Category Archives: freemasonry

Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest secular fraternal societies.

Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its precepts (moral lessons and self-knowledge) by a series of ritual dramas – a progression of allegorical two-part plays which are learnt by heart and performed within each Lodge – which follow ancient forms, and use stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides.

Freemasonry instils in its members a moral and ethical approach to life: it seeks to reinforce thoughtfulness for others, kindness in the community, honesty in business, courtesy in society and fairness in all things. Members are urged to regard the interests of the family as paramount but, importantly, Freemasonry also teaches and practices concern for people, care for the less fortunate and help for those in need.

Haidt on the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Jonathan Haidt is one of my current favourite thinkers and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

In this TED talk he posits the possibility that humans evolved the religious impulse as an adaptation to assist group selection. In simpler terms, we are hard-wired to have transcendent  experiences because it makes us co-operate instead of acting selfishly.

Haidt uses the staircase as a metaphor for self-transcendence which should surely have resonance for freemasons who have taken their second degree.  He states:

The staircase takes us from the experience of life as profane or ordinary upwards to the experience of life as sacred, or deeply interconnected”.

Fascinating. Watch it.


In Our Time for Masons

Suppose you have joined freemasonry recently and are working through the three ceremonies of initiation, passing and raising. You enjoy their uplifting admonitions to personal improvement and want further reading, as it were, to broaden your understanding of the ideas presented in the degrees as well as the intellectual currents that informed them.

Reading, though, is so twentieth-century. You want to listen to easily digestible podcasts that deliver the thinking of top-drawer academics in no more time than it takes walk to commute to work. What you need is BBC Radio 4’s programme on the history of ideas, In Our Time.

What follows then is an entirely unofficial, biased(!) and personal list of IOT episodes you could listen to in the days immediately following each of the three degree ceremonies, with a general category to give a flavour of some of the ideas that inform masonic culture.

1st degree

Initiation of an apprentice Freemason around 1...
Initiation of an apprentice Freemason around 1800. This engraving is based on that of Gabanon on the same subject dated 1745. The costumes of the participants are changed to the English fashion at the start of the 19th C and the engraving is coloured, but otherwise is that of 1745. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Altruism – 23 Nov 06

Friendship – 2 Mar 06

The Oath – 5 Jan 06

Freedom – 4 Jul 2002

Progress – 18 Nov 1999

2nd Degree

The Seven Liberal Arts by Marten de Vos, 1590
The Seven Liberal Arts by Marten de Vos, 1590 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rudolph II – 31 Jan 2008

Alchemy – 24 Feb 2005

Baconian Science – 2 Apr 2009

Human Nature – 7 Nov 2002

Mathematics – 6 May 1999

Nature – 10 Jul 2003

Renaissance Magic – 17 Jun 2004

Science’s Revelations – 29 Oct 1998

The Royal Society – 23 Mar 2006

Pythagoras – 10Dec 2009

Virtue – 28 Feb 2002

Renaissance Maths – 02 June 2005

3rd Degree

English: Depiction of a soul being carried to ...
Depiction of a soul being carried to heaven by two angels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Death – 4 May 2000

The Soul – 6 Jun 2002

Masonic Culture

Politeness – 30 Sep 2004

The Encyclopédie – 26 Oct 2006

King Solomon – 7 Jun 2012

Paganism in the Renaissance – 16 Jun 2005

Empiricism – 10 Jun 2004

Toleration – 20 May 2004

Book Review: The Masonic Myth

The Masonic MythThe Masonic Myth by Jay Kinney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re a mason, this is the book to give your friends who ask you what freemasonry is. Well-informed and written with sufficient detachment to inspire confidence, the tone is neither reverential nor apologetic, and makes needed criticism of the institution where it’s deserved.

Familiar anti-masonic claims are debunked efficiently, placing their origins in historical context.

View all my reviews

The All-Seeing Eye

The eye within a pyramid: a symbol of an evil masonic conspiracy?

Actually, no. This symbol was used in European religious art as a representation of God. The eye represents God surveying his creation, reminding Christians that they are accountable to their creator.

That’s not a pyramid either. It’s a triangle representing the Holy Trinity.

Helsinki Cathedral

Pyramids, by the way, don’t really have much place, if any, in masonic art as the mythology of the masonic degrees isn’t located in ancient Egypt.

I found this particular example of the “All-Seeing Eye” not in a masonic building, but in a frieze at the front of the 19th century Helsinki Cathedral when I was visiting that city earlier this week.

I’ve seen the same design in a 17th century German church.

Ample evidence, I hope, that this symbol is not “masonic” in origin. It was obviously borrowed by freemasonry as a symbol for God because it was already familiar to people through religious art.

Further reading: