Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blue Lodge Symbols for Masonic Education

I have made the case in an earlier post that the most important topic to address in Masonic education in the Blue Lodge is the symbolism of the three initiatory degrees of Freemasonry. I present a list of the major elements of this symbolism below. The reader should note that some of the items below are groups of symbols; thus, the symbols within each such group may require more than one session of Masonic education to consider. Here is the list:
  • The Lodge Room itself
  • The journey of the candidate: Circumambulation
  • The clothing of the candidate in each degree
  • The biblical scriptures recited during each degree
  • Light, and the search for it
  • The Two Pillars
  • The Three Pillars
  • The Five Pillars
  • The Mosaic Pavement
  • The East
  • The Temple
  • The Great Lights, individually and collectively
  • The Lesser Lights
  • The Representations of the Lesser Lights (including their arrangement)
  • The Working Tools of each degree
  • The symbols mentioned only in the lecture of each degree (that is, the so-called ‘monitorial symbols’)
  • The signs of recognition in each degree
  • Solomon, Hiram of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff as symbols
  • The symbolic meanings of the attacks of the ruffians
  • The Lost and Substitute Words

In addition, there are a few items that, although not strictly symbolic, are worth considering during Masonic education. These include the following:

  • The relationship of ancient esoteric knowledge to modern Freemasonry
  • The trial of the ballot, and the qualifications of a Mason
  • The various clauses of the obligations in each degree
  • The Charges given in each degree

The typical lodge meets for two Stated Communications monthly, less two periods where the lodge ‘goes dark,’ during a portion of the summer and in late December, thus yielding between 18 and 22 Stated Communications annually. The list of topics mentioned above would require over a year to address at the rate of one topic per Stated Communication. (Again, some of these topics are groups of symbols—the working tools, the monitorial symbols, and so forth—and thus will probably require more than one session per topic.)

Thus, we are not in danger of running out of material any time soon. Frankly, if a lodge wound up recycling lessons every couple of years, that would still be a great improvement over the current situation, where Masonic Education Version 2.0 is often neglected. Anyway, it is often an advantage to consider the same material, separated by a period of time; we come to the material having matured somewhat during the intervening period. In addition, many lodges are growing, and over the course of a year or two, a substantial number of new brethren will enter the lodge who will not have heard a given lesson.

We have a treasury of symbolic material to consider in Masonic Education V.2.0. Let us help our brethren and ourselves to explore and apply this symbolism in our lives as Masons and as men in today’s society.

[Commercial announcement: My own lessons on Masonic education on some of these topics are available through the website of LVX Publishing Company (; one lesson is available for immediate sale, two others will be available within a matter of days, and I expect to release two new lessons monthly for the forseeable future.]

Monday, February 18, 2008

Forthcoming Posts: For Your Comment

It has occurred to me that the readers of this blog might be interested in knowing what I plan to write about over the next few weeks and months. Below, I list my topics, pretty much in the order in which I plan to post, one to two posts weekly. Readers: Do let me know how this suits you. If you like the list as is; if you want to see topics addressed in a different order; if you want to see topics addressed that are not here—in any such case, let me know.

Incidentally, I have enabled the ‘e-mail’ feature on this blog, so a reader can e-mail a specific posting to friends. Just give credit to this blog, please.

Here are the topics that I plan to address in future posts:

