Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The 'Rite' Stuff

"Masonic Light, like the light of day at the close of the long night in far northern climes, must come, not all in one flash, but by slow and imperceptible degrees."

- Albert Pike

Follow the story of a scientist who, as a man in his fifties, had found his life frequented with unhappiness and the meaning of it lost among a lifetime of struggle and failure. All manner of gloom and despair was visited upon him and his body cried out with terrible and blinding headaches.

At his wits end, and determined to make a positive change for himself, the scientist decided to perform an experiment...with himself as its subject. For one month, he would strive to control his thoughts. If his mind turned to the past, he would only concentrate on the brightest and happiest of his memories. In considering the present, he would dismiss the undesirable and favor the opportunities at hand. And when thinking of the future, he would expect only the fruition of his endeavors and ambitions.

After only eight days passing, he began to feel a quickening of his spirit and a virtual transformation of his health. His headaches were no more. As he progressed through such success, the world seemed no longer at odds with him. He was elected to a prestigious position as the President of a great scientific society.

And all of this...because he changed his mind. He altered his perspective.

Of all of the many works, rituals, traditions and degrees of Freemasonry, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite tasks a man with approaching the Light through an inner journey of personal reflection like none other. Through its series of degrees leading to the 32 and final destination of the journey, a mason travels the labyrinth of his mind and spirit, facing inner Ruffians and ready mercies.

The degrees of the Scottish Rite are not so unlike the modern depth psychology of Carl Jung or Freud's psychoanalysis. What is very interesting indeed is that the Rite itself predates such current psychological systems, by centuries. The Rite is Victor Frankl's reframing in 'Man's Search for Meaning.' It is William James's 'altering of one's life ... through altering one's mind.'

And finally, it is the Heroes Journey of the great mythologist Joseph Campbell, fraught with joy, sorrow, life's breadth, becoming, and death.

Historically, the Scottish Rite evolved as the Rite of Perfection over 200 years ago on the Continent of Europe. It is a respendent amalgam of the philosophical essence of a multitude of learned cultures throughout the ages past including India, Egypt, China, Chaldea, Assyria, Persia, Greece and Rome. Here are represented the timeless truths of antiquity distilled by the most brilliant minds of mankind such as Confucious, Socrates, Pythagoras and Plato.

Those seeking the wisdom of the Rite expand their knowledge of history, philosophy, religion, morality and tolerance and come to know well the treasures gained with focus and rarified discipline. These seekers are guided to reflection, study and personal discernment.

The value of the Scottish Rite is to help a man find self understanding; to reveal the Light within; and to clarify his true place within the greater Order of all things. Perhaps its most controversial feature, these teachings of Masonry deviate from the priest and the prophet. It draws much significance from the Kabbalah allowing that the fruits of the tree of life may be tasted if the soul is made ready for them. Indeed, as a mason examines his inner mental stratums and conditioned behaviors he finally recapitulates the Light within his soul and draws nearer to the Divine through gnosis...the personal knowing of God.

"What is needed first, therefore, is an increase of self understanding - a discovery of your inner selves and of your own essential natures." - Henry C. Clausen, 33* Past Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite.

This is the very maxim of the temple pilgrim. Millenia ago above the entrance to the Delphic Oracle at the Temple of Apollo (the Temple of the Sun/Light) the words read 'Know Thyself.' What is the worth of a man when his very soul is weighed upon the scale? This is a question to be answered through living and not at the moment of one's death. To know the sure path, one must first know where he has determined himself to go...he must discern to what end he has set his mind.

"A man should learn to watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Be a lamp unto your own feet; do not seek outside yourself." - The Buddha

"Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." - Jesus

The Scottish Rite recognizes man's innate inner capacities toward self actualization. Today, much of its teachings are sadly lost on the modern pilgrims who are determined to find their personal rewards easily won and without sacrifice of time or contemplation. It's wondrous teachings are displayed throughout the world in a series of theatrical displays. It is a worthy undertaking and yet but a profane gesture if the seekers content themselves with little more than the spectacle at hand. These displays serve to whet the appetites of those who wish to make that personal journey through the degrees. But each mason must apply the teachings in his own life and examine his own mind along the way.

And so we are all scientists of a sort. We explore and experiment with our lives as we live them. But there are those who have gone before us and who have well prepared our way. The Scottish Rite of Freemasonry is a well worn path, frequented and travelled by the most earnest of good men, becoming better men.

Enlightenment, the true goal of all worthy philosophies, and that too of Scottish Rite Freemasonry, comes about through a proper personal perspective and a revelation that affirms the inner Light with that yet Greater Light.



