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by R.W. Louis Zeigler, Grand Orator, Grand Lodge of Washington


This question is often propounded to us, not only by those opposed to our Institution, but also by many of the Initiates into our Mysteries, and that too, with a proper sense of propriety; especially after having been inducted (so called) into the esoteric and exoteric teachings and principles of our order, by the unskillful hands of many of our miscalled Masters of our teachings.

It is to be regretted exceedingly that such a state of things exists, but it does withal exist; and in many instances where men of mind and mental capacity have passed the process of Initiation, turned aside utterly indifferent, and in a measure disgusted, from disappointment in having failed to behold what they had reason to expect to see and hear; and what they had every assurance that they would hear, all simply because the Master was not Master of the work in hand, simply because he failed to understand the Mission before him, simply because the Master failed or neglected to attain the necessary qualifications, and to study and comprehend the underlying principles upon which that beautiful system of Symbolism, Philosophy and Ritualism is based; and without a clear and thorough knowledge of which the Master will prove to the intelligent man, a dull and stupid preceptor.

But it is a lamentable fact that this state of things exists, and has always existed; and that often men's ambitions for preferment lead them far beyond their capacity to arise to the exigencies of the occasion, and wherever we find the existence of this state of things most, we will always find a due appreciation for the teachings and principles of Masonry less prevalent. We shall hail with gladness, the coming of the day, when none but men of skill and ripe Masonic scholarship will be called to explain and impart to the newly initiated, the true teachings and meanings of our beautiful system of Philosophy, Symbolism and Ritualism, which when properly understood form the grandest chain of Moral instruction, that was ever forged by the skillful hand of human ingenuity, and thus forever obliterate this often somewhat contemptuous query by the intelligent neophyte after passing through the barred process of initiation (when conducted by unskillful Masters.) What is Masonry?

We will now revert to answer questions of the former by saying:

First. That Masonry is not a Political Institution.

Second. That it is not a Reformatory Institution.

Third. That it is not a Religious Institution.

Masonry is not a Political Institution, because according to the obligations we assumed as Masons, and in accordance with the spirit which pervades our Fraternity, the schemes and tricks of the ordinary politicians are no concern of ours; we have as a brotherhood nothing in common with them. But as individual members, free to exercise our own judgment and reasoning faculties, we accept the doctrines of political parties, and co-operate with them in the furtherance of General and Local projects, as our better judgment may determine and dictate; and as a further evidence, that Masonry is not a Political Institution. The casual observer may and does behold in all general and local political contests, a clear division of the near eight-hundred thousand Masons contained in the various jurisdictions of these United States, pitted against each other in earnest strife, for the accomplishment of the ends of their respective political parties to which they claim allegiance, and this is eminently right and proper; for when we stop to consider the powerful nucleus which eight-hundred thousand men might form in a government like ours, especially when swayed and guided by bad and designing men, it might entail dangerous and fearful consequences to the public and general weal.

I say when guided by bad men, yes, even an Institution like ours, based on the purest and noblest principles, contains within its folds bad and impure men, who are ever ready to employ every agency possible for the accomplishment of sinister and impure motives. I am pained to frankly assert, that a Masonic Certificate is not always a patent for good morals and perfect integrity, but this is not the fault of the teachings of our order, for they are pure and true; but the fault lies with the Individual who comes forward and voluntarily assumes our vows and obligations, then by his action prostitutes his manhood by a heedless disobedience of the sacred precepts they enjoin.

Again - Masonry is not a Reformatory Institution. A Masonic Lodge is not a Moral Infirmary, nor an asylum for the vicious and the debauched; that class of the human family we leave to the tender mercies of the Reformatory and Eleemosynary Institutions of the land, for the spirit of our Order admits of good men only, not the bad. And if Masonry never proselytes even good men, much less would it seek the vicious and the debauched.

Yet if any of our Fraternity should chance to fall by the wayside of life (as many do) it becomes our duty to employ every means possible within the scope of Brotherly love and charity to aid their reformation and restore them to manhood and respect; but when every means of charity and Fraternal persuasion are exhausted to no effect, we gently put them aside for the general good. For the effects of vicious and intemperate habits of human nature are as baneful to good society, as are the influences of the deadly Upas tree, beneath whose poisoning shades all living beings droop and die; therefore, the Masonic body cannot foster dead or sickly members, when a moral restoration becomes impossible The infected member must be cut off in order that the health of the trunk may remain unimpaired.

And again - Masonry is not a religious institution. The religious concerns of the human family are a thing apart from the material, social or moral pursuits of life, they are no special concern of ours as a Fraternity; we leave that to the Individual to pursue according to the dictates of his own conscience. But that there is, in every human being, a certain principle or faculty of a faith in the Infinite, cannot be denied, and I cannot describe it better than to use the language of Max Muller, who says, "as there is a faculty of speech independent of all the historical forms of language, so we may speak of a faculty of faith in man, independent of all historical religions. If we say that it is religion which distinguishes man from the animal, we do not mean the Christian or Jewish religion only, we do not mean any special religion, but we mean a mental faculty, which independent of, nay, in spite of sense and reason, enables man to apprehend the Infinite under varying disguises.

"Without that faculty, no religion, not even the lowest worship of Idols and Fetiches would be possible; and if we will but listen attentively, we can hear in all religions a groaning of the spirit, a struggle to conceive the inconceivable, to utter the unutterable, a longing after the Infinite, a love of God."

All we ask of the candidate for our mysteries, when bowing at our shrine, is to express his belief in the Deity, the ruler and governor of the Universe. But whether he approaches the Deity in his hours of devotion by the name of Brahma, Allah, Jehovah or Jesus, is no concern of ours; or whether he accepts the Bible of Christian, the Talmud of the Jew, the Koran of the Mohammedan, the Ziud Avesta of the Persian, the Vedas of the Hindoos, or the Eddas of the Goth, as a true book of inspiration, is a matter left entirely to himself.

We, as Masons accept the Bible, not for any doctrines or dogmas it may contain, but we accept it because it has received the highest sanction known to the law; and as the book of the law forms one of our great lights, so we necessarily accept the book of the law, of whatever land we may chance to be in, as one of the great lights of our Institution. Hence, all we demand of the applicant for our mysteries is, his belief in the existence of the ever living and true God. And we promise, that while bowing at our shrine, he will not hear his way of serving God spoken of irreverently.

We now come to the answer of the questions upon which our remarks are based.

What is Masonry? We answer Masonry is:

First. A Progressive Institution.

Second. It is a Charitable Institution.

Third. It is a Philosophical Institution.

That Masonry is a progressive science was well demonstrated, when it was operative as well as speculative, by the various Masters of ancient as well as modern times, by the different works of our craft, from the building of the Tabernacle and the first and second temples, down to the building of the various cathedrals of St. Paul, Strassburg and Cologne. The work triumphantly progressed under the Mastership of Aholiab and Bazelleel, Hiram the Builder, Sir Christopher Wren, Inigo Jones and Erwin Steinback. And history to-day accords to them, the honor of being the most skillful and progressive architects of their time.

This is simply a type of the skill and progressive spirit the craft possessed when operative Masonry was in vogue and practised with such grand results.

And again, that Masonry is a progressive science from a speculative standpoint, is a truth self-evident and cannot be gainsaid; it affords a subject of reflection fit to engage the brightest mind, it is a field of thought, wherein may gather and glean the thoughtful laborers of science, with an assurance that the grandest results will be awarded for toil and labor; indeed, the resources of this field are endless and inexhaustible, and it is here only, where the true and useful Mason is moulded and developed. If we will closely follow the course marked out for the Masonic student by this speculative science, we find the first lesson taught him upon crossing the Masonic threshold is, he must believe in the existence of the Infinite and Ineffable Deity, the Author of light, truth and perfection; hence, the very essence of truth, that is to say, the applicant for our mysteries must be a man capable of appreciating and understanding that truth and wisdom exist, and can only be obtained by diligent search and industry and constant perseverance.