  • Why should we pay attention to the esoteric symbolism of Masonry? Or is it all nonsense, as one brother expressed to me not long ago?
  • What is ‘Masonic enlightenment’? I have made the case that Masonic enlightenment is the objective of Freemasonry and its symbolism. But just what does that mean?
  • The “Paradise” (PaRDeS) approach to the interpretation of symbols. This ancient approach to scriptural interpretation is also a powerful vehicle through which to approach the interpretation of Masonic symbolism.
  • What symbols should we address in Masonic education? I shall give a list, focusing on the Blue Lodge. I shall also make brief mention of symbols in the Scottish Rite and the York Rite. (What—did you think Masonic education was only for the Blue Lodge? Oh, my brothers….)
  • The sources of Masonic symbolism. Yes, the traditions of the medieval operative stonemasons come to mind immediately. However, Masonic symbolism is also the result of several other currents: Enlightenment-era ideals; Enlightenment-era esotericism, such as Hermeticism, Kabbalah, astrology, Rosicrucianism, and so forth; and, the medieval Knights Templar, even if only by inspiration. All of these currents can have some impact on the interpretation of a symbol, simultaneously.
  • How to prepare a session of Masonic education. What goes into putting a session together.
  • How to deliver a session of Masonic education. What to do when you are in front of the brethren.
  • How to get your lodge to hold sessions of Masonic education. How to obtain a mandate from the leadership of the lodge.
  • How to learn about Masonic symbolism: Print resources. This involves a slew of individual blog posts, regarding such works as: Albert Pike’s "Esoterika" (perhaps the best of the bunch) and his Lectures on Masonic symbolism; Albert Mackey’s The Symbolism of Freemasonry; Wilmhurst’s 3 books; Allan Roberts; W. Kirk MacNulty; and, with appropriate cautions, the work of P. Manly Hall (The Secret Teachings of All Ages and other works), as well as the work of other authors (e.g., A. E. Waite).
  • How to learn about Masonic symbolism: Online resources. Another slew of individual blog posts: A survey of online resources.
  • Responding to anti-Masonry. With resources.
  • The application of depth psychology to Masonic symbolism. Learning about the Jungian approach to symbolism. “The Journey of the Hero”-type of literature.

    Your comments will be appreciated.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Do We Discuss During Masonic Education?

Perhaps the first question one must ask with regard to Masonic education is—just what do we discuss during sessions of Masonic education? In this post, I consider several answers to this question. In what follows, let it be understood that I am focusing on Masonic education such as it takes place within the tyled Lodge—that is, during the Stated Communication, rather than at other events, such as presentations at open lodge dinners.

‘Practicing the Ritual’ as Masonic Education

One idea is that Masonic education is training in the technique of the ritual. This idea is so widespread that it might even be described as ‘Masonic Education Version 1.0.’ So it is that we hold Lodges of Instruction to demonstrate how to conduct the initiatory rituals of Freemasonry. Some jurisdictions hold special occasions where Master Masons may inspect the books where the rituals of that jurisdiction are typed out on the page in plain English. (In Florida, these sessions are called ‘Open Books.’ These sessions are a godsend for brethren trying to learn, for example, the Lectures of the three Degrees.)

Education in the execution of the ritual is fundamental and crucial to Freemasonry. Ritual that is executed well, smoothly, with expressiveness, has a beneficial effect on everyone involved: the candidates, the quality of whose experience should be our first concern; the brethren on the sidelines; and even the degree team itself. Without the ritual, in a very real sense we have no Freemasonry, and no Masonic symbolism.

All of this notwithstanding, I feel that training in the execution of the ritual is a good place to start Masonic education, and a bad place to end it. The ritual has a point, an objective, and that is the transformation of the individuals witnessing that ritual (including those experiencing it as candidates, as members of the degree team, or as those ‘on the sidelines’). That objective is only reached when the ritual is not only experienced, but understood on a deep level. I say more about this below.

‘Masonic History’ as Masonic Education

There are those who consider instruction in Masonic history as Masonic education. Masonic history is certainly fascinating; it is also complicated, and everyone needs some sort of instruction in order to understand it, even in terms of the main currents of Masonic history, let alone its more obscure currents and eddies. One can make the legitimate claim that one cannot really understand the symbolism and ritual of Freemasonry without knowing something of the historical roots from whence Masonry sprang.

With all due respect to the valuable study of Masonic history, I do not think that historical studies are in and of themselves transformative. As I have mentioned, individual transformation is the objective of Freemasonry. In Masonic Education version 2.0, the study of Masonic history has some value, in order to frame the study of the symbolism. However, historical studies are not of primary importance in Masonic Education 2.0. A session of Masonic education focused on history may be good, both to frame later sessions that will deal with symbolism, and as a change of pace. A presentation about a historical event may also be excellent for an open Lodge dinner, and that is were I would prefer to see them most of the time.