-- Much thanks to the Past Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, Henry C. Clausen 33*, for his wonderful story about the scientist and his great many insights into Scottish Rite Freemasonry in his Commentaries on Morals and Dogma.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Through the Gate

I remember vividly my first experiences with Masonic ritual. I recall donning strange clothing and waiting patiently in a small room before I would knock for the first time on the doors of Freemasonry.

I wore the traditional hoodwink and relied on the faithful guidance of men I would later come to know as brothers...and good friends. I walked in darkness aimlessly it seemed. I kneeled at an altar. And from there I beheld the Light from the darkness.

In time, I returned to this scene...twice actually. I participated in a series of ritual degrees that Presidents and even Kings have taken part in before me. I felt honored. I felt the excitement that mystery brings with it. And I felt the weight of centuries old tradition stirring in my neophyte blood. When I walked the steps of Hiram it was as though the All Seeing Eye of providence was indeed looking down on me...me alone, a Freemason.

I was 'Raised' a Master Mason having completed the three degrees of blue lodge Masonry individually. I am proud to say that the man who raised me, Brother Tim Couch KCCH, remains a friend who I still learn from and who embodies the teachings of Freemasonry as well as any man ever could. Tim has been there for me whenever I needed him. And he has offered me counsel and instruction whenever I asked or whenever I just needed it. As Tim says...he 'kept the Light burning.'

Becoming a Freemason is one of the best things that I have ever done. I have made many friends, a world of brothers, and I have finally found a place for my philosophical mind and my spiritual heart.

The Light is the Center in Masonry and in this world. And certainly there are many avenues and approaches to it. But times have changed for Freemasonry. A critical and growing concern among lodges is falling membership; loss of interest; and lack of respect for morals and age old traditions. Across the country, many lodges and districts are looking to swell the ranks through various forms of accelerated degree programs such as Missouri's 'Chance to Advance' program.

Options such as Chance to Advance, or C2A, allow men to complete two (and in some areas of the country, all three) degrees in one day. The setting is instructional and typically there are scores of candidates watching on the sidelines as a single candidate takes their place in the degrees, with explanations to follow. It is a rapid admission into an Order that once called for months, if not years, of proficiency and learning before advancement could be made.

There are many things that can be said about the C2A. There are pros and cons of course. It is perhaps a modern answer to modern problems of time, membership losses, and recruiting. I posed questions concerning the C2A and similar programs on the AIOTR Facebook Group Page for discussion. I received some excellent input from the Brothers...

Brother Tim Couch KCCH, the Brother who Raised me into the Craft, had this to say about it:

"IMHO the C2A is a working tool. Like any useful tool it is good for the purpose for which it was designed. And, like any tool the quality of the result lies more in the hands of the craftsman than in the tool.

The one day class is excellent for Masonic education, brotherly fellowship, and expediency. In some cases it is the first and best opportunity for candidates and Master Masons to witness proficient ritual. It allows candidates to observe Master Masons as a broader group than their home Lodge. However, it is not right for everyone. Some men need to physically experience the degrees in order to make the connection to the secrets within.

We need to do a better job of explaining both, the abbreviated degree track and the traditional route to the candidate. He needs to thoroughly understand what is available to him and be free to choose without influence or prejudice. Masonry teaches that each man is free to find his own way. So to say, "This way is better," is to restrict that freedom. Records show that the retention rate is about the same regardless of which degree track the candidate takes so the problem is not in the one day class concept.

The problem, as I see it, is with our lack of follow up. We bring them in for a full day of intensive Masonic education and then we say, "If you have any questions feel free to ask." They don't ask; we go about our business. We run them through the three degrees in Lodge without any real education or even explanation of what is happening. Some men will soldier on and discover what Masonry has to offer them, but others will simply shrug and look elsewhere for the fulfilment they seek. It's not a matter of how we bring them to Light. It's a matter of keeping the Light burning.

Education, communication, contact. It's a commitment but if we're not willing to make that commitment we shouldn't sign their petitions."

I wholeheartedly agree with Brother Couch. I have communicated with him in addition to his post on the discussion board and he added, "I agree that Masonry in its current form is proffered too easily. It cheapens the institution that we love. However, we also have to be pragmatic. An institution that withers and dies because it holds strictly to its ideals at the cost of membership is just as dead as one that becomes so diluted as to become useless. It's a fine line."

Well. I couldnt say that any better. Besides being a fine line...its a very good point as well. Thus it falls upon modern Freemasons to be both pragmatic in their approach to new members and responsible to their new fellow brothers.

It must be added that some lodges, my own included, are a bit overtaxed on their Masonic work load. C2A allows the lodge officers and the new candidates a way to lessen the burdens on their individual schedules. Considering the times we live in...this is indeed the C2A as a 'working' tool.

