The Making of a Mason
by George Draffen of Newington
early and formative years of the Craft in England three names stand out
prominently. It is doubtful if any other men had more influence on the
development of Freemasonry than James Anderson, William Preston and
Laurence Dermott. The first two were Scotsmen, the third was an
Irishman. Two of them reached high rank in the Craft. All three wrote
books; The Book of Constitutions by Anderson, Illustrations of Masonry
by Preston and Ahiman Rezon by Dermott are Masonic classics. Anderson
and Dermottt concerned themselves principally with questions of
administration and matters of law and order. William Preston was much
more concerned with the details of our ceremonies and, in fact, "what
the Craft was all about".
continued appointment of some Brother to give the Prestonian Lecture
which it is my privilege to deliver today, is surely evidence that Grand
Lodge considers, as did William Preston, that there is much more in the
making of a mason that the ritual conferring of our three degrees.
William Preston was much interested in the question of ritual and worked
hard to bring the standard of ceremonial in our Lodges to that high
place which it has so long occupied. He did more, he compiled those
Lectures which, alas, are so infrequently, (if ever) heard in our Lodges
today, but which were at one time a sine qua non in the working of our
Lectures form the greater part of the Second Edition of Preston's
Illustrations of Masonry. For his material he ranged far and wide.
Stephen Jones, his biographer, wrote "wherever instruction could be
acquired, thither Preston directed his course, and with the advantage of
a retentive memory and an extensive masonic connection, added to a
diligent research, he so far succeeded in his purpose as to become a
competent master on the subject. To increase the knowledge he had
acquired he solicited the company and conversation of the most
experienced Masons from foreign countries and in the course of a
literary correspondence with the fraternity at home and abroad, made
such progress in the Mysteries of the Art as to become very useful in
the connections he had formed."
interesting to note that William Preston's writings became very popular
in the United States of America, where his Illustrations of Masonry
formed the basis of the work of Thomas Smith Webb, sometimes referred to
as the "Father of American Masonry" and the compiler of the well-known
Webb Ritual, which is possibly the most widely used ritual in the United
purpose had William Preston in mind when he wrote his Lectures? Surely
the full education of Entered Apprentices, Fellow Crafts and Master
Masons. In the leisurely era in which William Preston lived, our Lodges
had ample opportunity for adequately instructing their members. The
Lodges met frequently ‘sometimes as often as every fortnight’ and Lodges
of Instruction were unknown. What a contrast the present day affords! In
London few indeed are the Lodges which meet more often than five times a
year. In the Provinces ten meetings a year is more usual, but even that
does not permit of really adequate instruction. That our ceremonial work
is of such a high standard is largely due to the indefatigable members
of our Lodges of Instruction. But let us for a moment consider this
whole question of Ritual.
uses the word "Ritual" it is essential to have a clear idea of what the
term involves. Even among the better works on the subject of ritual and
liturgy it is difficult to find clear and concise ideas on the subject.
It may, perhaps, be defined as "orientating one's person towards an
objective by a prescribed set of movements and form of words". Ritual,
both in primitive and elaborate forms has existed for thousands of
years. If we refer to the Old Testament we find that, more than three
thousand years ago, there was laid down a ritual form of worship for the
Jewish people. Every detail of that worship was prescribed: the
sacrifices, the priesthood, the vestments, the very buildings.
Man is a
curious mixture of matter and spirit, limited yet reaching out for that
which is unlimited. The ascent of Man towards the Truth, towards the
Great Architect of the Universe, towards God himself, is at once
material and spiritual, corporal and psychic, interior and exterior. Man
approaches his God in various ways, by signs, by prostrations, by
fasting, by wearing special clothing, etc., etc. He makes use of the one
faculty denied to the lower creatures – speech. Then, when speech can no
longer express his thoughts fully, body gestures take its place.
protagonists of ritual emphasize the communal aspects – and they are
right in so doing, for the fact is that acts of ritual, considered as a
whole, have a communal aspect, and demand in consequence that all who
participate have a common contact. A common rite is only good when all
assisting perform it together. If only a small part of those present
give active assistance, there is a deficiency in the rite. Something is
lacking if all present do not do their proper part.
society, the community is indispensible. The Church, the Synagogue and
the Mosque all demand the community of the faithful. The University
demands the community of the teachers and students. The Lodge demands
the community of all the members.
