First, this is not going to be an article ABOUT Masonic ritual, I do have an obligation to maintain. However, this this will examine ritual as it pertains to Freemasonry. Please, read on and let me know what you think about ritual. The next blog entry will discuss the probably source(s) of Masonic ritual.
As Always when discussing a subject of import, lets start off with a definition and progress in the examination. So, what IS a ritual:
A ritual is a set of actions, often thought to have symbolic value, the performance of which is usually prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community by religious or political laws because of the perceived efficacy of those actions.So, it’s a set of actions though to have symbolic value that are traditional and are not arbitrarily chosen by the performers. Sounds a lot like Freemasonic ritual so far. Joseph Campbell said:
A ritual may be performed at regular intervals, or on specific occasions, or at the discretion of individuals or communities. It may be performed by a single individual, by a group, or by the entire community; in arbitrary places, or in places especially reserved for it; either in public, in private, or before specific people. A ritual may be restricted to a certain subset of the community, and may enable or underscore the passage between religious or social states.
The purposes of rituals are varied; they include compliance with religious obligations or ideals, satisfaction of spiritual or emotional needs of the practitioners, strengthening of social bonds, demonstration of respect or submission, stating one's affiliation, obtaining social acceptance or approval for some event — or, sometimes, just for the pleasure of the ritual itself.
Rituals of various kinds are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present. They include not only the various worship rites and sacraments of organized religions and cults, but also the rites of passage of certain societies, oaths of allegiance, coronations, and presidential inaugurations, marriages and funerals, school "rush" traditions and graduations, club meetings, sports events, Halloween parties and veteran parades, Christmas shopping, and more. Many activities that are ostensibly performed for concrete purposes, such as jury trials, execution of criminals, and scientific symposia, are loaded with purely symbolic actions prescribed by regulations or tradition, and thus partly ritualistic in nature. Even common actions like hand-shaking and saying hello are rituals.
In any case, an essential feature of a ritual is that the actions and their symbolism are not arbitrarily chosen by the performers, nor dictated by logic or necessity, but either are prescribed and imposed upon the performers by some external source or are inherited unconsciously from social traditions.(1)
A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And through the enactment it brings to mind the implications of the life act that you are engaged in … But you don't know what you're doing unless you think about it. That's what a ritual does. It give you an occasion to realize what you're doing so that you're participating in the inevitable energy of life in its exchanges. That's what rituals are for; you do things with intention, and not just in the animal way, ravenously, without knowing what you're doing.(2)Enactment of a myth, symbolism, imposed on the performers. Now that we have defined what ritual is, now we should begin to look at the place ritual has in Freemasonry, and what it does for the craft.
One thing that should be noted is that while ritual is the foundational means by which we form Masons from the profanes of the world, it is not the ONLY means of Masonic formation. Yet, in writing that, we must realize that it is the ritual that opens the door, and it is the ritual the effects the fundamental change in the psyche which makes a man a Mason. There are some men that have been made a Mason in a single day, and while they are good men, true brothers, it is the opinion of this author that such brothers have been robbed of a valuable and life changing experience.
Are these brothers any less Masons for not having personally experienced the ritual? No, of course not, most of them are active, wonderful brothers. None the less, the manner of their formation took away from them a fundamental awakening of the spirit which they may only achieve with difficult work and contemplation.
It is NOT the intent of this article to discuss the relative merits of one day conferrals, however, but no discussion of the importance of the ritual in the formation of a mason would be complete without at least a nod in the direction of this subject.
Ritual teaches fundamental lessons through symbols, on a subconscious level. This is a very powerful teaching tool! Masonry is something slightly different to every man, yet the fundamental truths are always there, and it is the ritual which speaks to the unconscious mind, which slips the fundamental truths of Freemasonry past the conscious defenses and makes fundamental and substantive changes.
So, why ritual? Again, quoting Joseph Campbell:
It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those other constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back.(3)Ritual then is the tool which speaks directly to the spirit, it is the three distinct knocks upon the portals of the spirit which cause the doors to open and spiritual eye to open and see more than the material world. By this awakening, we use the spiritual eye (reflected in our lodges as the “All Seeing Eye”) to behold Jacob’s Ladder, which rises from the material plane to the spiritual plane, and upon which we place our first foot, symbolically, in the Entered Apprentice Degree.
Without the Ritual, Freemasonry would just be another frat club, and would offer nothing more than the Moose or Elks or Eagles… material charity without a spiritual change.
Where, then, did the ritual originate? How did this ritual, by which we are so fundamentally altered, taught and spiritually nurtured, arise? That, my brothers, is the subject of my next blog.
May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.
- Wikipedia – English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual 2/26/08
- Mythic Reflections, Thoughts on myth, spirit, and our times an interview with Joseph Campbell, by Tom Collins, One of the articles in The New Story (IC#12), Winter 1985/86, Page 52 Copyright (c)1986, 1997 by Context Institute.
- The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell, Bollingen Series XVII, Princeton University Press, 1973, pp 11