Younger folks may never have read the classic science fiction work by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, or seen the film made of it in 1966 by François Truffaut. It is a dystopian novel about a future society that engages, in part, in burning books (the title itself refers to the temperature at which paper burns). At the end of the story, a small community of dissenters is discovered who who have all dedicated their lives to memorizing the entire texts of books, and each one then recites theirs to a student to learn the same. Thus, civilization is preserved and passed on to the next generation.
Our predecessors who transformed Freemasonry into the modern fraternity we experience now had a distinct method to their madness. Secrecy was intended as a symbol of our honor, of keeping our word over something as trivial as a password or handshake. But, it goes hand in hand with our method (at least until recently) of teaching our ritual to each other.
While I have often facetiously asked in my speeches, "Who would voluntarily join a memorization club?", I do not in any way discount the vital importance of our traditions of passing our ritual from mouth to ear. Unfortunately, too many jurisdictions have given up in recent years and issued printed rituals that aren't even in cipher form anymore, but are fully printed out. Sadly, this is another loss of a foundation stone that is vital to the very essence of Freemasonry's initiatic experience. The relationship between student and mentor is one of the strongest bonds we can experience, and by printing out rituals, we break that chain and encourage the solitary study of our ceremonies in isolation. We give up these practices at our peril, and society itself is suffering from this kind of withdrawal from the wider community.
And here is why...
Brother Angel Millar is the author of The Crescent and the Compass: Islam, Freemasonry, Esotericism and Revolution in the Modern Age (2015), Freemasonry: Foundation of the Western Esoteric Tradition (2014), and Freemasonry: A History (2005). He has penned a thoughtful essay on the notion that initiation and memorization is actually the foundation of greater intelligence. It appears on the Phalanx website.
From Initiation: The Foundation of Superior Intelligence:
"...[A]ncient tribes passed on their knowledge and understanding through “oral traditions,” since they had not — until a certain point in time — discovered writing. Even after they had, memorization remained important. Even today, in the religion of Islam, for example, memorizing the entire Qur’an is still considered a great achievement, and someone who manages this is given the honorific (male) or (female), meaning “one who memorizes” or “guardian.”
Likewise, secret initiatory schools in the West sometimes continued to pass on their knowledge orally. Notably, according to myth, Odin discovered the runes (which served as both letters and occult symbols) after sacrificing an eye to the well of Mimir (“The Rememberer”).
Orators in the ancient world would mentally construct a “memory theater” to help them recall their speeches. The device remained substantially in use until at least the seventeenth century. The technique was to construct a building in the imagination, placing in it various objects that reminded the orator of certain things he wanted to recall. Then, when giving his speech, he would imagine walking through the building, to be prompted by the imaginary objects.
Somewhat similar to the memory theater, the esoteric society of Freemasonry, which emerged from the stonemasons’ guild in London in 1717, adopted the symbolism of architecture and spatial arrangements (among other things) for its ritual, giving, for example, the East, Northeast corner, etc., symbolic meanings related to the ontology of Masonic initiation and proceedings.
Even today, memorization remains important to the fraternity, playing a role in even the most basic procedures of the Lodge. New initiates are sometimes required to answer questions about Freemasonry, repeating specific answers from memory. And, more advanced, one lecture given during the second degree ritual — the “Middle Chamber” lecture — lasts about eight minutes, and is — or at least should be — recited from memory. (Notably, the lecture includes references to architecture, as well as to the seven liberal arts, which long formed the basis of education in the West.)
Take a few moments and read the entire article HERE.
The memorization technique Millar refers to is called the Method of Loci, or Memory Palace. A very brief description of how to practice the technique can be read HERE.