A rite is
the combination of movements, sounds and words, which form a frame in
which the communal action can be accomplished. Because ritual is not
just the juxtaposition of individual acts, by its very nature it demands
a previously arranged structure. To commit oneself to a common action,
when one has no idea of what is to be done, is an impossibility. It is,
therefore, essential that there be proper preparation, instruction and
training. A good ceremony demands that the rubrics be previously
thoroughly studied and understood by all those who are to take part,
whether they be Priests in a Church or Officers in a Lodge. Ritual
includes not only this technical element, an element upon which much of
the success or failure of the rite depends, but includes all those other
elements which touch directly on any aspect of the rite.
ritual acts we find a tendency in man to repeat his acts in order to
recapture the sentiments he has previously experienced. He returns to
that same act in order to experience once more the same impression and
to prolong it. Ritual acts must be repeated if they are to achieve their
full effect. From a psychological point of view, ritual tends to produce
in a united community the return of certain emotions, and this through
the media of appropriate sounds, words and movements. Man needs to be
gradually transferred from the materialistic atmosphere of his daily
life to a higher milieu. Once there, he must be made to feel at home in
his new position. He must abandon his reserve in order to follow the
course of the action. He must throw himself into the mood and the
movements to discover what the rite has to offer. A rite simply cannot
be understood without one's taking part in it.
It is no
part of the function of ritual to act as a medium of instruction. The
function of ritual is to enshrine the teachings or dogma of the society
to which it applies, in such a way as to be recognizable only to the
initiated. It provides the neophyte with the background or framework
upon which he must build the superstructure.
have any doubts upon this point, let me give you a practical
illustration. Tomorrow morning, within this city, at eight o'clock, a
ritual ceremony will take place. The central part of this ceremony has
remained unchanged for nearly 2,000 years, although it has been
elaborated and embroidered much during that period. The ceremony has
various titles. The Lord's Supper; Holy Communion; The Eucharist; The
Mass. For the first three or four hundred years of its existence nobody
was allowed to be present at the ceremony until he was fully qualified
to be there. The neophytes or catechumens were required to depart from
the service when the Mass began. Nowadays there is no restriction on
anybody being present, but no persons can take part in that service
until they have been initiated into Christianity through the ceremony of
baptism and have passed through the ceremony of confirmation. The
rituals of all these ceremonies are available to anyone, in the Book of
Common Prayer or the Ordinal of the Roman Church, but no one would
attempt to regard either of these books of ritual as a media of
instruction in the tenets of the Christian faith.
there seems to come a time when the manner in which it is performed is
more important than the words. The whole force of the ritual does not
consist in the mere understanding of the ceremonial acts and the
accompanying words. If this were true, then one might be expected to
understand, for example, every word of one of the Psalms during their
choral recitation in Church or Synagogue, a task which is
psychologically impossible. Instead, one receives from the words of the
Psalms the ideas which permeate them.
a certain measure and rhythm which needs to be safeguarded in every
rite. An inconsiderate word of direction or explanation can often
suddenly break the mood of the entire community caught up in the action
of the ritual.
A man who
accustoms himself to ritual will end up loving it. He familiarizes
himself with the movements, the sounds and the words. Under their
influence he becomes elevated. But if, by chance, he comes upon
something that is new, and for which he is unprepared, then he finds
himself ill at ease. That is why it is undesirable that any radical
changes should be made in Lodge ritual.
so quickly loses its freshness and vitality as an act repeated, and that
is especially true of ritual. Modem man has lost the mobility and
freedom of expression that primitive man possessed. This lack of freedom
and spontaneity in modern man explains why he is not at home in
religious rites, and why these rites – and indeed all rites – are
seemingly so strange and complicated.
establishing the proper conditions for ritual working there are serious
dangers to be avoided. These dangers account for some defects in ritual.
Because ritual is a complex structure of reaction, it has a tendency to
establish itself as an absolute master of all feeling. To those who fail
to understand the purpose of rubrics, they seem to be tyrannical. Since
ritual is a path, it must be regarded as a means and not an end in
itself. When rites are regarded as ends in themselves then the whole
ritual becomes nothing but a mechanical process.
always acts in a conservative fashion. It is, par excellence, the
guardian of tradition and the principal means by which the historical
aspect is safeguarded and perpetuated. This traditional element of
ritual brings with it very real dangers of over emphasis and
exaggeration. When one fails to distinguish between what is essential
and what is accidental, or when one fails to understand rites in their
historical and traditional contexts, then one does not understand their
correct place and purpose, and overemphasizes rites to the detriment of
the essential action. Ritual then dominates the action instead of
serving it. When ceremonial gets lost in all sorts of detailed
subtleties, then you have ritualism at its worst. The thesis of
ritualism is that the technical perfection of the ceremonial action is
of the highest importance and that the traditional formulas enjoy, even
to the last detail, an absolute authority. Ritualism lacks a sense of
proportion and is based on a false idea of the object of ritual.
other hand the formalist lacks even this regard for ritual. He reduces
the whole idea of ceremonial to a mere mechanical performance of the
necessary acts. The prescribed movements, the recitation of the
traditional words, are carried out by the formalist with little effect
and freshness. He is not in contact with the things that he handles.
