True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Guest Editorial: Wr. Fred Milliken on Prince Hall Masonry

A comment from a reader of Theron Dunn’s Beacon of Masonic Light Blog writes:
Michael said...
These questions pertain to Masonry's interaction with biblical scripture, politics, religion and morals of every day life.

Brother, I'm curious: how do these square with the prohibition of discussing religion and politics in lodge meetings? Also, by requiring discussion of the Bible, how would you welcome a Mason (or prospective Mason) whose belief in God did not encompass the Bible? Again, I ask these questions because I'm curious, not because I'm inclined to argue.

The answer to your question goes way back in history. In fact you will find that many actions, styles and ways of doing things we do today not because of today’s reasons but because we have been doing them that way for so long that they have become part of the culture. As a Catholic I only have to think of my church. People ask, why all the statues, the stain glass pictures, the Stations of the Cross carvings mounted on the walls? It is because most people in early Christianity were illiterate. Written words were of no use to them. They learned from pictures and symbols, as did early Freemasons. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Many early Masons were also illiterate. Thus everything was passed down from “mouth to ear” and the lessons were taught by symbols with liberal use of The Tracing Boards. As time went on, the printing press was invented and more people began to read and write. Did these institutions change their ways? Did the Catholic Church then do away with their statues, engravings and stain glass depictions? Did Masonry abolish its symbols and go strictly with the written word? NO! WHY? Well these props, these accruements to the Institutions became part of the Institutions just like your arm is part of your body. They are the traditions of these Institutions and more modern ways are added on without removing them. Thus we have the age-old battle in Freemasonry, “we always do it this way.” More recent Protestant churches with a history of less than 200 years could start afresh without the centuries of traditions. Thus their architecture could reflect much less dependence on story and lesson telling through pictures and more upon the written word making their church buildings as some Catholics would say – “stark and bare”. And in Freemasonry some of the newer Appendant Bodies had less symbols and more lessons learned by drama or acting. Think of the Scottish Rite degrees here and how they differ from York Rite and Craft Lodge Masonry.

People have a hard time understanding this commitment to tradition and Masons are no different from the general public in this regard. To illustrate why I often point to the circular movement of vehicles. If I were to ask you why racecars go around the racetrack counter clockwise instead of clockwise what would you say? A good answer would be because that’s the way horses went around their racetrack. So why do horses travel counter clockwise (or dogs)? Would you believe it wasn’t always that way? Before the American Revolution all circular motion was done clockwise. It kind of makes sense that this would be the preferred style. But in our distaste for everything British in the late 1700s Americans changed all circular motion to counter clockwise. The birth of a new nation meant a separation from English ways. Now if I were to have the power to change it back, to pass a government decree that starting tomorrow all vehicles would now go around a rotary, all race cars, horse racers, all racing dogs, everything would move clockwise how popular do you think this decision would be? Well let me tell you there would be hell to pay. People would be up in arms. So ingrained in our culture today is the counter clockwise circular motion that to reverse or change it would be unthinkable. Why even when you go through the gates of Disney World the first inclination is to go to the right not the left.

But I digress with too much long-winded discourse. In regards to Prince Hall Masonry their style, their way of doing things is dictated by centuries of tradition. People forget how long Black Masonry has been around. Two Hundred & Thirty plus years is a long time to build up traditions and an ingrained culture style. In early Black Masonry Blacks did not have the freedom of association that whites had. Black men could not go down to the tavern or pub or coffeehouse or restaurant or movie theatre or dance hall or anything social like that at all. If they were free and unaccompanied by a white slave owner that was just not allowed. So how did a Black man meet other Black men? If there were no vehicles for Black association how did Black Masons recruit Black men into the Fraternity?

Well the one Institution where Black men, and Black families for that matter, could congregate was the Black church. Church gatherings were not prohibited by the dominant white culture of the time. And these churches were overwhelmingly Christian. Other religions within the Black community at this stage were unheard of. So the Black Mason limited in his areas of social contact recruited new members primarily from the church. Black Masonry tended to be poor. So most Black Lodges met at the church. The House of Worship was also the Masonic Temple. Thus did Prince Hall Masonry and Christianity become intertwined?

