The paper below is based on a talk I gave to Cantabrigia Lodge, Cambridge, on the occasion of its 75th Anniversary. This was way back in 1986, at a time when the media contained many items critical of Freemasonry.
In 1981 the Italian P2 Lodge scandal received worldwide attention. Stephen Knight's The Brotherhood had been published in 1984 - it contained opinion based on assumption built upon more assumption, all presented as proven fact. It contained Chapters with headings such as Worshipful Masters of Conspiracy, The Mason Poisoner and The KGB Connection. Also around this time there were the so-called TV exposÚs in which Masonic ceremonies were worked. These were the circumstances in which I prepared my Discourse to Cantabrigia Lodge.
THE ENJOYMENT OF FREEMASONRY
Among the huge number of books and papers on Freemasonry, dealing with great erudition about the origins, history, mysticism, symbolism and so on of this great movement there is apparently nothing written about the enjoyment it has afforded its millions of members past and present. A recent leaflet explaining the nature of Freemasonry to the world at large deals, quite rightly, with its serious purpose and good works and omits any mention of enjoyment.
The enjoyment of Freemasonry as a subject is topical because of the furore caused by the publication of Knight's book, The Brotherhood (in which incidentally there is also no mention of enjoyment). Apparently a question frequently asked by journalists pursuing stories about Freemasonry is "Why do Freemasons go to meeting after meeting, year in and year out?". One very senior Mason when asked this question had to think for a while and eventually replied "It must be because we enjoy it".
Why do we get so much enjoyment out of Freemasonry? What is it that provides the pleasure? Why is it that on the whole it is an activity which makes us happy? These are three varieties of the same question, which are worth trying to answer.
We can begin by considering the portrayal of Freemasonry in another of the media, the so-called exposÚs on television in which actors perform parts of Masonic ceremonies. We see them going through the ritual. They are stony-faced and word-perfect as they expound on the serious purposes of Freemasonry.
To refer to a few passages from among many which express the high moral and ethical standards which are the essence of Freemasonry:-
The actors in a television presentation state the high principles of Masonry as clearly as anyone could. What is missing, however, is that as actors they are not committed to following these principles in their lives whereas we as Freemasons most definitely are. It is our commitment to these principles which is the main source of our enjoyment.
There are only a few places in the ritual where something akin to or implying enjoyment is mentioned. To give just three of the limited number of examples:-
There is a considerable variety of reasons given by Brethren for their enjoyment of our activities. One said it is because of the order which prevails in our meetings. Another enjoyed the dramatic representation of mystical biblical teaching. Another relished the escape from the totally female company in his family life, including apparently the cat. Yet another liked the feeling of satisfying his curiosity about the various Degrees and Orders in Freemasonry. One Brother said he greatly enjoyed the work in Lodge because he had become a Mason after his father had died and knowing his father had been in the Craft had created a bond with him whenever he was in the Temple.
What came out most strongly was the enjoyment through the feeling of fellowship, for example through the variety of people in many different occupations we meet and get to know as Brothers. As Rudyard Kipling expressed it in his verse The Mother Lodge, which referred to his Lodge in Lahore:-
There was Rundle, Station Master
An' Beaseley of the Rail
An' Ackman, Commissariat
An' Donkin' o' the Jail,
An' Blake, Conductor-Sergeant
Our Master twice was 'e
A' 'im that kept the Europe-shop,
Old Franjee Eduljee.
The disappearance of external rank within a Lodge is a source of great pleasure to many, such as members of Army Lodges which are said to be the only organisations in which officers and other ranks can work and dine together without differentiation. Or again as Rudyard Kipling expressed it:
Outside - "Sergeant". "Sir". "Salute!" "Salaam".
Inside - "Brother", and it doesn't do no 'arm.
Another typical experience giving much happiness was that of a visitor to a Lodge in Jerusalem in which Jew and Arab Freemasons worked in perfect harmony in the Temple.
Perhaps the most powerful source of enjoyment is the warmth of fellowship - the fellow-feeling which comes from getting to know each other, from having been through the same ceremony at the receiving end and for most of us either from having conducted the ceremony or from being likely to do so in the future. A particularly notable expression of this brotherly fellowship occurs when mistakes are made in the words or actions of the ritual. As one Mason put it - "What is so marvellous is that the Brethren laugh with you, not at you, when you make a mistake". Again the comparison with the actors is worthwhile; they cannot have and therefore cannot convey the sense of fellowship we enjoy and genuine mistakes are professionally forbidden to them - hence the lack of humanity in television presentations of masonic ceremonies, which is quite contrary to what we have all had the pleasure of experiencing.
