A presentation with the compliments of
Masonic Study Circle
Kring Nieuw Holland
The opinions expressed are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect official masonic viewpoints.
Background to the Thoughts of the Month:
The Order used this opportunity to introduce the Order to the Dutch people in general. Not - with emphasis - to solicit for members, but to promote a better understanding of freemasonry, and to remove misconceptions caused by a wrongly perceived veil of secrecy with which Freemasonry was - and often still is - surrounded.
The following four articles -
What are rituals?
A society of men and
A personal experience
- were selected from fifteen which were written for radio transmission during the period 1967 to 1970 and which were later published in
MESSAGE FROM THE
(BERICHT UIT DE WERKPLAATSEN voor Vrijheid, Verdraagzaamheid en Broederschap)
Other selected articles will be presented from time to time
The articles were reprinted unaltered in 1981 by the Order of Freemasons under the Grand East of the Netherlands and are still accepted as representing valid personal opinions.
They were translated by W.Bro. Hank F. van Tongeren, for the general information of the brethren of the Masonic Study Circle KRING NIEUW HOLLAND and other interested brethren and readers.
Freemasonry works with initiations, symbols and rituals and it is this special method of working which not infrequently brings about misunderstandings among non-freemasons when they want to form an opinion about the Order.
A symbol, at least in Freemasonry, can be described as a material object to which a spiritual meaning as been given. We also know such symbols in every day life, even though in our society, which year after year become more technical and commercial, they fall more and more into the background. But there are still a few symbols such as the wedding ring, our national flag, and not to forget the cross, symbol of suffering and death, but also of resurrection.
Our society also knows a number of other symbols, called 'status symbols', such as the motorcar and a second house. In our country the last mentioned status symbol is of some antiquity. Merchants in Amsterdam in the 17th century already had houses built next to the river Vecht (a well known nearby river of some standing) as a sign that they possessed something very special for those days, namely a form of leisure activity.
Status symbols are a phenomenon of fashion, symbols in their own right are not. Symbols are allusive, they are evocative, they cause one to think, they promote spontaneous activity on a spiritual plane.
Take your wedding ring. Just observe it closely. Thoughts and ideas then arise of their own accord within you. The same happens if you, for whatever reason, do not wear such a ring; so strong has the ring, symbol of fidelity, become a common quality in our life.
And for every one of us the thoughts which arise within us are different. Also for two people who wear each other's rings. They are the same rings, but the thoughts of the husband and that of his wife when they look at their rings are different because they are not the same person.
The thoughts which arise within a person, be it a man or a woman, in respect of a thing are not always the same either. They can change by the day, even by the hour, because those thoughts depend on one's state of mind at the time. After 25 years of marriage one's wedding ring will be seen in quite a different way than after only 25 days. But it is not possible to say at which moment this ring will summon the highest emotions and will represent man's greatest values, because of the strength with which they emanate. Thus the meaning of a symbol does not remain constant: it always means something different for him who understands the language of symbolism.
Perhaps it has become clear to you that a symbol speaks in a silent language, that for that reason it does not cause hurt as the spoken or written word so often does, that it does not divide but forms a bond between people, just as the wedding ring between two people, just as the national flag between many people and the cross between very many people.
The symbolism of freemasonry is no different. Here too a spiritual meaning is given to material objects with the freedom for every freemason to interpret these symbols into thoughts and ideas according to his own insight and conviction. In this work method with symbols and rituals the great principle of freedom within freemasonry is anchored, a principle that has played an important role in the history of mankind. Freemasons have always stood in the forefront in the battle of mankind's emancipation - regardless of whether that emancipation was political or religious.
It was freedom with which freemasons became acquainted in their lodges, which encouraged them to obtain that freedom for everyone in religious matters and social life. That battle for freedom is still not won, because freedom continues to be threatened by those who try to force their opinions on religious or political matters on others as the only beatifying truth.
To do battle against these forces is nowadays perhaps less necessary than before, but vigilance remains imperative, because intolerance still flourishes in many parts of the world and also within our own people and in our own heart. The battle must take place in all these places; and freemasons' lodges are places where one can become proficient in the battle against intolerance.
The symbolism of the lodge supports the freemason in that battle. That symbolism has been borrowed in particular from the construction of buildings - which is no coincidence because the lodge is now the heir of the operative lodge of the Middle Ages. To that building symbolism we shall now return, especially to the symbol of the Rough Stone. It symbolises the freemason and it must be fashioned and smoothed with the tools of the builders to try and produce a Perfect Cube from it, ready to be fitted into the wall of the temple on which freemasons labour; the temple of humanity, which is the symbol of the brotherhood of men. Freemasonry is not concerned with the freedom of a few, but with that of everybody. To reach that condition is the aim of brotherhood.