Because of this forced development style American Black culture and traditions emanated from the church and all Black activity became interconnected. Black culture does not recognize the strict observance of separation of church and state. Thus Black politicians and community leaders often came to the church to speak and influence people, Freemasonry and the church as we have seen were closely intertwined with most Masons coming from church membership, and Black Freemasonry was very community orientated working within the community for the betterment of the community. It was one big circle. Thus has Prince Hall Masonry become through its traditions very Christian orientated and very community charity orientated. But then again most Black development started with the church. Many Black ministers were community activists as were many Black Masons. I can remember growing up in the 50s and listening to Doo Wop groups who started and originated as church singers. Aretha Franklin and Della Reese were both first church singers before becoming popular professional paid singers. So what we can say about the Black community is that everything is interconnected. There is no sharp line of demarcation between what is one responsibility and what is another. And so Prince Hall Masonry is closed allied with church and political community life. It’s all one interconnected business or state of affairs with much sameness in thought and purpose. Everybody is on the same page. It lacks the diversity and variety of opinions and expressions of the white community. Thus if everyone thinks alike no one is there to object when Masonry is openly Christian because every Mason is a Christian. And it is not unusual for Evangelical Christians of Southern Baptist or nondenominational connections, who are the majority of Black Christian Masons, to openly express their Christianity in a manner not found in the more sedate, less vocal mainline churches.

But times are changing and have been changing in the Black community, especially since WWII. But as we have seen, traditions die hard. Northern Blacks tend to be more diverse today and Prince Hall Masonry there is drawing from many different cultures now. Less so is the South where Prince Hall still is closely associated with church and draws membership from the same.

But what needs to be noted here is, because of the interconnectiveness of this community, Prince Hall Masons merge their study of Institutions. Thus a Prince Hall Mason studying Freemasonry is also studying where Masonic thought and Biblical thought and political thought coincide. I for one think that many Mainstream Masons have forgotten how much of Masonic ritual comes directly from Scripture. We can find in the Biblical Books of Kings, Chronicles and The Book of Ruth, to name a few instances of this, much that is in the Masonic Monitor. And to point out this fact I don’t think can be construed as proselytizing Christianity inside the Masonic Lodge. So let me ask those Mainstream Masons who are reading this if they can tell me who Adoniram was and what was his involvement in the building of King Solomon’s Temple? Where can the man Boaz be found in the Bible, who was his son and what was his family lineage. These are all questions a Prince Hall Mason will know.

While there is mention of the Bible in Prince Hall Masonry and celebration of being Christian this is not the same as saying that other thought, other ways are excluded. It is only natural for those of like thought and belief to talk about their common shared heritage and lifestyle. But Prince Hall does not exclude other religions, races or creeds. There are some Muslim Prince Hall Masons. There can be other Holy Books besides the Holy Bible on the Prince Hall Masonic altar. Partisan Politics and sectarian religion are not discussed or debated in the Lodge. There is mutual celebration but the elimination of controversy.

So as we have seen Prince Hall has its traditions born of many years of separate Masonic observance forced upon it. Those Mainstream Lodges who have proposed a Prince Hall ~ Mainstream merger but only under the terms that Prince Hall practice Masonry the Mainstream way are asking Prince Hall to give up everything that has become common daily practice and tradition and that is not well received or a viable solution. Would you go around the traffic rotary tomorrow clockwise?

What we can do if we are Masons who practice differently is to understand what the differences are, how they got to be that way and if they are not my way then allow that they are another way of merit.


Anonymous said...

As an example of what I am talking about as far as interconnectiveness is concerned remember this; Rev. Jesse Jackson is a minister, a politician and a Prince Hall Mason.

Frederic L. Milliken
aka Squire Bentley

Michael Shirley said...

Thank you. That is a splendid answer. I am grateful.

Seeker of Light said...

Thank you for a very uninformative and educational post!

FLBIGDOG said...

Thank you. I am one that is in search for the light that will help me become a better man, husband, and father and i do appreciate the answers....Thank You

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