‘Masonic Personalities’ as Masonic Education

In many lodges, there is an interest in learning about Masonic personalities: famous Masons of the past and present. In my lodge in Florida, for instance, we plan to have a presentation at the open dinner before our second Stated Communication in March, regarding the topic of “Masonic Astronauts,” delivered by a member of our lodge who works for NASA.

Here again, the point of Freemasonry is transformation, and the point of Masonic education is to assist in that endeavor. A discussion of Masonic personalities, however diverting, seems unlikely to further that objective. A topic like this is highly appropriate as a dinner presentation.

There are exceptions to this. If someone is thinking of focusing on some Masonic personality, and how this person helped change society for the better, with a special focus on his Masonic activities, such a biographical presentation might indeed be appropriate for Masonic Education 2.0.

I would also recommend that, when a Masonic Education instructor is teaching about Masonic symbolism and philosophy, he might consider using examples from the lives of people associated with Freemasonry as illustrations. For example, in a recent session of Masonic education focused on the symbolism of the journey of the candidate during the degree rituals, I made mention of the life of Elias Ashmole, a man whose life exemplified the union of spiritual concerns with scholarly concerns—which was relevant to a point in the lesson.

‘Helping to Interpret and Apply the Symbolism’ as Masonic Education

Now, we come to the idea that education in interpreting and applying the symbolism can be Masonic education. As I mentioned above, “[Masonic initiatory] ritual has a point, an objective, and that is the transformation of the individuals witnessing that ritual (including those experiencing it as candidates, as members of the degree team, or as those ‘on the sidelines’). That objective is only reached when the ritual is not only experienced, but understood on a deep level.” That understanding may come about over a long period of time—indeed, it may take a lifetime—but that is all right; in a real sense, all of one’s lifetime is meant to serve as an initiation. However, understanding and enlightenment do not happen just by experiencing the ritual; it comes about through exploring the symbolism of the ritual, through pondering it, considering its meaning and various approaches to its interpretation, thinking about how to apply it in one’s life. If training in the execution of the ritual is ‘Masonic Education version 1.0,’ then helping brethren to interpret and apply the symbolism is ‘Masonic Education version 2.0.’ In future blog entries, I shall give suggestions for resources for brethren to consult to learn more in this area.

‘Responding to Anti-Masonry’ as Masonic Education

There is one other subject that I really consider relevant to Masonic education. This involves teaching the brethren about the charges made by anti-Masons, and how one might respond to them.

I addressed this matter at some length in an article in The Philalethes magazine/journal (“How Should Masons Respond to Anti-Masonry?”, August 2007). In summary, I am aware that there has been a tradition for a long time that Freemasons simply did not respond to anti-Masonry. However, times have changed. Anti-Masonic writers are now making accusations that are vile, highly inflammatory, and apparently widely believed. (One author has us committing child abuse, and doing the will of Satanists and/or reptilian aliens from outer space. No kidding! And his books sell very well, too.) We simply must respond to these charges, or we run the risk of giving the impression that we have no response to make.

Teaching brethren about some of the more prominent incidents of the history of anti-Masonry (the Morgan or Anti-Masonic episode in American history; the Nazi persecution of Freemasons in Europe), and the more prominent anti-Masonic accusations (the Taxil hoax, and the accusations of contemporary authors) would be a good use of some sessions of Masonic education. In future blog entries, I shall give suggestions for resources for brethren to consult to learn more in this area, too.


In my opinion, the focus of Masonic Education Version 2.0 should be helping brethren to explore the interpretation and application of Masonic symbolism. Training in the execution of the ritual is a basis for all Masonic education, but it is only a basis. Some training in Masonic history can be useful to frame training in the interpretation and application of the ritual. Some training in responding to anti-Masonry is also worthwhile for Masonic Education Version 2.0.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Introduction to the Masonic Education Cabal

With this posting, I announce the blog of the Masonic Education Cabal. In this initial posting, I describe what the Cabal is and why it was formed, who I am, and what the objectives of the Cabal and this blog are. I also describe the philosophy that underlies this enterprise, and how this blog shall function. Consider this, if you will, the Manifesto of the Masonic Education Cabal.