The next lesson taught him, is to seek and he shall find, ask and he shall receive. To seek for knowledge and instruction is the first sacred duty of the craftsman; this, he is to obtain from the observation and experience of others, and the proper employment of his own reasoning faculties, and to seek for the truth in the field of science and separate it from the chaff of error and falsehood, should be his constant practice, as he will thereby be fitted for the second step where the arts and sciences are brought to his notice; where by a zealous attachment to their teachings, he finds that reason, observation and experience, extracted from the chaff of astrology, that pure science of astronomy, and from the rubbish of alchemy, that useful science of chemistry, and a due proportionate reduction of the facts and truths of the other kindred sciences and beautiful arts, so useful and indispensable for the elevation and refinement of the mind of man. In the next grade he finds, in that beautiful field of science, that metaphysical contention between the good and evil, the right and the wrong, the true and the false.

The lesson taught the applicant is, that in all the walks of life he is constantly beset by good and evil influences, contending for supremacy in the guidance of our walks, and teaches him that although the evil may overcome the good for the time being; yet if we will faithfully persevere to the end, and be true to our charge and duty, there can be no doubt of the final triumph of the good over the evil, the right over the wrong, the just over the unjust.

By the next step he is led into the quarry of science, where he is taught to select all that is true and good, and reject all that is false and spurious as unfit for use. And all the discovery of truth and wisdom he makes in the quarries, although they had often been rejected by the unskillful as untrue, he is to carry with him to the chambers of his Craft, where they will be received as the cap-stone of wisdom and truth for the Temple of Science.

By the next step we find him elected to the seat of honor to preside over his Fellow Craftsman; this honor can be obtained by a close adherence to the various duties before him, a constant practice of the virtues of temperance and prudence, by the exercise of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. These alone can fit him for that distinguished position of which he has been called and when the duties over his Fellow Craftsman are properly discharged they will abound in credit to himself and honor to the progressive science.

By the next step we behold the applicant for still further light and knowledge, if he still continues faithful and industrious in the school of art, received and acknowledged as a Master of Science and the beautiful arts, where he receives that almost divine injunction "Go ye into the world and teach all nations." To travel into foreign countries and to dispense light and knowledge and truth to all the uninformed children of man, and his reward will be that knowledge of that divine truth which the author of truth bestows on those only who are faithful to the tasks and trusts committed to their care.

We next, and lastly, behold him a wanderer, returning from strange lands, leaning upon the staff of knowledge, ripe with age, observation and experience. He travels over rough and rugged roads, over high hills and mountains (the inevitable obstructions we find in the course of all human pursuits). He bewails the shortcomings of his Brethren and the conditions of his people; he passeth through that Triumphal Arch which opens only to the true believers and followers of the great I AM, that I AM, of him that is, the embodiment of the past, the present and the future. When he says "I have been, I am and shall be, in all time, in all eternity and through the boundless limits of space."

He wanders on, the veils of ignorance rend before the tallismanic efficacy of the pass, he enters the Holy Sanctuary by the signet of Truth; here he again finds the shortcomings of his fellow laborers, he descends into the mysterious vaults of Nature, he recovers the long lost word of truth, returns to the Holy Sanctuary of the chosen and, by means of the key of science, he unlocks the mysterious casket; he draws forth the long lost magic word of the ineffable, the pronunciation of which was forbidden by profane lips, the utterance of which would shake the earth and the heavens, and convulse the mountains and seas; yes, it would make the very angels of heaven quake with fear. He proves the potent efficacy of truth, that it is mighty and must and will prevail. This is the Philosopher's stone of science, which the Masonic student is in search of, before the transforming powers of which all baser metals of falsehood and error are transmitted into precious wisdom. He beholds the Holy Shekina descend and fill the house of science, he is crowned with the crown of Merit, he is invested with the Urim and Thummim, those sacred lots of Light and Perfection, Revelation and Truth, as a mark by which he is known forever after as a disciple and lover of the good and the true.

