What does this strange word mean and why do you do it?
A catechism is a series of fixed questions, and answers, used for instruction. In Masonry we use it to teach new members about the ideals and philosophy that Freemasonry is based upon.
It is a dialog between two fictional Masonic brothers who have never met before. The one is trying to verify that the other is a legit member of the fraternity by asking open ended questions that the other must correctly answer. It is in old English and the language itself can be very confusing to new members. The questions can be as simplistic as “what color is the sky”, with a simple one word answer: “blue”. Or it can be as basic as: “what happened?”, followed by an entire paragraph of answer.
The catechism is broken down into three distinct sections. The first section recaps what happened to the candidate in the actual degree. The second is an in-depth explanation of the reasons behind these actions. The final section is a more general explanation of freemasonry itself.
New members learn this catechism through the help of more senior ones. This is also an opportunity to get to know the other members of the fraternity and become personally engaged. Freemasonry is a lifelong brotherhood, some might call it a way of life. The catechism is the first opportunity for many new members to truly meet their new brethren, and learn about their personal lives and what makes them “tick”.
It is also an opportunity to learn what the words of this archaic language mean. The students are encouraged to ask any questions that they might have, and explore the answers with the guidance and feedback from the more experienced, senior members of the lodge. After all, there is no one spokesman of Freemasonry whose word is the only answer. Each member is encouraged to find their own truth, even if that truth changes and grows as more knowledge is gained over time.
Different lodges have different traditions. In some Grand Lodges it is legal and encouraged for the candidate to use a “cipher” book, or even plainly spelled out text. While in others, such as the Grand Lodge of Texas, it is only possible to do the catechism work from “mouth to ear”. This means that the brothers need to speak and repeat the questions and answers. Nothing can be written down. Finally, some lodges ask the questions and the student has to state only the answers. While in other lodges, such as Austin Lodge No. 12, it is the tradition for the student to state both questions AND answers, thereby examining himself.
Once the student has learned the catechism to a degree that he and his mentor are comfortable with, he will have to repeat it in open lodge, in a called meeting, in front of his brothers. If they agree that he has recited it to a satisfactory level, then the student will be called proficient. Once a mason passes the proficiency examination, then he is eligible to take the next degree.
“So mote it be” is a ritual phrase used by the Freemasons, in Rosicrucianism, and more recently by Neopagans.
The word “mote” is an archaic Old-English verb and can be translated as “may”. Therefore, “so mote it be” means “so may it be”. The direct translation of the word “Amen” is “so be it”.
This phrase appears first in the Halliwell or Regius Manuscript, the earliest known document relating to a society of Masons in England, dating from the first half of the 15th century. “Amen! amen! so mot hyt be! Say we so all per charyté”.
Freemasons end their prayers the same way they did in 1390. The next time that you are in Lodge and say, “So mote it be”, you are reminded that you are continuing a 600 year-old Masonic tradition.
The question of why women are not allowed to join regular Masonic Lodges as full members often comes up when a married candidate considers putting in his petition. This is a very important question that unfortunately does not have a simple answer.
First of all, Freemasonry is a Fraternity. It is a brotherhood. This by definition means: men. If it was an organization exclusively for women, then it would be called a sorority.
The simple answer is that it is based on the Landmarks of Freemasonry. These are the foundational principles that all lodges must agree to in order to be considered regular and accepted by all other lodges. Besides a belief in a supreme being, is the idea that a Mason must be a man, freeborn, and of lawful age. This is based on historical and cultural beliefs that the man was the head of the household and responsible for his family. Women in Medieval and Renaissance Europe were legally assumed to be subject to their fathers, then to their husbands after marriage.
Even though it might be considered outdated by some, one must consider that organized, speculative Freemasonry is over 300 years old. The lodges follow the traditions and structures that were set into place back then and have only modified themselves in ways that are consistent with the ideas and landmarks of Freemasonry itself. After all, one of the landmarks states that there shall not be any inventions in Freemasonry. If one wanted to change such a foundational requirement and still be considered regular and accepted, then all other Grand Lodges throughout the world would have to pass a similar law.
