It is obvious that Freemasonry impacts the lives of those that become involved, though it impacts each life differently; what one Freemason gains from the Craft is sometimes very different from what another Mason gains. I was talking to a fellow brother concerning the different ways we get inspiration and meaning from Freemasonry, a conversation which many Freemasons have probably had over the years.
For me there is a spiritual meaning in the way we acknowledge the Great Architect, and how the teachings follow a moralistic pathway. The initiatory experience could certainly be seen as spiritual, with the way that initiation has been vital to societies and religions dating back to the earliest recorded times. In my recent book The Lost Rites and Rituals of Freemasonry, I discuss how certain Masons used Freemasonry as a gateway to explore other ways of contacting the Divine, these Masons embracing the spiritual values of the Craft and creating further degrees to search for the Divine. The lodge room as sacred ground still reverberates with us, with the theme of architecture embodying the Divine.
This certainly entwines with an educational meaning; the pathway of learning from Entered Apprentice to Fellow Craft, then to Master Mason, each degree making a good man better, making him more professional in his outlook. We learn from the working tools how education is important, and we learn the ritual, not just to perform it better in the ceremony but to understand it better. It is not surprising that Freemasons support education in their society, with many lodge records showing donations for local schools, colleges and libraries.
And education certainly entwines with charity as a meaning of Freemasonry, not just in the way that Freemasons mutually support each other in the lodge but also in the way they support their communities, donating to hospitals, hospices, care homes and many other worthy causes. Charity has been a focus of Freemasonry for centuries, with evidence of charitable giving in the eighteenth century.
Be it esoteric meanings of a spiritual nature, education, moral improvement, charity or just a meeting place with like-minded people, Freemasonry does mean many things to different people. This is the philosophy of Freemasonry; to make the world a better place, something that many Freemasons have tried to do from George Washington to Edward Jenner. This we can learn from our ritual, a deeper understanding of how to improve the world around us.
Many thanks to Patrick J Doherty for the image.