"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Saturday, April 09, 2016

Initiation, Memorization, and Superior Intelligence

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), FreemasonryFoundation 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 Hafiz (male) or Hafiza(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


  1. Few Masons today know, understand, or appreciate the psychological impact that Freemasonry is intended to have on it's members. Memorization, at the very least, teaches the skill of focusing the mind. This skill is vital to self education. A man who lacks this skill is at the whim of those who wish to manipulate him.

    Focus is only one of many skills that Freemasonry is intended to impart on Masons. What a pity that our Fraternity is being dis-assembled by those who have not learned it's lessons.

  2. Cool, creative article. It's interesting and educational to see two authors of esoteric Far Eastern and Indian traditional backgrounds find a link with Freemasonry. It reminded me of the earlier efforts of Brother Albert Pike.

    Interestingly enough, many years ago, it was as a young member of AMORC that I first became interested in joining the Masonic Order after reading and memorizing (in my opinion) the best short description of "Initiation" ever written because I believed, at that time, Freemasonry could give me what I read in that short description. And I was not disappointed.😀

    Here's the description: "Initiation brings into the realm of REASON, the PURPOSE, and into the realm of the EMOTIONS, the SPIRIT of one's introduction into the MYSTERIES. -by H Spencer Lewis, modern day founder of AMORC.☺

  3. Thanks, it was interesting, but it could have been longer in my opinion. I would still like to understand more about a relative who I understand attained 32nd. Does that mean his skill in memorization?

    1. No. From personal experience I can tell you that memorization is not necessary in achieving the 32nd degree in the Scottish Rite.


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