[Square & Compasses]    

Remarks delivered as the Visitor's Toast at Godolphin Lodge No.7790, Cornwall UK, 18th August, 2005.

Diversity in Freemasonry?

© Bro. J.J.P. Goody , M.Phil., B.Ed.(Hons), C.E.

Brethren, why do we as Masons place so much value on, and make so much effort to "Visit" another Brother's Lodge? Perhaps, it is simply the friendship, camaraderie and enjoyment that we experience, perhaps, as we search for further meaning in our Masonic understanding, or is it the esprit de corps, of shared experiences, shared challenges and the collective difficulties overcome in mastering the ritual. For many, one of the most interesting facets of "Visiting in Freemasonry", lies in examining the structure, layout and ornamentation of another Brother's Lodge. Coupled to this, is the pleasure of observing the different interpretations, which have developed over many years, in delivering the ritual. As we learn in the first degree, Freemasonry is a peculiar system morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

These symbols are predominantly architectural, celestial and spiritual in character. They are an interesting amalgam of the Egyptian, Israelitish and English Gothic traditions. Alongside these icons, there exists, with a close and curious parallel, the literature. Each carries a rational content inside their artistic form. Whilst the images are essentially uniform, regular and orthogonal in nature, emphasising for example, the perpendicular; the literature reflects a fondness for the technical, using mostly old and out of the way vocabulary. There is a distinctive operative craft bias in the text, which is interspersed with ungainly and odd sounding phrases. And yet, this archaic and obtuse literature is both philosophical and remarkable. We all have our favourites piece, whether it be the 2nd degree working tools, or Charge at the NE corner - both pieces of which are at one, prosaic, profound and poetical.

Brethren, we have a most interesting juxtaposition; uniformity, regularity, precision and ornamentation in the allegorical images we find in the temple; contrasted to a style of literature, drawn from diverse styles and forms; for example - craft masonry, architecture, legal traditions, theology and the philosophical. And yet Brethren, despite the obvious irregularity, there is a coherence to the content, and we marvel at how the ritual can vary from the ungainly to the graceful.

Brethren, is irregularity so unusual in Freemasonry and should diversity be condemned? Perhaps, you may think, the text should reflect the same uniformity and orderliness of the imagery and icons? Brethren, I would suggest not, in architecture cunning irregularity is both the norm and of enormous worth, for example in visiting a local church we may discover that

"...the carved leafage of some capital or spandrel strays freakishly out of bounds with its Gothic mouldings; or the enrichment of a string course in the building is not accurately spaced, or there was a sudden blank in a wall, where a window was expected from formal measurement." (T. Paulin, 2001).

And so within the ritual and imagery of Freemasonry we find the unforeseen and unexpected, the text stresses principle rather than structures syllable. It overlays the symbols with poetic texture rather than poetic veneer, it emphasises the profound rather than the inconsequential. Brethren here in, I would suggest to you, lies the value of "Visiting" another Brothers Lodge. Not only are we challenged by the different symbols we see, and the ritual we observe, but most importantly, we learn that diversity and individual interpretation, is the norm in Masonry, it is fundamental to the Craft, and to us, as individuals in promoting our daily advancement in Masonic knowledge.


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