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Monday, January 28, 2008

Br. John Ford's Thoughts On The Third Degree

Brother John Ford is a Steward at Piable Lodge No.192 in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. Brother Ford recently posted a series of responses to a paper presented online by Brother Phillip Carter, entitled The Desaguliers Code, on The Checkered Pavement Masonic Forum. Br. Carter's paper is worth an extended scrutiny itself, but Br. Ford's response makes a unique series of connections concerning the development of the 3rd degree in the 1720's.

It reads, in part:

If one is to take a holistic and more meaningful view of the geopolitical issues of the early 18th Century, the Brethren associated with the early days of GL would, I contend, be more concerned perhaps with what 'is not said' - in other words, with concepts and perceptions - that which is not written down on some obscure parchment. That they were so concerned is evidenced by the act of gaining the support of the Duke of Montagu who became fifth GM. The effect of his becoming Grand Master, a fact advertised in the daily press of the period, was that the Craft leaped into popularity, its numbers increased, and new lodges were rapidly constituted (1923; Bro. Lionel Vibert, Past Master Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, England http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/history/
). All of which adequately demonstrates how perceptions may be manipulated through the power of the printed word.

So, the question may be asked - what was the impetus behind the adoption of the 3rd Degree and the Solomonic myth? Almost certainly such adoption had to do with concepts and perceptions.

The Hiramic legend, which encompasses the story of the building of KST and the columns, is not a new invention dreamed up by our ancient Brethren. The literature is replete with stories about some extraordinary man who rises above the mundane existence of life and death only to usher in a more glorious existence (Jones, 1950: 318). Indeed, the universality of this myth all but guarantee its inclusion in any new adventure - and, given the constraints imposed by the geopolitical climate of the 17th and 18th Centuries - almost a natural progression. Having gone down the path of Deism, and to escape the religious intolerance of their day, a legend was needed to do what the Christian Bible could achieve - to impress upon others, the uninitiated, the truth of some future existence and the moral imperatives attached thereto. It was also obvious that the two degrees, Apprentice and FC, could not achieve this end - something more was needed.

What I am suggesting here is that having moved away from the turmoil of conflicting religious beliefs our ancient Brethren adopted a myth of their own to explain what they had now left out - they had to replace the words on the page left out when they embraced Deism. Quoting from Jones again - The Candidate, invited to reflect on the peculiar objects of the Third Degree, is taught that death has no terrors equal to the stain of falsehood and dishonour (1950: 319).

My hypothesis is that a myth inculcating ethical concepts had to be included as the Order moved away from Operative Masonry towards Accepted or Speculative Masonry. Without access to 'Christianity' per se a new myth had to be created to support the pillar of morality - a pillar that required no particular link to 'Religion' when the era was not conducive to a participation in religious debate being perhaps the most irreligious of times. Yet, the Order had to impose some form of moral order - a moral order without appealing to some 'Religion' - yet such moral order, or code, had to be free standing without inferring some religiousity.

Without some type of moral code anyone could have joined the Order - and that's what our ancient Brethren decided not to facilitate - the space for some opportunist to turn the order into a religious or political assembly - their aim was provide the atmosphere where men or high morals could meet without feeling threated from the antogonist in that bellicose age.

The Hiramic legend does this rather well. Such a legend not only connects with a common inherentance, the stories found in the Bible, but with something outside of the doctrine and dogma of the prevailing religion of their day - Christianity.

Hence, it is of no surprise that they are many roads that lead towards the adoption of the legend of Hiram - the myth achieves what all myths set out to achieve - a metaphor by which the inculcation of moral and ethical beliefs though reading the words of the page - or, in the case of FM, through enacting the ritual of the Third Degree.

If I am anywhere near right then I stand in awe at the skill of those ancient Brethren who saw so clearly their task ahead."

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