Freemasonry is an organization that members can join of their own free will, by applying to it voluntarily. It allows members to be in an environment that is supportive and open-minded. There are few spaces in modern life that men are allowed to show vulnerability, masonry is one of them.
Finally, family and family values are an important part of a Freemason’s life. Freemasonry can provide men and their families with a fun and active social life with like-minded people from all walks of life. Freemasons are very appreciative of the support our partners and families give us as it is vital to our development as Freemasons.
Esoteric knowledge is intended for a small group of people, based on specialized interest or knowledge. It is confidential or private. This could include such benign info as RBI stats in baseball, or how best to replace a leaking faucet. However, most people use it to refer to what is commonly known as “Western Esotericism”. This school of thought groups a wide range of loosely related ideas and movements. They often include Judeo-Christian religion and Enlightenment rationalism. Examples include Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, or Neo-Platonism.
Occult knowledge is hidden or concealed. It is usually seen as magical, mystical or supernatural beliefs that are outside of religion and science. Occultism is often used to categorize such esoteric traditions as Spiritualism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Wicca, Voodoo, or “Golden Dawn”.
Would something as common as the Christian sacrament of eucharist (Holy Communion) be considered occult or esoteric? It would depend whether or not the participant believes that the ceremony would symbolically or physically turn the wine into blood and the bread into human flesh. If it is symbolic then the eucharist would be esoteric, but if it would be physical, then it would be occult.
The Battle of the Alamo (February 23 – March 6, 1836) was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna reclaimed the Alamo Mission near San Antonio de Béxar (modern-day San Antonio, Texas, United States), killing most of the Texians and Tejanos inside. Santa Anna’s cruelty during the battle inspired many Texians and Tejanos to join the Texian Army.
The Mexican Army under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had crossed the Rio Grande and attacked and defeated the small garrison at the Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar.
Among the nearly 200 defenders who died at the Alamo were Freemasons James Bonham, James Bowie, David Crockett, Almaron Dickenson, and Col. William Barrett Travis.
Buoyed by a desire for revenge, the Texians defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, ending the rebellion. Both the General, and first president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston and the Mexican General Santa Anna were known Freemasons.
While the concept of death does play a role in its usage, the Masonic application of the skull is not related to piracy or poison. Today, the skull and crossbones appears at Masonic lodges in Chambers of Reflection and in tracing boards used to teach Masonic beliefs and traditions. Freemasons sometimes refer to their fraternity as a “Gentle Craft,” and though the skull symbol appears grim, it has underlying layers of hope. Throughout history, the skull and crossbones has symbolized the concept of “memento mori,” which translates from Latin as “remember death” or “remember you must die.” In his essay, “The Symbol of the Skull and Crossbones and Its Masonic Application,” Brother P.D. Newman of Tupelo Lodge Number 318 observes that this remains true for the Masonic symbol, stating the the skull “stands as the primary reminder of the grim truth that death is ever immanent.” This reminder seeks to incite contemplation and reflection in life.
Why does the Worshipful Master of a lodge wear a hat?
The question should rather be: “Why does no one one else wear a hat?”
Wearing a hat in lodge is a privilege that is afforded only to the Worshipful Master of a lodge. While the lodge is session, no one else is allowed to wear a hat. The hat worn by a Master is a reference to the crown that was worn on the head of King Solomon. In history, kings wore crowns as a sign of their rank. Those in his presence removed their hats as a sign of respect to the king.
The ancient Romans prayed with their heads covered. Those that were free born wore pileus or woolen caps. Romans slaves were not allowed to cover their heads while praying.
In the United States, Worshipful Masters wear Masonic hats whenever a lodge is in session. Some Grand Lodges require that the hats must have a brim. Others do not have this requirement. They only insist that the head of the Worshipful Master must be covered.