Formalism is the greatest danger of any ritual acts; the Lodge Officer
is not exempt.
Confronted with these two evils of going to excess, how is one to deal
with the matter? One might conceive an aversion to the whole idea of
ritual and consider it of little importance even superfluous. Such an
idea would be wrong because it is based on a wrong theory of
spirituality and wrong understanding of the place of ceremonial in man's
life. It is a mistake to think of ritual as merely an outward action or
ornamental ceremonial. It is an error to think of ritual as a list of
prescribed words and actions by which our ancient Craft admits its
mistake is to despise traditional ceremonial and to improvise new
rituals. Many have tried this, inspired by a zeal that was more ardent
than prudent. In this country we have been singularly free from the
efforts of the "ritual improver" but his activities in other countries
should serve as a warning of the horrible results‑particularly when
completely new "degrees" are manufactured. In this modern age, with its
great freedom of action in social relationships and its tendency to
break free from custom and tradition, there is little danger of falling
into excessive ritualism. Were it not for our Lodges of Instruction, the
tendency might be towards a too light regard for ritual.
dealt with the greatness and the deficiencies of ritual and the question
arises – are we wise to depend as much as we do upon the Ritual as a
means of instruction to our Candidates? The position in Scotland
and Ireland is neither better nor worse than the position in England.
When we go to the Scandinavian Countries and to Holland and Switzerland,
however, we find that very much greater emphasis is placed upon the
instructing of candidates than is common in Britain. And I do not
suggest that their ceremonial work is less well carried out than ours.
On the contrary, the standard is at least as high as it is here.
countries I have mentioned the period between the conferring of degrees
is, at the minimum, one year. During that period the candidates are
required to attend classes of Instruction which deal not only with the
interpretation of the ritual but also with the philosophy of the Craft.
Whether such a procedure would work in Britain is open to doubt, but
that it can work is evidenced by the fact that many of the American
Grand Lodges have adopted what they are pleased to call "Education
Policies"‑and with some success.
Preston's Lectures as opposed to his ceremonial ritual were written for
another age. If we are to instruct our candidates in the tenets of the
Craft some other Preston must arise and prepare for us a series of short
educational talks which can be delivered either in Lodge or in a Lodge
of Instruction. To illustrate what I have in mind let me give you a
short homily on the Hiramic Legend.
LEGEND OF HIRAM ABIFF - During the ceremony of the Third Degree, which
is so well named the Sublime Degree, you can hardly fail to have been
deeply impressed by the Tragedy of Hiram Abif. To understand it, and to
appreciate to the full its profound richness of meaning, is something
that will remain with you as long as you live.
first of all important to understand that the Drama of Hiram Abiff is a
ritualistic drama. We all know what a drama is. It is a conflict between
a man and other men or between a man and other forces, resulting in a
crisis in which his fate or fortune lies at stake. The crisis, or
problem, is followed by a solution or resolution. If it turns out in
favour of the man the drama is a comedy, in the true and original
meaning of that word as a happy ending. If it turns against him, and as
a result he becomes a victim or a sufferer, it means that the drama is a
tragedy. By drama in either sense I do not refer to plays as they are
acted on the stage, which are not dramas at all, but representations of
dramas. I refer to drama as it occurs in our own lives, to every one of
us, and in our daily experience. The only reason for our interest in
reading or seeing stage plays is because they mirror the drama in which
in real life we ourselves are the actors.
ceremony of Hiram Abiff is not only a drama, it is a ritualistic drama,
and the major emphasis should be placed on the word `ritualistic'. What
is a ritual? It is a set of fixed ceremonies which address themselves to
the human spirit solely through the imagination. A play in the theatre
may be built round some historical figure or some historical event, as
in the case of Shakespeare's plays about the English Kings and about
Macbeth or Hamlet. And if the figures and events are not actually
historical, they are supposed to be, so that the facts of time, place
and individual identity are of some importance to it. A ritualistic
drama, on the other hand, does not pay any heed to historical
individuals, times or places. It moves wholly in the realms of the
spirit, where time, space and particular individuals are ignored. The
clash of forces, the crises and fates of the human spirit alone enter
into it, and they hold true of all men, everywhere, regardless of who
they are, or where and when they are.
