Saturday, December 15, 2007

The horrible "E" word

There is a word, which when brought up in many Lodges, can instantly provoke a deafening chorus of tut-tutting from the old-timers on the sidelines. This word has been known to provoke unrestrained debate and contention between the Brethren. The mere mention of this word will strike abject terror in the hearts of many rank-and-file Masons. What is this horrible epithet?
As I have mentioned before, there are those among the Brethren who believe that there is a deeper aspect to the Craft. To them, Freemasonry is a transformational art, rooted within the Western and other mystery traditions. They are not afraid to use the term "esoteric" when referring to our Fraternity. Why then is there such a fear of this word among the Brethren who disagree?
Due to the demographical composition of the United States, most Masons here subscribe to one form of the Christian faith or another. Despite the fact that sectarian religion is not to have any place in the functions of a Lodge, a certain Christian influence is often felt. Sometimes this takes the form of extemporaneous Lodge prayers being closed in the name of Jesus Christ. More often, it results in a fierce resistance to anything deemed non Christian, which is manifested by vocal opposition to the idea that there can be anything "deeper" hidden beneath the exoteric teachings of our Fraternity. Thus they condemn those Brethren who believe that Freemasonry is esoteric in its very nature, because they believe that somehow this is satanic or in conflict with their own beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially since these Brethren are free to develop an opinion of the meaning of Freemasonry, based on their own personal belief structure. In fact, one of the most basic tenets of esoteric teachings is that the student must seek them out for himself. No one can be forced onto the esoteric path.
Masonry is a beautiful allegorical system, syncretized from many ancient sources. Upon close examination of the various degrees and symbols one can easily find elements of many religions and mystery schools. No matter what an individual Mason might think about the origins or meaning of our Craft, there is no denying the presence of these elements. Whoever wrote our ritual purposefully included them in order to impart a greater Truth. It is up to each Mason to find that Truth for himself.
The beauty of our Craft is, as I have mentioned before, that this Truth is somewhat subjective, and can have different meanings to different Brethren. Freemasonry is many layered, much like an onion. If some wish to "peel the onion" and delve deeper into the mysteries of our Fraternity, then they deserve to be afforded that privilege. Others may be satisfied with the exoteric teachings of our ritual. As long as both sides apply mutual tolerance, and practice the lessons of the Trowel, peace and harmony can and will prevail in our Lodges. After all, isn't one of the principle tenets of Freemasonry to "cause true friendship to exist among those who might have otherwise remained at a perpetual distance"?
So mote it be!