The choice of headwear is left to the Worshipful Master himself. In England, Scotland and Ireland the tradition is that the Worshipful Master wears a top hat. This tradition moved to the USA when the first Grand Lodges were established in this country. Several Grand Lodges such as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia still follow this tradition. Other places such as Texas use more regional options. In Texas a nice cowboy hat is a common hat you will encounter. But in most Grand Lodges it is the choice of the officer himself, and can be as far ranging as a fedora, homburg, tyrollean, panama, sombrero or even a wizard hat. This allows the officer to use his creativity to display his own personality.
Why do Freemasons call the highest ranking officer of the lodge: “Worshipful Master”?
In ancient times, the word “Worshipful” meant “Respected”. Because a single Master Mason is elected by the members to lead them, he is given the title Worshipful Master to indicate that he is a respected Master Mason. He wears a hat to signify his position. No other mason is allowed to wear a hat besides him. This is done out of respect for his position.
“In the 1500’s such a title meant honorable and reputable; applying to a person who was distinguished in regard to character or rank; entitled to honor and respect. By the 1700’s, to call a man worshipful was an honorific and often temporary designation; applying to persons or bodies of distinguished rank or importance. When the title worshipful became attached to the word master, the two together denoted a man of great honor, integrity and learning who also had control or authority over something or someone.”
Robert G. Davis 33* GC
Freemasons use the terminology of stone masonry, geometry and architecture as symbols to illustrate the more complex concepts they want to instill in their membership. See the beehive that was discussed in a previous blog post. Another symbol are upright columns. They illustrate that Freemasons should always be upright in their moral conduct, meaning that they should not bend to societal pressure and compromise their beliefs.
Masonic symbology was used in past centuries, not due as much to Masonic secrecy, (as many people believe), but due to the fact that most of the world’s population was illiterate.
During the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and through subsequent centuries, most of the population, being working class, were illiterate or had only a rudimentary (basic) ability to sign their names, make their “mark” to signify their acceptance, or read simple words.
Operative stone masons would also travel to foreign lands to find work, and had to work with people who spoke many different languages. Symbols helped to communicate more complicated meaning amongst them. (1)
A popular definition of freemasonry is: “Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”
A related topic is the use of the terms symbolism and symbology. While they are related, they do differ in their meaning. Symbolism is the act of using symbols to represent the underlying meaning. Symbology on the other hand is the study of the use of symbols.
The first use of “∴” to abbreviate a Masonic title was August 12, 1774, by the Grand Orient of France, in an address to its subordinates. No authoritative explanation of the meaning of these dots has been given, but According to Mackey it is supposed to refer to the three lights around the altar, or perhaps more generally to the number 3, and to the triangle, all important symbols in the Masonic system.
The doubling of a letter is intended to express the plural of that word of which the single letter is the abbreviation. For example, in French, F∴ signifies “Frère,” or ” Brother,” and FF∴ ” Frères,” or “Brothers.” Similarly in English, L∴ is sometimes used to denote “Lodge”, and LL∴ to denote “Lodges”. Exceptions exist regularly; for example, Sovereign Grand Inspectors General is abbreviated as S∴G∴I∴G∴, and not S∴G∴II∴G∴.
The noted Masonic scholar Dr. Albert G. Mackey, 33°, used the phrase “three points” instead of the modern phrase of “three dots.” The following is how he deﬁnes the three points or dots in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry:
Three points in a triangular form (\) are placed after letters in a Masonic document to indicate that such letters are the initials of a Masonic title or of a technical word in Freemasonry, as G\M\ for Grand Master, or G\L\ for Grand Lodge. It is not a symbol, but simply a mark of abbreviation. The attempt, therefore, to trace it to the Hebrew three yods [ייי], a sign of the Tetragrammaton, or any other ancient symbol, is futile. […] it is probable that the idea was suggested by the sacred character of the number three as a Masonic number, and these three dots might refer to the position of the three oﬃcers in a French Lodge. […] A common expression of anti-Masonic writers in France when referring to the Brethren of the Craft is Fréres Trois Points, Three Point Brothers, a term cultivated in their mischief survives in honor because reminding the brotherhood of cherished association and symbols.