Give this some thought: When did our ritual become less inspiring? When did our degrees become merely a pastime between dinner and desserts? When did you stop noticing something “new” in a lecture?

How many of us have substituted listening for hearing?

If the “extra” instruction is presented well – and not just once every several years – then it benefits everyone, new brothers and experienced members alike.

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