The Masonic Education Cabal: What It Is and Why It Exists

Throughout Freemasonry today, one may observe a paradox. One the one hand, it seems that a great many of the young men who are entering the Craft these days are strongly interested in Masonic light. They are interested in achieving a deeper understanding of life and the world through the esoteric symbolism of Freemasonry. On the other hand, it appears to be the case that most lodges are poorly equipped to provide that understanding; for whatever reasons, very little time, if any, is devoted to exploring the symbolism of Masonry. The result of this is that many men who enthusiastically enter the Craft become disenchanted, disappointed, and quietly slip away, dissatisfied.

This situation is intolerable. One way to address this situation is Masonic education, but Masonic education of a type that has not been seen in many a lodge in many a year. In many lodges, ‘Masonic education’ means rehearsing the symbolic initiation ceremonies, which are indeed of great value. However, without a thoughtful exploration of the symbolism within those ceremonies, much of the value of the ceremonial is lost. What we need is a different vision of what ‘Masonic education’ means—‘Masonic Education 2.0,’ as it were, to use the language of the software industry.

Here is where the Masonic Education Cabal comes in. The Cabal is an “un-organization”: it is a thought, a cause, an idea that does not involve membership in a formal organization. It is, if you will, a conspiracy of the spirit. The Masonic Education Cabal is composed of whoever is interested in furthering the cause of providing ‘Masonic Education 2.0,’ that is, Masonic education that focuses on helping lodge members explore the meaning and application of the esoteric symbolism of Freemasonry. If this is you—well, welcome to the Cabal, brother! We do not have a membership card, a pin, a hat, or an apron. We do offer an on-line community of fellow seekers, an educational collective that seeks to help us all raise our Masonic consciousness.

Who I Am

I am Mark Koltko-Rivera, a Freemason raised in a regular lodge (Winter Park Lodge #239 F&AM, in Florida). I am very fortunate to be in a lodge where there is a 20-minute session of Masonic education at every Stated Communication. (Incidentally, my lodge’s officers have nothing to do with, and are not responsible for, anything involving this blog or the Cabal. Any faults here are strictly my own.) I started this blog because recently, after a Stated Communication of my lodge, several of the younger brethren were discussing Masonic education, and it became apparent that several of the brethren are interested in participating in the perpetuation of Masonic education in my lodge. Consequently, I started this blog as a means to sharing my thoughts with my lodge’s brethren, and with my Masonic brethren everywhere, regarding Masonic education.

I bring to the table many years of study in symbolism, some familiarity with the study of comparative religion, and many years of teaching experience in a variety of venues (44 class sections taught at the college and university level; maybe 10 years or more of experience teaching weekly classes for adults at my religious congregation).

The Objectives of the Masonic Education Cabal and This Blog

The point of the Cabal, and this blog, are to help improve the state of Masonic education in the lodge, and in our selves. Thus, I will address subjects like the following:

  1. How to learn more about Masonic symbolism, its interpretation, and its application to life.
  2. How to deliver sessions of Masonic education.
  3. Different approaches to Masonic symbolism, and how to teach it.
  4. How to lobby effectively to implement Masonic Education 2.0 in your lodge.

The Philosophy Underlying the Masonic Education Cabal

There are a few basic principles that underlie the Masonic Education Cabal and this blog:

  1. The esoteric is primary. Of all the many potential purposes to Freemasonry, the most important is the enlightenment of the individual through the esoteric symbolism of Freemasonry. Accomplish this, and all the other good things will follow. Neglect this, and we are at best a pleasant social and charitable organization—of which there are many in the world already.
  2. Our work is suggestive, not definitive. No one speaks with final or ultimate authority regarding the interpretation or application of the symbols of Freemasonry. Every Freemason must work out this interpretation and application for himself. The point of Masonic Education 2.0 is not to convey some ‘official’ set of interpretations of the symbolism; rather, the purposes of Masonic Education 2.0 are to help the individual Freemason to become engaged in the task of interpretation and application for himself, and to help equip the individual Mason with the intellectual tools that are necessary to grapple with the symbolism.
  3. We shall pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. In an ideal world, the more mature members of the Craft would help instruct the younger brethren in the interpretation and application of esoteric Masonic symbolism. However, in the world in which we actually live, we must recognize that the esoteric symbolism of Masonry has been underemphasized—in many places, simply ignored—for generations. (The ritual has been performed, of course, and in many cases with excellent execution; however, the exploration of the meaning and application of the symbolism largely has been ignored in Lodge discussions.) Therefore, it is largely up to the new generation of Freemasons to take up the burden of Masonic education, along with those more mature members of the Craft who have long labored to keep bright the flame of exploration in regards to our esoteric symbolism. We shall educate ourselves, and then educate our brethren: such is our motto in the Cabal.
  4. This task is revolutionary, not evolutionary. At least in the United States, Freemasonry came to de-emphasize discussion of the esoteric symbolism generations ago. Re-focusing the Craft on the esoteric symbolism is an important development in Masonry. We are not changing any of the ancient Landmarks of our Order; indeed, if anything, we are re-emphasizing ancient Landmarks that have long been neglected and become obscured through inattention. However, a diligent attention to Masonic Education 2.0 will ultimately change something about the nature of the Craft and its meetings. We will discuss more the meaning of the symbolism, and how it has application to our lives, and be less occupied with inessentials. I see this as a good thing; I know that many agree with me.
  5. We are a society of gentlemen. Personal attacks and rudeness will not be tolerated on this blog or within the Cabal.
  6. We are a beneficent cabal. The dictionary defines “cabal” as a group secretly united in a plot. Usually, the term is applied to those seeking to overthrow or control a government. I use the term in a more positive, constructive sense. Frankly, it is simply fun to use a transgressive term like ‘cabal,’ even if we are not really secret, and are more of a movement than a plot. We in the Masonic Education Cabal have no interest in the politics of Masonry; we do not seek to control the Lodge or its appendant orders. However, we do seek change, through putting a greater emphasis on the esoteric. In addition, the dictionary notes that the word “cabal” is ultimately derived from “Kabbalah,” meaning ‘lore that has been received’; thus, putting the term ‘Cabal’ into the title of the blog and the movement connects us spiritually with those Jewish brethren of an earlier day who focused on the esoteric meaning of their religious tradition.
  7. We will consider multiple approaches to symbolism. Different approaches to symbolism will be discussed here. These shall include the ancient approach involving the literal, the allegorical, the ethical, and the hidden interpretations of a symbol. The approaches we use shall also involve history, and depth psychology.

How This Blog Shall Function

I shall post essays to this blog on Masonic Education 2.0. The topics of these essays shall be centered about how to learn about the symbolism, how to lead discussions about the symbolism, and so forth—as well as topics that the readers suggest in the comments. And, of course, you are welcome to comment, at greater or shorter length as you wish, concerning the blog entries and other comments. Those who wish to make guest postings (that is, those who wish to post their own essays) are welcome to contact me directly ( You are welcome to disagree, even most vigorously, with anything posted or commented in this blog. However, I do insist upon civility: readers should work out maturity and anger issues elsewhere before commenting in this blog, where rudeness and personal attacks shall not be tolerated.

I hope to post essays at least weekly. (Less frequent posting will mean that I am travelling on business or otherwise indisposed.) I shall not post my own lessons for Masonic education, because these are offered for sale by the LVX Publishing Company. However, I shall be very open in my thoughts concerning ways to educate oneself, and one’s brethren, in the interpretation and application of Masonic symbolism.


It is my hope that this blog will be a vehicle through which we will spread Masonic light, improve the nature of our meetings, and give Freemasons what they are looking for in this troubled age: a way to approach life and the world from an enlightened viewpoint. So mote it be.