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To subdue my passions

by Eric Schmitz, P.M.

What come you here to do?

   To learn to subdue my passions and improve myself in Masonry.

This is one of the first and most important points of Freemasonry. Yet, when it is not completely ignored, it is often quite vulnerable to misinterpretation. It therefore merits some explanation here. Let us begin with the definitions of the words "passion" and "subdue."

The Oxford English Dictionary includes the following definition of "passion" under section III, subtitled "An affection of the mind." 6. Any kind of feeling by which the mind is powerfully affected or moved; a vehement, commanding, or overpowering emotion; in psychology and art, any mode in which the mind is affected or acted upon (whether vehemently or not), as ambition, avarice, desire, hope, fear, love, hatred, joy, grief, anger, revenge. Various 18th-century authors have used the word "passion" in their works: "By the Passions I think we are to understand certain motions of the Mind depending upon and accompanied with an Agitation of the Spirits." (1710, Norris, Chr. Prud. vii. 323.) "A man whose passions often overcame his reason." (1791, Mrs. Radcliffe, Rom. Forest, i.) "The common division of the passions into desire and aversion, hope and fear, joy and grief, love and hatred, has been mentioned by every author who has treated of them." (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 3rd Edition, XIV, 2/1.) Another relevant definition is: 10. An eager outreaching of the mind towards something; an overmastering zeal or enthusiasm for a special object; a vehement predilection.

The word "subdue" is also defined: 2. To bring (a person) into mental, moral, or spiritual subjection; to get the upper hand of by intimidation, persuasion, etc.; to obtain control of the conduct, life, or thoughts of; to render (a person or animal) submissive; to prevail over, get the better of. b. With a person's body, soul, mind, actions, etc. as the object. The "passions" could also be that object. An example of 18th-century usage is: "Having subdued his own feelings, he resolved not to yield to those of his wife." (1791, Mrs. Radcliffe, Rom. Forest, ii.)

Combining these definitions, we can say that to "subdue one's passions" means to "bring one's commanding and overpowering emotions and desires into subjection." This is a complete reversal of the situation in which a man's passions have control over his reason - a situation which Masonry seeks to remedy.

The business of Masonry is to make good men better. As Masons, we are engaged in the process of self-improvement, and that process must begin in each of us by taking control of our own bodies and personalities. It must be clearly understood that subduing the passions does not mean eliminating them! By the above definition, the act of subduing something is the act of bringing it under control -- conscious control, in the case of our passions. In each and every one of us there are physical and mental activities that take place below the level of our conscious awareness. These activities are always amenable to control by suggestion, whether or not we are personally aware of making such suggestions, and they largely determine the outcome of whatever we set out to do. Our desires are one of the most potent forms of such suggestions, and without them we would have no "will" and would never accomplish anything, good or bad. By taking conscious control of our passions, deliberately cultivating our desires and making them work for us, we stand a much greater chance of attaining that of which we are in pursuit. The alternative is to allow our passions to control us, in which case we are really working for them, and are left with "pot luck" on the outcome of any personal endeavor.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014