I first heard of the Masonic Lodge from a member of the Ottawa police force in 1973 while I was articling on Sparks Street, Ottawa at Messrs. Macdonald, Afffleck Barristers &c. upon my recent graduation from Dalhousie law school. He and I had chatted somewhat sparsely in the steam room of the health club of the Château Laurier Hotel about his upcoming initiation to membership. Apart from the overall obscurity of the subject he knew little more than I about the matter. It was at the time a fraternity shrouded in secrecy.
As a Past Master of Mississippi Lodge No. 147 and past President of Mississippi Masonic Hall Inc., I have since acquired a significantly broader view of Freemasonry. Permit me to begin my brief elucidation on the subject by affirming in the strongest of terms that I consider Freemasonry a noteworthy institution.
Shortly before my own initiation to the fraternity I had learned that my paternal grandfather was a former member of the craft. Unwittingly I sported a masonic emblem as a fob upon the gold pocket watch and chain inherited by me from my grandfather. It was the identification of the fob by a current brother of the craft which had precipitated my initial involvement.
Although there is a prerequisite for the confession of the existence of a Supreme Being I have never diluted or infected that deliberately incomprehensible label with either religious or philosophic imperative. For my personal convenience I align the term with nothing more than the acknowledgement that the universe began with something fairly magical. The subscription to that theory did not disrupt what to me were the more germane matters surrounding the craft. Indeed there are certain features of the craft which, while distinctly part of the ritual, are not in my opinion overwhelmingly significant, among them the secrecy which so often attaches to the subject of Freemasonry. Most of the Masons whom I know would be pressed to iterate the so-called secrets, information which I have often acquainted with the irrelevancy of the weather. As I have jokingly observed on occasion, it would be tantamount to knowing the balance of my checking account; that is, so what? By way of clarification, my estimate is that the so-called “secrets” of the craft are primarily illustrative of stories and imaginative accounts meant to illustrate the symbolism of Freemasonry as a speculative art form versus a purely proven trade whence the craft putatively derives. In that respect the craft was among an early form of a trade union.
In my lifetime there have been two sources of lasting friendship; viz., prep school and freemasonry. I am frankly uncertain why this is so except that both have captured elemental sinews of human relationships. The initiation into both vernaculars was unrelated to any motive other than the obvious one of admission. There were for example no commercial or instructive ambitions. Basically, join the fold and see what happens. And in both instances the discovery of their worth was prolonged until the engagements had proven themselves. There was no immediate profit or reward.
My amateur reading of social currency is that young men are hesitate – perhaps even unwilling – to commit themselves to institutional alliance. The reluctance is I suppose part of the general awareness that most such compacts are for mutual benefit while contemporaneously provoking collective identification. Youth are however not now persuaded by the former standards of society many of which have proven themselves to be tainted by prejudice of one form or another. It is partly what I like about Freemasonry that it isolates the most fundamental characteristics of the well-bred man. It is for example considered inappropriate for fellow Masons to dwell upon one another’s private occupation or business affairs. By contrast, the fuel for social examination is that directed to improvement of human nature and mutual cooperation.
An indisputable characteristic of Freemasonry is its gradations; specifically, the three degrees of Initiation, Participation and Leadership, sequences designed to imitate birth, life and death. The discipline to acquaint oneself with the necessity of openness, discovery and authority also affords the uninitiated important lessons of behaviour. No one is spared the confusion of initiation nor denied the entitlement of adoption. Equality is imperative. One is constantly reminded that submission is rendered not so much to the man as to the office.