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"The Treasure Chest of Freemasonry"

(A paper delivered in The Bahamas Installed Masters Lodge No. 8764 on 29th October 1977, by Ralph D Seligman, PM)

Worshipful Master and Brethren, you have conferred a signal honour on me by inviting me to deliver the first Lecture at the first Regular Meeting of this Lodge, the formation of which is a significant milestone in the history of Freemasonry in the Bahamas.

With the formation of this Lodge No. 8764, the senior members of the Craft in the Bahamas have made a meaningful commitment to further and support the spread of Masonic knowledge in this country for the edification of the members of the Lodge as well as the instruction of those of our junior brethren who take the advantage of attending its meetings.

In choosing as my topic "The Treasure Chest of Freemasonry", I propose to deal with the subject of Freemasonry as a whole in its broadest aspects, in the hope that I can illustrate some of the major signposts to those who might be encourage to open the lid of what is a veritable treasure chest of Freemasonry, and to delve into the vast store of riches therein.

Let me state concisely at the outset, that the treasure chest to which I have referred, is the vast numbers of books which have been published over the last two hundred years by every kind of Masonic (as well as anti-Masonic) author on every conceivable Masonic matter. I could not even venture to give you a full list of these books and I doubt if even the greatest Masonic scholars alive today could even attempt to do so - it is precisely for this reason that even a newly-admitted Entered Apprentice, by browsing through the pages of some rare Masonic book, might well make a discovery of importance which he might be anxious to impart to his Masonic leaders. Suffice it for me to say that he who wishes to find must first seek, and that there is a hoard of Masonic books in the library of Royal Victoria Lodge to which all of you have access.

Having indicated the lines upon which the furtherance of Masonic knowledge is to be pursued, and which will, it is hoped, result in some interesting and instructive Lectures being given in the Lodge on future occasions, I now propose to say a few words about some of the different Masonic subjects which can be pursued with both pleasure and profit.

A prime example which springs to mind is the much debated topic of the origins of Freemasonry - there are writers who espouse the most diverse theories which range from Adam, Noah, King Solomon, the Essenes, the Egyptians, the ancient Greeks, the Druids, and so forth, but serious Masonic scholars are all agreed that all this is pure fantasy. However, it is both curious and interesting to note that there were many ancient peoples who had an inner circle, usually consisting of priests, who claimed to have secret knowledge which was imparted to those admitted to the circle by a rite of initiation in which the Candidate usually gave a solemn vow of secrecy and was imparted the hidden knowledge by means of a dramatic ceremony.

Furthermore, some of the secrets imparted in many of these ceremonies could be alleged to bear some analogy or resemblance with some of the secrets imparted in our own Masonic ritual.

This is what has given rise to all these weird and wonderful theories but all that is proved thereby is that Freemasonry is not the first organisation or society in the world with secrets, initiatory rites and dramatic rituals. We have to continue our studies into other fields to discover the real origins of Freemasonry. In this respect, the published transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, London, which proudly and justly calls itself the Premier Lodge of Masonic Research, will provide all the presently available scientific information of how Freemasonry, as we know it, came into being; I will go so far, Brethren, as to state that no member of this Lodge can consider himself a worthy member of the Lodge who is not a member of the Correspondence Circle of the Ars Quatuor Coronati Lodge, and I can assure those of you who are not, that you are missing a great deal of Masonic enjoyment which the reading of these volumes will bring you on all aspects of Freemasonry and I urge you to put your names down for membership with our Worshipful master, who represents the interests of Ars Quatuor Coronati Lodge in the Bahamas; the very small annual cost will be more than handsomely repaid with many hours of pleasurable reading. It only remains for me to tell you that so far as the origins of Freemasonry are concerned, you will find that they are firmly embedded in the old operative masons' guilds of Great Britain.