But before humanity has achieved that freedom, much work has to be done and many sacrifices will have to be made.
The pre-eminent place where every man can be trained for that labour is the freemasons' lodge. The language spoken by those symbols is the language of freedom from oppression and dogma. It is the language of the free man, of he who works on himself to correct his own faults and shortcomings - not those of his fellow men. which, until the present day, is still considered the correct attitude to life and is the source of all intolerance.
From the symbolic labour on the rough stone of ones self symbol emanates a stillness, tranquillity and wisdom that appeals to one of the greatest attributes in men, the knowledge of self, because he who knows himself has found the way to a better future for others and for himself. This is accomplished through personal strength and through this strength is it possible to exert an influence on the course of history.
This spiritual activity is motivated by the symbol, that mighty expedient of religious and social thought.
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What are rituals?
Freemasonry works with rites and rituals. The value of symbolism we have already explained. But it is much more difficult to explain to a non-Freemason exactly what a rite is.
Our society is scarcely acquainted with 'rites' in their pure form. On the other hand primitive society was and still is imbued with it. Thus there still are birth- and marriage rites, fertility- and burial rites, and these have always been with us. Through ritualistic acts, through initiations, mankind went from one phase to the next; by means of ritualistic acts he was prepared for that which for him was a new and uncertain future.
Out of these primitive rites (which always had a strong religious character) an art form developed, and that is drama and theatre. By arranging a number of acts after each other in a meaningful context one creates a stage-play.
The rites of Freemasonry can be best compared with a stage-play or drama. That is, in the lodges a play is enacted, a play in three acts one could say. Namely when one is accepted as an Apprentice, is advanced to Fellow-Craft, and finally is raised to Master Mason.
But there is one great difference between that play in the lodges and the play one sees in a theatre. No members of the public are admitted to the play in the lodges, because the character of the initiation is against that. But for the rest there is a great measure of similarity between both kinds of acts. Two kinds of plays are known: the epic or narrative play, and the play that tries to involve the onlooker (a dramatic play) ..... but masonic rites can be best likened to a stage-play in its epic or narrative form.
One must always view an epic play from some distance. It is more intellectual than passionate. It attempts to bring a message to the observer. Consider for instance a play from the Middle Ages or the plays by Bertold Brecht, of whom it is said that he tried in vain to revive Freemasonry in East Germany.
The message which one tries to transmit by means of a masonic ritual to him who is being initiated is not Christian any more than it was in the Middle Ages, is not Marxist as with Brecht, but is generally humanistic and appeals to the feeling of brotherhood among men.
Through the intiatic process an attempt is made to awaken something in the apprentice, fellow-craft or master mason, and also again in those who carry out the ritual, even though that play or drama can be interpreted according to every one's individual nature - and that again is the freedom which characterizes each lodge.
But moreover it is not just a case of being permitted to interpret the meaning of the ritual individually, it is also a case of any other way being simply impossible, because one man is not like another. So it is with every work of art, whatever its nature. Freemasonry is also such an art form, one which is close to drama, which uses symbols and symbolic acts, which are rituals.
In the lodge, just as in a theatre, a drama is enacted with the hope that many may recognise themselves in that play, so that they will be purified and strengthened by it .... so that they may gain a better insight into the ordering, into that apparent chaos which is always present in and around us.
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A society of men
by Bro. H. Koops
Freemasonry under the Grand East of the Netherlands is exclusively a society of men. That means there is no place for women in our lodges. This often is one of the most important points of friction between freemasons and those whom we, for convenience sake, call 'outsiders'. About this exclusivity the wildest stories do the rounds, often with a vindictive undertones. And that is understandable, especially when nowadays the equality of women is generally accepted. Freemasons also accept that equality without any reservation.... and still the work in the lodges remains reserved for men.
But in the Netherlands there is a totally distinct form of freemasonry for women only, in the national organisation Ordo Vita Feminea Textura *, for which the lodges entertain a warm sympathy.
Additionally there also exists a form of freemasonry of which men as well as women can take part.
Why are no women admitted into the Order of Freemasons? There are several reasons, of which one is directly related to freemasonry itself. Throughout the centuries it has always been a society of men and the rite which has grown around this labour has such a pronounced masculine character, that an eventual adaption for women would cause it to lose its specific meaning and thus its value. With that, a piece of living cultural morality would be lost which has its roots in all great religious and spiritual currents of the past and which, because of its nature and despite whatever may happen, can always be assured of a place.