Drama of Hiram Abiff is ritualistic, it is a mistake to accept it as
history. There was a Hiram Abiff in history, but our Third Degree is not
interested in him. Its sole concern is with a Hiram Abiff who is a
symbol of the human soul, that is, its own Hiram Abiff. If, therefore,
you have been troubled with the thought that some of the events of this
Drama could not possibly have ever happened you can cease to be
troubled. It is not meant that they ever happened in ancient history,
but that they are symbols of what is happening in the life of every man.
same reason it is an inexcusable blunder to treat it as a mere mock
tragedy. Savage peoples employ initiation ceremonies as an ordeal to
test the nerve and courage of their young men, but Free masonry is not
savage. Boys in school often employ ragging, which is horse-play
caricature of the savage ceremonial ordeals, but Freemasonry is not
juvenile. The exemplification of our ritualistic drama is sincere,
solemn, and earnest. He who takes it trivially betrays a shallowness of
soul which makes him unfit ever to become a Mason.
Abiff is the acted symbol of the human soul, yours, mine, any man's. The
work he was engaged to supervise is the symbol of the work you and I
have in the supervision, organization and direction of our lives from
birth to death. The enemies he met are none other than the symbols of
those lusts and passions which in our own breasts, or in the breasts of
others, make war on our characters and our lives. His fate is the same
fate that befalls every man who becomes a victim to those enemies, to be
interrupted in one's work, to be made outcast from the lordship (or
mastership) over one's own self, and, at the end, to become buried under
all manner of rubbish which means defeat, disgrace, misery, and scorn.
The manner in which he was raised from that dead level to that living
perpendicular again is the same manner by which any man, if it happens
at all, rises from self defeat to selfmastery. And the Sovereign Great
Architect, by the power of whose word Hiram Abiff was raised, is that
same God in whose arms we ourselves forever he, and whose mighty help we
also need to raise us out of the graves of defeat, or evil, and death
wonder, while taking part in that drama, why you were personally made to
participate in it ? Why you were not permitted to sit as a spectator?
You were made to participate in order to impress upon you that it was
your drama, not another's, there being exemplified. No man can be a mere
spectator of that drama, because it takes place in his own soul.
Likewise because it was intended that your participation should itself
be an experience to prepare you for becoming a Master Mason, by teaching
you the secret of a Master Mason, which is, that the soul must rise
above its own internal enemies if ever a man is to be a Mason in reality
as well as in name. The reality of being a Master Mason is nothing other
than to be the Master of one's self.
wonder why it was that the three enemies of Hiram Abiff came from his
own circle and not from outside ? It is because the enemies to be most
feared by the soul are always from within, and are nothing other than
its own ignorance, lust, passions and sins. As the V.S.L. reminds us, it
is not that which has power to kill the body that we need most to shun,
but that which has power to destroy the spirit.
wonder why it was that, after Hiram Abiff was slain, there was so much
confusion in the Temple. It was because the Temple is the symbol of a
man's character, and therefore breaks and falls when the soul, its
architect, is rendered helpless. Because the Craftsmen are symbols of
our powers and faculties and they fall into anarchy when not directed
and commanded by the will at the centre of our being.
you wonder why the Lodge appeared to neglect to explain this ritualistic
drama to you at the end of the Degree ? It was because it is impossible
for one man to explain the Tragedy of Hiram Abiff to another. Each must
learn it for himself; and the most we can obtain from others is just
such hints and scattered suggestions as these I have given you. Print
the story of Hiram Abiff indelibly upon your mind; ponder upon it; when
you yourself are at grips with your enemies recall it and act
accordingly to the light you find in it. By so doing you will find that
your inner self will give in the form of first‑hand experience that
which the drama gave you in the form of ritual. You will be wiser and
stronger for having the guidance and the light the drama can give you."
I do not for one moment disparage the work done by our Lodges of
Instruction. Indeed, without them, our ceremonies might well deteriorate
into a meaningless mumbo-jumbo. If one had asked the late Professor Joad
what was meant by a Lodge of Instruction I am pretty certain that he
would have replied "It depends what you mean by instruction". As a
general rule the word "instruction" has been construed by Lodges of
Instruction to mean "instruction in the working of the ceremonies"
rather than "instruction in the meaning of the ceremonies". It is in
this latter connection that I feel sure we are not only neglecting our
duty, but failing to grasp the opportunity offered in a Lodge of
Instruction for the proper making of a Mason.
THE MAKING OF A MASON (THE
PRESTONIAN LECTURE FOR 1956*)
by BRO. GEORGE DRAFFEN OF
Senior Grand Warden, Grand
Lodge of Scotland
P.M., Quatuor Coronati Lodge,
* At the time the Lecture was
delivered the author was Grand Librarian.
This lecture was
first listed in the Lodge 76 Website on December 2013
This Article was
extracted and transcribed in this format by Bro. J. Stewart Donaldson.