Here, then, we have in the Mission of the true and faithful craftsman, a Type and Symbol of the powerful influences and effect of the Mysterious Laws of Nature, to fathom and unravel which is the earnest desire of every student of knowledge and wisdom; and by a careful observation we find that the perpetual revolution of the planets, the succession of light, twilight and darkness, the passing and returning of seasons, the rise and fall of mists and vapors, and the spontaneous growth and decay of all matter - all unite in attesting that Potent Truth, that the Universe is governed by law.

Masonry is also a charitable institution. True charity does not consist alone of alms-giving and relieving the wants of the distressed, for that duty is incumbent on the whole human family. But true charity is the nobler impulses of the heart, and finer sentiments of the soul, which enable us to judge rationally the shortcomings and frailties of our fellow men. To admonish them with pure friendship and reprehend them with fraternal justice, is our motto and our creed; this virtue has ever characterized the Institution of Masonry through all ages.

When despotism and bigotry ran highest and when almost the whole human race was guided by passion and prejudice, Masonry, imbued by the almost divine influences of charity, held forth the olive-branch of peace and love, and invited those longing for, and fit to enjoy, the blessings of mental freedom to her shrine. At our altars none are persecuted for their particular faith or belief, all we ask or enjoin is, to be true to our God, and just to our country and fellow men; and that our advice be prompted by the highest principles of morality. By this virtue we are further admonished that all we ask we concede to others; that is, that charity's broad mantle be gently thrown around our foibles and shortcomings, when moral justice demands responsibility for the weaknesses of human nature. Hence, a Mason's charity is, and should be, as expansive as are the infirmities of human nature and the wants of mortal man.

Masonry is also a philosophical institution. De Witt Clinton defines Masonry as "A beautiful system of morality and philosophy veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." When Zeno was asked whether he was a wiseacre, he replied, "No, I am a philosopher" (a lover of wisdom). Therefore, we find Zeno's definition of philosophy to be love of wisdom.

This love of wisdom is the mainspring and propelling power of the mind of every disciple of Science and every diligent and faithful craftsman.

To understand the influences of mind upon matter and matter upon mind, to know that things are, and why they are, to know that truth exists and the reason why it does exist, to comprehend the cause of every effect, and the effect of every cause, is the grand theme and study that has employed the mind of the lover of wisdom and true craftsman in all ages.

The Philosophy of Masonry is a three-fold character. Our ethical injunctions are three-fold. Mandatory, Prohibitory and Optionary.

It is obligatory upon us as Masons to be good men and true, and strictly to obey the commands of the Moral Law. We are prohibited from indulging in vicious and pernicious practices and habits, for by the indulgence of these, the object of true manhood is defeated and the faculties of mind and body are debased; it is optionary with us and left to our own choosing, the way and manner we deem best of serving our God and our country, so long as we keep the ends of truth and justice in view.

Our Symbolism by which the Philosophical reasons are demonstrated, are three- fold. And very naturally so. For man in the primitive ages, alone, and unaided by observation and experience, was left wholly, and had recourse only, to the first head of that trinity of Science, viz., Reason through a proper exercise of which he beheld the material Universe, threefold in all its important phases, viz., the three stages of existence; the past, the present and the future. The three natural kingdoms: the animal, the vegetable and the mineral. The three stages of life: helpless infancy, vigorous manhood and decrepit old age. The three great luminaries of Nature: the Sun, the Moon and the Stars. The three great diurnal changes: Light, Twilight and Darkness. And by Nature's process of propagation and reproduction, we behold in the vegetable kingdom the continuous process of growth, ripening and decay.

And in the animal kingdom, the perpetual succession of hopeful birth, blooming vigor and melancholy death.

This led on to still further search and reasoning, and man discovered that by this constant process of growth and decay, this changeless changing, this perpetual evolution, not a single particle or atom was lost, for what to-day apparently decays and passes away, will come forth to-morrow by evolution and reproduction in greater splendor and glory. This led man's reasoning powers to speculate upon this grand plan, and he soon discovered that this Grand Universe was not a thing of chance, but that the Universe was governed by natural laws, and that these laws were a divine principle, impressed on all matter by the Ruler and Governor of all things. This gave birth to the reasoning and observation of the Philosophers of all ages.