Let us now consider our Freemasonry outside the Temple itself, for example at the Festive Board. Curiously, our meal together was not given as a reason for enjoying Freemasonry. There seems to be a certain reticence in acknowledging the considerable importance for fellowship and well-being within Freemasonry of the time spent together at the dining table. We have all heard the expression 'knife and fork' mason; perhaps its invariable use in a pejorative sense and our wish to avoid any such tag being applied to ourselves clouds our view of the Festive Board. There can be no doubt that most of us do, in fact, greatly enjoy our meal together.
Of course, it is not just the food and the wine that make the Festive Board important. It is at the Board that we get to know one another and experience the friendliness of our Brethren in a social context. We are able to show hospitality to our visitors - which blesses those who give as well as those who receive. A Mason who travels a great deal greatly appreciates the warmth with which he is received in a lodge of Brethren, none of whom he has met before. The Festive Board provides an opportunity to learn of other Lodges, Provinces and much else which is going on in the Craft. We enjoy the witty speeches which are made - and when on the other hand a speech is unduly long or not so sparkling, why then we obtain pleasure from exercising the masonic virtue of tolerance.
It is interesting to learn from the 75-year history of Cantabrigia Lodge that from June 1918 to the end of 1920, i.e. towards the end and just after World War I, the brethren did not adjourn for supper. What effect did this have on the enjoyment of Freemasonry by its members? Perhaps not much over a relatively short period, especially when the atmosphere in the country at large was one of austerity. If, however, dining together is omitted for too long, much on which we depend for our enjoyment of Freemasonry would be curtailed or disappear.
It must have been considerations such as these which led to an alternative arrangement in Rudyard Kipling's Mother Lodge. Banquets, as he called them, could not be held for religious reasons but the lodge made up for it with a steady flow of conversation and libations until some, perhaps, were the worse for wear:-
For monthly after Labour,
We'd all sit down and smoke
We dursn't give no banquets
Lest a Brother's caste were broke
So man on man got talking
An' not a Brother stirred
Till mornin' waked the parrots
An' that dam' brain-feverbird.
There are other means whereby we enhance our fellowship and hence our enjoyment, for example at rehearsals and Lodges of Instruction, at masonic clubs and during Ladies evenings. Then there is the pleasure of meeting other Masons in connection with our work and through our involvements in matters domestic. Most of us enjoy exchanging information about our masonic activities and on occasion entertaining each other at our respective Lodges.
What unites us all and is the mainspring of our enjoyment is our acceptance of or indeed our obligation to pursue a set of principles which express eternal values of goodness. These values need to be asserted in a world in which many - too many - do not subscribe to them. It is a source of strength to know that others in business, commerce, the public services and other fields of human endeavour share these values and collect together in Lodges where they are expressed and impressed on newcomers to Masonry.
We see and take delight in a newly made mason's developing awareness of virtuous conduct while we ourselves, if we are true to our obligations, strive towards the goal of perfection. Of course we do not reach that goal. We have our faults, our doubts about some aspects of Freemasonry and probably have even experienced some unhappiness arising out of our masonic life - but this does not detract from the central goodness of the Order and its role in the worthy regulation of our lives and actions.
In the 7th Section of the 1st Lecture we are told that every approach to the high standard of Virtue "is a step towards perfection and happiness and any deviation therefrom has a tendency to vice and misery". This seems to advocate an undue emphasis on the pursuit of perfection. What is needed is a balance between the pursuit of virtue inculcated by Freemasonry and the enjoyment of Freemasonry. There is a mutual impoverishment in those twin pillars of our masonic life if that balance does not exist.
There is just one other facet which should be considered, namely the psychological basis of some of our enjoyment. The effort, even the painful experience, of learning for our work in the Temple leads to our enjoyment when that work has been done. Similarly with the light-heartedness of our relaxation at the Festive Board after the seriousness of our Labour in the Lodge. These are examples of the good psychology which stimulates our enjoyment.
In summary, it is evident that Freemasonry is a very complex system, consisting of numerous elements of very different kinds, clustered around the core of the purest principles of piety and virtue. The elements include fellowship, hard work, lighthearted relaxation, service to others through masonic and non-masonic charities, applying the principles of Freemasonry in our lives outside our Lodges, masonic social and sporting events - to name but a few. Surely, the reason why so many Masons go to meeting after meeting, year in and year out is because, in the certain knowledge that the central core is unquestionably good, such is the complexity of the system and the variety of its elements that each Brother can find his personal pattern of enjoyment within it.