The greatest issue at stake is, I believe, that we usher in men who are sincere candidates into our Order. And, most importantly, that these men do not find our Order diminished in favor of expediency or pragmatic necessities. How then can we insure that our Craft continues to gain new and excited members who learn the same traditions, values and moral philosophies of Freemasonry? I think that we must do as Brother Tim Couch said...we must 'Keep the Light Burning.'

We Master Masons must be responsible to our Order, to those who knocked on the Masonic doors before us, and to those who seek admittance to our ancient and established traditions. It is up to each of us to see that our lodges provide the instruction that our faithful foundations demand. Brother Michael J Cockroft of Minerva Lodge #98 in Miamisburg, Ohio suggests assigning specific committees to the task of provoking thoughtful discourse and Masonic resource in lodge. I agree that this kind of direct Masonic education is a necessity at this time whether one passes through the Gate via the C2A or otherwise. Furthermore, I think that we must each take up the shepherds crook and guide our brothers into the future of our magnificent Fraternity.

Brothers. We must lead and teach by example. We must continually strive to be the 'better men' we hope to become.

However a man begins his Masonic journey we must remind him all the while that he has brothers to aid him along the way. I am reminded of a ritual myself, when in darkness I was guided by those steadfast hands of my Masonic stewards. I made my way to the Light...with help.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hiram's Dust


"I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: `My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away."Percy Bysshe Shelley (The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley)
----
Time is a commodity for all of us in our modern society. Time translates into opportunity. It is opportunity for service; it is opportunity for work; and it is opportunity for rest....

Hmm...sound familiar?

Thus time holds the greatest of values. Still, we too often squander it and let the sands drift amiss. This is life crossing the divide in death by fractions. We journey our hours toward the end of all our opportunities. So what must be accomplished we must do now. Our service and our work is not a calling so much as a completion.

When we put ourselves in service to our Brothers, we serve the Light. When we put ourselves in service to our Diety, we serve the Light. When we put ourselves in service to our families, we serve the Light. When we put ourselves in service to our country...our community...we serve the Light. That is, we serve what is Greater than ourselves; that which must endure even though we as individuals will pass away as Hiram's dust.

The Hindu faith teaches that men are the realized expression of the essence of God. Christianity, Judaism and Islam profess that man was created in the 'image of God.' And Science informs us that humanity is a biological manifestation of forces and archetypes of nature connected at a quantum level. These ideas are not so different.

Our eyes are the eyes that see the suffering. Our hearts are the hearts that compel our compassion. Our minds are the minds that offer solutions for the wearied. And our hands are the hands that may comfort the fallen.

The very definition of an Angel, the original root of the word (angle), translates into 'messenger.' Angels took on the name of their deity and then a word denoting a description of their individual function. This was a case in many cultures of the past. It is most easily recognized in the Judeo Christian faith in Angelic names such as Michael (the Face of God), Uriel (the Light of God), Raphael (the Healing of God) and even Gabriel (the hero, or even body of God).

What do we Brothers represent? Do we simply represent our own wills, our own desires and our own passions?

As Freemasons we men are taught to 'learn to subdue' our passions. In fact, throughout our rituals and obligations we are cast into a singular image, and as the rough ashlar is perfected...so too are we. What is that image we strive toward? What is a perfect ashlar?

There is Life in this Universe and we are a part of it. To serve ourselves alone is to make a cancer of oneself and to only feed upon that greater whole we are all so truly invested in. Through our service to that which is Greater than ourselves and through our works, we become the face and the healing; and we become the body and, indeed, the Light.

We Freemasons know our working tools so well. But do we know that we are working tools as well?

Time will lead us all along a treacherous path. We will face first one Ruffian and then another. It is Death, the third Ruffian, who awaits us on that path. He will ask you for the sum of your works. But the worthy will have nothing to impart to him. For in the Master, the works are complete.

The Secret is not buried and it is nowhere Lost...for it is Realized.
...


Monday, March 2, 2009

Ruffians Join Facebook

Greetings Ruffians.

The Ancient and Illustrious Order of the Three Ruffians is now on Facebook as well as Myspace. We recognize the powerful networking ability of both social sites and believe that such online groups may well represent the future of broad based Masonic lodges and communities.

Be sure to search for us on Facebook under 'The Ancient and Illustrious Order of the Three Ruffians' - or a derivation of such. And dont forget to find us on Myspace at
http://www.myspace.com/3ruffians

We look to expand Freemasonry into the future and make our Great Fraternity relevant in our lives and our communities! It requires involvement to do so! Join us now!

Howie Damron - The Masonic Ring



Thanks to Howie Damron for supporting Freemasonry through song. If you would like to get ahold of Howie or just tell him that you like his stuff then email him...

Email: cdamron1@aol.com

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