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.


Jay H. said...

Congratulations Bro. Mark on the Cabal! A promising premise that I'm sure will benefit the Craft.

I thought you'd like to see a brief review of one of your books that appears in the March trestleboard of New Jersey's research lodge.


“Freemasonry: An Introduction”
By Mark E. Koltko-Rivera, Ph.D.
The LVX Publishing Co., 2007, 89 pages.

As grand lodges struggle to find the best way to tell modern men about Freemasonry, the publishing industry keeps producing reliable books that do precisely that. What distinguishes Bro. Koltko-Rivera’s effort is how it accomplishes many daunting feats despite weighing in at so few pages. Its brevity makes it an ideal presentation for new initiates and potential petitioners alike and its thoughtful, candid explanation of Masonic matters can allow our lodges to hand out this book with confidence.

In easily digestible chapters titled “How Freemasonry Works,” “How to Become a Freemason” and others, the author converses with his reader on a very common sense level, avoiding the temptation to embellish and adorn. This is not to say Bro. Koltko-Rivera speaks simplistically either; in fact the chapter “Why Men Become Freemasons,” contains a very thoughtful explanation of what initiation is and does, as well as some serious talk on how the Craft can help a modern man overcome the subversions of modern life. This is a writer who shows his respect for his reader by talking about big ideas. Freemasonry is presented as a conservator of civilization that unites serious men of all kinds of backgrounds. The first four pages of Chapter Three serve the invaluable duty of describing one fictional brother’s evening at his lodge.

“Freemasonry: An Introduction” speaks plain truths about our fraternity. Yes, the names of illustrious historical figures are mentioned, and yes, the fun and philanthropic inclinations of Masonry are discussed, but the story told in this book is of a venerable philosophical society that is perhaps needed more now in the world than ever. For the determined reader, the author lists scores of other books and papers for deeper investigation into Freemasonry.

Our author also is responsible for a variety of booklets that explain the meanings of the Scottish and York rites and other Masonic organizations. His new blog, intended to provide a forum where education Masons can trade ideas, can be found at:

Mark Koltko-Rivera said...

Brother Jay H.,

Thank you for sending me this kind and generous review. It is very satisfying to know that this book is being received so well.

I look forward to attending the New Jersey Lodge of Research after I move up north (during the summer).

Jay H. said...

Had a terrific day at the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge at
Elizabethtown Saturday, where I had the good luck to hear several great
presentations and to meet a lot of wonderful people.

Bro. Mark Stavish was there, but he left
before I could say hello. He has a newly published book that was seen in the
hands of a number of brethren present.

"Freemasonry: Rituals, Symbols & History of the Secret Society" earned raves
from RW Charles Canning, Secretary of Pennsylvania Lodge of Research who
reviews it in the current issue of "The Pennsylvania Freemason." I figure if
Mark wrote it, it's bound (pun intended) to be good. I'm ordering one.

Click on:

But about the day! Two speakers were on the agenda: RW Thomas Jackson, the famous Past Grand Secretary, &c., &c., who lived up to his reputation as a candid speaker; and Miss Pauline Chakmakjian, who is a Ph.D. candidate under Andrew Prescott at the University of Wales.

RW Jackson presented a paper he had written at the request of RW John
Cooper, Grand Secretary of California, for previous presentation at UCLA.
"The American Enlightenment: Benjamin Franklin and Freemasonry" was the
"assigned" subject, despite Jackson's protests of being "no expert or
serious scholar" of any of those three topics.

As you might expect, Jackson did great justice to his subject, sketching the
early history of Freemasonry as intertwined with the relevant biography and social studies of that period of U.S. history. I noted the surprise of more than a few Masons upon learning certain facts, particularly the Masonic
neglect of MW Franklin in death. That unhappy detail aside, it was Jackson's
intent to correct the common historical practice of ignoring Freemasonry's
role in world history. As he sees it, "history writes about the man who
makes history, but not about the organization that makes the man."

The formula he credits with making good men better, listing Franklin second
only to George Washington in terms of significance in this period, is
knowledge, deist thought, and moral instruction free of theological dogma.

Comparing and contrasting yesteryear and today, Jackson noted that Franklin
believed the true secret of Freemasonry is there is no secret at all --
Franklin was actually a publisher of exposes in his newspaper until his
initiation -- and that annual dues equaled 30 days' wages and did not cover
the costs of food, drink and charity. The minimum age for petitioning was

Jackson continued recounting historical points: Franklin at Nine Muses with
Voltaire ("Solon and Sophocles embracing"), the fall of Pennsylvania Moderns and the rise of Antients, and more. He resumed juxtaposing Masonic past and present in his inimitable style, noting how we celebrate the brethren who made us great at the same time "we have lost our vision."

"Freemasonry is failing to attract the great thinkers of the young generation," he said. "We need enlightened thinking."

In its past, Freemasonry was one of the first organizations where men of all
walks of life could meet, and to where the greatest minds were drawn, but
that it has lost influence in society while also losing members. Apathy is
another foe that must be overcome. Jackson observed how the murder of the
Venezuelan grand master and other anti-masonic violence abroad stand in
contrast to the relative tranquility in which anglosphere Masonry slumbers.

"We cannot buy respect and admiration by being a collection agency that hands out money," he said.

A leader within the Masonic Restoration Foundation, Jackson hailed the MRF
for promoting a "new style" of Freemasonry that, while actually not old, is refreshingly novel to many Masons hoping to find intellectual and spiritual nourishment in the Craft.