However, the main reason of the stipulation that women cannot become members of the order, is that freemasonry without emotionality (thus without open acknowledgment of an inner sensitivity) is simply inconceivable. And it is here where the greatest differences - even though often not clearly so - between man and woman assert their influences. For let us be honest .... it is, after all, a proven fact that a man in company of a woman is a totally different person than when he associates with those of his own sex. This has a simple biological cause and it would not be proper is it were any different. Biologically (and in many instances also psychologically) the woman is the reverse of the man. In short, in this lies the attraction between both sexes.
But in the experience, the undergoing of freemasonry, man must be able to be man, totally and unhindered .... he must be able to give free expression to his typical masculine sensibilities, give free reign to his masculine receptivity (and sentimentality has no place here) without, as it were, being forced to play a different role because of the presence of women. Emancipation, equality of rights, respect for each other have nothing to do with this.
The feminine spirit, her erudition, her intellect, knowledge, experiences of life, her place and importance in society, those are matters the freemason will not argue with; her equality, her often greater significance is simply accepted without question.
But the typical feminine and masculine natures, their very different sensibilities as expressed by the acquisition of impressions which, typically, belong to the greater cultural pattern, are things of the soul which remain the inexhaustible and mysterious source of the eternal division of Man and Woman. And it is the continuing concern - not to say the fear - of the freemason that this natural and indispensable division would be undone and, with that, he would fail to appreciate this fundamental phenomenon of life..... with all the respect, apart from courtesy and love, he gladly wants to give the woman as his partner in society.
* 'the life of a woman is like a woven fabric'
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About Ordo Vita Feminea Textura
A very personal experience
by Bro. F. Pannekoek
I would very much like to tell you a somewhat personal story. It has already often been said that the practising of freemasonry is a very personal experience.
It is remarkable to note the many different ways in which freemasons decided to apply for membership of the Order. Actually there are two categories.
One category already knew one or more freemasons in his neighbour-hood. Possibly he was attracted by their personalities, perhaps there was something that encouraged a discussion. But to find such a person in a country such as the Netherlands with some 6500 or more freemasons cannot be taken for granted.
That is why I belong to the second category, the category which in one way or another came to know the principles of Freemasonry but had no freemason in his circle of acquaintances.
It was in the early years after the second World War that I was appointed as a Questor (investigator) of the Liberal-Christian Student Union in Rotterdam and I found some brochures about Freemasonry in the belongings of my predecessor. How they came in his possession I never found out, but the fact that a large percentage of our members come from liberal-protestant background may possibly have something to do with that.
When during the Occupation it became known that it were the Jews and Freemasons in particular who were much despised in the eyes of the occupier. This at the time induced me to make a resolution to contact Freemasonry after the war. And so it happened that in early 1946 I came in contact with the then secretary of the oldest Dutch Masonic Lodge in The Hague, l'Union Royale which was constituted in 1734, which led to my initiation as Entered Apprentice Freemason in November of that year.
Meanwhile a good forty years have passed and should you ask me now what up to the present have been essential occurrences in my life, than I must mention two things. In the first place my marriage, and in the second place my acceptance into the Order of Freemasons. I purposely mention them so close together, to make plain they both belong to that small essential category of things which substantially influence one's life.
Above all things it is the atmosphere in the lodge which attracts me. The totally free exchange of thoughts on a broad range of subjects, whereby one can hear a number of opinions, where light is thrown on a number of view points, but where one also experiences unity and brotherhood, which are fundamental to all, and are based on the collective experience of rituals and symbols.
The freemason is someone who individually searches for truth. A lodge is, after all, a community of strict individualists. Nevertheless when it is a community with very strong mutual ties and thus can call itself a brotherhood, then, according to me, this is because one can always meet each other again on the basis of commonly used symbolism, regardless of how many different opinions may be held.
For example, notwithstanding the personal opinions we may hold in respect of the background to, say, the problems in Cambodia or about the present-day problems in Russia - and the thoughts held by freemasons on these subjects will have just as many differences and nuances as those held by non-freemasons - the freemason in addition will keep the symbol of the Square before his eyes, which teaches him to strive after a true and square relationship between men and fellow men.
It is the knowledge of each other's honest striving, with its falling down and getting up, which unites us into a brotherhood.
The lodge also is a collection of doubters. Doubters, in days of old and still so today, of that which is dished up to us as dogma in religious and other fields. Doubting since the days of old the righteousness of those religious movements who, by the exclusion of all other, profess the possess the truth, and who held that certain doctrines were beyond discussion. During the more than two and a half centuries old existence of freemasonry we had an advantage on that field, an advantage which presently is quickly being overtaken around us.
Doubts of old, and still doubting. A doubt which brings us time again to ponder, our selves in the first place, but also the phenomena around us. And to mirror ourselves against others, a brother, our fellow men.
It is this work method which causes the battery to be recharged again after a lodge meeting so that we can better and more consciously attend to the daily tasks which are placed on each of us.
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Updated: 15 May 2006