The material and the immaterial Universe were surveyed, and it was found that underlying all were the creative, the destructive and the preservative principles of nature. What sunlight destroyed and caused to decay, the gentle influence of the shades of night would repair and preserve, and as the destructive wars of the elements would devastate, the soothing powers of the preservative principles of nature would hasten to repair the wreck of matter and restore health and order.

This gave rise to another yet higher train of thought, to endeavor to discern the undiscernible, to scrutinize the inscrutable, to behold the invisible, the infinite Author of this perfect but ever varying, this changeless, yet ever-changing, Universe. The Infinite Creator, the great first cause.

But as this could only be through the eye of faith and imagination, it is but reasonable to infer that the natural surroundings and the appearances of external objects, controlled or influenced the powers of conception; hence, we behold through all the various systems of religions and all the forms of the ancient mysteries, practiced in all times and by all nations, that man assigned to the Deity the Infinite Ruler, the Author of Nature and Nature's laws, a three-fold character. The triune attributes of the Creator, the preserver and the destroyer.

Therefore, the Philosophy of Freemasonry is pervaded throughout with a reverential awe for the triune Deity, and a clear belief and a firm reliance on the three-fold attributes of the Great Jehovah, viz., Omniscience, Omnipotence and Omnipresence.

This belief in the triune Deity and the efficacy of His divine attributes, constitutes the basis of our Philosophy and teachings. The Spiritual Temple we are engaged in building (which is simply a beautiful metaphor for our mission and duty of life) is supported by three great pillars: Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. The necessity is apparent that there must be wisdom to conceive the beauties attendant upon a virtuous and industrious life; and it is necessary to possess moral strength to evade all the temptations which constantly beset our ways, in the fulfillment of our missions as true and faithful Craftsmen, while laboring in the cause of humanity and Brotherly Love.

The next symbol that merits our attention, is that Mystical ladder whose principal rounds are Faith, Hope and Charity.

Faith enables us to look beyond the veil of time, and by a firm reliance on the grand Architect of this beautiful Universe, we may hope that our labors here will be rewarded beyond the grave, which we may enjoy by the practice of Charity with all mankind.

The next symbol that claims our attention is the point within the circle. The point represents time and the circle eternity, which is without beginning and without end. The point also represents the finite and the circle the infinite; it is as impossible for the finite to measure the infinite, as it is for the point to comprehend and take within its space the circumference of the circle. This emblem reminds us of our relation to the great Creator; for every creature God hath made is equally near and equally distant from the center and circumference of the Universe, which is pervaded by the great, I am, the God of All.

The point and circle also represent the various systems and constellations which occupy the immensity of space, for as the circle embraces the point, so many planets encircle many Suns throughout the immensity of infinite space.

The advance to the chamber of wisdom by the stairway of Science, is emblematical of the progress in the pursuit of knowledge.

He alone will well be received anal recorded as a disciple of wisdom, who has devoted his time and labors to scientific and useful pursuits, which alone adorn and embellish the mind fit for the abode of Truth.

The legend of the Master Mason is a representation of the trials and tribulations through life, and is typical of the contention for supremacy, of the good and the evil; although the evil may for a time overcome the good, yet if we are true to our trust, the good will finally prevail and bring us triumphantly to the haven of rest and peace. This contention for power between the principle of good and the principle of evil, has and does pervade every system of Religion embraced by man, from the earliest time to the present day; and very naturally thus, for it is based upon that universally accepted theory of the survival of the fittest. And as truth will in the end triumph over falsehood, so the good must and will survive the bad.

Thus we conclude our remarks with a cheering admonition to our fellow laborers in the cause of Humanity, Morality and Masonry by saying man was made to labor. Intelligent labor is ennobling, ignorant idleness is debasing. All the great and good men of the past were frequent toilers in the field of thought. All the great and good men that are, and are to be, will be faithful toilers for themselves and others, "whilst this great world spins forever down the surging grooves of change."

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