Anticipating charges of elitism, Jackson said that "the day we defined
ourselves as taking 'good men,' we became elitist. I have no problem with
being elitist."

The problem, he added, is that "we are 'egalitarian' to the point where
almost no one understands the word!" (Howls of laughter ensued.)

When asked for practical steps that lodges could take to improve their
situations, Jackson remained blunt, urging lodges to behave self-sufficiently and not dependent on grand lodges for lodge content, and to educate their members. American Masonry is "unique in that we don't require attendance and education," he said, adding that lodges in Portugal
often meet weekly for educational purposes.

"You have to want it; you have to seek it," he also said. "You decide. You
are the members. Do you want to be recognized for greatness, or for being
average, like any other organization in America?"

In his closing remarks, Jackson quoted a newspaper journalist who had written "If you require less than you deserve, you'll receive less than you require."

The second lecture showcased the knowledge and talents of the day's only
true guest speaker. Miss Pauline Chakmakjian is a Ph.D. candidate under
Andrew Prescott at the University of Wales studying salon culture, and who
also is very well informed on Freemasonry. She is the founder of a cultural salon, called the Japan Room, which meets in Lodge Room No. 11 at Great Queen Street, where it hosts lectures, concerts, etc. Its goal, she
explained, is to help revive the salon culture Masonry once had.

Chakmakjian is not a Mason, but she lectures and publishes on Freemasonry,
and will speak at Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 in May. She is an artist
who exhibits her oils and watercolors occasionally. Appropriately, she spoke
on one of her favorite topics: contemporary Freemasonry in Japan in relation to Japanese traditions, religion and society. A very gifted speaker, she is more articulate and eloquent than any listener could desire.

Naturally, her topic was less familiar to the audience than RW Jackson's,
requiring a preface of some history and other facts. Freemasonry was
introduced to this island nation in 1865 by British and Dutch brethren
traveling in military lodges. It enjoyed a good reputation during the
remainder of that century, even surviving the effects of a law passed in
1899 proscribing many activities of foreign nationals. Later, Japan's
ambassador to Great Britain was initiated in a lodge at Newcastle-on-Tyne (No. 1247?), further strengthening the relationship. (When funds were being raised to construct Freemasons Hall on Great Queen Street, the brethren in Japan contributed one of the largest donations, resulting in Room No. 11 being named the Japan Room, where the aforementioned cultural salon meets.)

Fast forward to the years immediately following the Second World War, and
the story becomes more interesting. Douglas MacArthur, whose postwar task it
was to reconstruct Japanese society minus any imperialist tendencies, viewed
Freemasonry as an avenue toward reconfiguring Japan's spiritual life. Job One, of course, was to abrogate the divinity of the emperor, but there were
other means, including introducing influential men to the Craft.

In 1950, an uncle of Emperor Hirohito was among the first. Soon afterward,
the emperor himself began to take an interest in Freemasonry. One
influential Mason who was well enough connected to have been invited by the
emperor to the palace to discuss Freemasonry was Bro. Michael Revisto.
Revisto, who was secretary of a lodge meeting in Tokyo under dispensation by
the GL of Connecticut before becoming Master of a lodge chartered by the GL
of the Philippines, had purchased property for a lodge that previously had
been Japanese Navy officers club.

Unfortunately Revisto was charged with various "black market" related
crimes, resulting in revocation of his invitation to the palace and his
expulsion from the fraternity. Because the corrupt Revisto had come so close
to the emperor himself, a governmental arm called the Imperial Household
Agency took stronger control of the royal family's affairs and steadfastly
kept Freemasonry at a perpetual distance.

To this episode is attributed the failure of Freemasonry in Japan to secure royal patronage, which Chakmakjian lists at the top of the priorities for making the Craft in Japan stronger and larger. Citing English Masonry as exemplary, she said royal patronage, from Montagu and Wharton to the Duke of Kent today, contributes to Masonry's attractiveness and endurance.

But Chakmakjian sees potential for Freemasonry in Japan. She suggests
attempts to secure royal patronage be renewed by the GL of Japan, and for
the Craft to be presented to Japanese men as a social and charitable
organization, the likes of which are gaining currency as Japan embraces
Western-style charity techniques.

But there persists one trickier barrier: a cultural divide that Chakmakjian
nonetheless believes can be managed. Shinto being the dominant religion in
Japan, it will be difficult to transplant Freemasonry's Judeo-Christian
themes and symbols. This is the center of her doctoral studies. She
explained it will be necessary to "indigenize" Craft ritual to make it
understood in a Japanese context. This is not advocating changing Masonic
ritual to suit Japanese tastes (Chakmakjian describes herself as a
"purist"), but rather using Lodge of Instruction to teach ritual and impart
its meanings by likening KST to early and revered Japanese temples, while
also citing a Japanese legend comparable to the Hiramic myth. She also
recommends lodges become bilingual, to make the Japanese language and its
speakers welcome.

But "there is no Masonic education there, and no efficiency in Grand Lodge
function," she reported. Still, "the interest in Masonry sparked by the
Grand Lodge of Connecticut -- interest in clubs and societies that discuss
things -- is shared by the highly educated businessmen who like 'clubbing'
with other men."

With only about 2,000 Masons in Japan, only a quarter of whom are Japanese,
one could say the situation is urgent.

I hope this account of the day helps bring a taste of its memorable
moments to you. Any inaccuracies in the histories and quotations reported
above are entirely attributable to me.

Jay Hochberg

Shogun said...

I thought the Emperor were a FM since his education days in the U.K.