Closely allied with the question of the origins of Freemasonry is the history of Freemasonry and this portion of Freemasonry's treasure chest contains some beautiful nuggets for those who would explore therein. Here again, the transactions of the Ars Quatuor Coronti contain a mine of information in this field, but for those who would delve deeper, if I may quote from Volume 84 for the year 1971 of A.Q.C at Page 2, 'the greatest work of its kind' is the History of Freemasonry by R F Gould, published in three volumes in 1883, 1885 and 1887. On a much less scientific level, but with more romance and sometimes fantasy, is Book IV of William Preston's Illustrations of Freemasonry, first published in 1772. To deal with this fascinating book would require a lecture in itself. The history of the Grand Lodge of Ireland has also been published by the Irish Lodge of Research CC of which I have the honour to be a member, and a perusal of these two volumes shows the close links between the Grand Lodge of Ireland from its inception, with the Grand Lodges of England and Scotland and I can testify from my own personal Masonic experiences how close those links are even at the present time. There are also many books published in the United States on the histories of the various Grand Lodges of the different States and all of which show the immense influence of the Masonic immigrants from England, Ireland and Scotland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The history of Freemasonry on the Continent of Europe is somewhat more difficult to trace for a reader of the English language only, but it is perhaps worth mentioning in passing that the Higher Degrees sometimes referred to as the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite are far more closely connected in their sources and development with France and Germany and that 'Scottish' is definitely misleading in this context.

It is noteworthy that the ritual of Irish masonry is not published in any book or pamphlet and is traditionally handed down orally and learned without even a single written note being permitted. Just to give you a few brief examples, let me firstly draw your attention to part of an Irish opening ceremony which is not to my knowledge embodied in any English or Scottish Ritual, and that is before the Worshipful Master actually opens his Lodge he says "Let the Wardens declare to the Brethren that it is my will and pleasure that the lodge do now open" which is followed by the Senior and Junior Wardens each separately saying "Brethren, it is the will and pleasure of the Worshipful master that the Lodge do now open". During this, the Deacons advance to each side of the Altar and face each other and when the Worshipful Master then says "Accordingly, Brethren, I.T.N.O.T.G.A.O.T.U., I declare the Lodge to be open and at labour, etc", the Deacons cross their wands as soon as the word 'open' is uttered and at the same time the Three Lesser Lights are lit.

Another difference is that the knocks in the Second and Third Degrees are different from those in England and Scotland and yet another is that the posture of the hands in holding the VSL in the respective O..Ns of the three Degrees is referred to as the Dieu Garde position (spelt 'Due Garde in Mackey's Encyclopedia) and is used in the Irish Constitution for purposes of examination only. As you are aware, these signs as such are not used in the English Constitution and in the Scottish Constitution they form part and parcel of what the Irish call the True Garde, Penal Sign, or salute which is given in Ireland more or less the same as in England, save that there is no r....ry in Ireland in the Third Degree.

Furthermore, the Royal Arch in Ireland is based on the legend of J. and is a very beautiful degree which also contains the P. of the V. - in England and Scotland the Royal Arch legend is based on Z. and in Scotland the P of the V is a separate Degree.

There are many other interesting variations in Irish masonry, but very few of them will be found in any book for the reasons I have stated.

I cannot leave the topic of Masonic rituals without remarking that it would be of the utmost interest to all of you to read as many of the so-called exposures of Freemasonry as you can - you will find them amusing and amazing!

I now turn to yet another corner of the Masonic treasure chest which is ordinarily called Masonic Jurisprudence and this deals with the Laws and Constitutions of Masonry in the different jurisdictions. It might be thought that this is a subject which should only be of interest to lawyers, but as a lawyer myself I can tell you that such is not the case because the Masonic laws are framed so clearly that they are readily capable of being understood by any mason be he lawyer or layman. The Masonic knowledge to be gained from reading these laws is considerable and just to give you one example, I invite you to read in the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England the appendix which describes and illustrates the Jewels, Chains and Collars authorised in English Craft Masonry and I am sure that you will be most interested in many of the Masonic symbols depicted thereby. If you should decide to pursue your researches into Masonic jurisprudence you could perhaps find out such interesting facts as, for example, that a Past Master of a foreign Constitution affiliating to an English Lodge can wear an English Past Master's apron, but not an English Past Master's collar or that a member of the French Higher Degrees is recognised by the United States but not by England so one can visualise a situation in which a French and English member may sit side by side at a meeting in Washington, but are technically precluded from talking to each other.

Since I have already mentioned the symbols in Masonic jewels, it is opportune at this stage for me to turn to one of the richest parts of the Masonic treasure chest and that is Masonic symbols. At the outset I should sound a note of caution because it is in this aspect of masonry that some Masonic writers have let their imaginations run riot and one can find the most fanciful, incongruous and even ridiculous explanations put forward by many Masonic writers for some of our symbols which simply cannot stand up to serious scrutiny. I feel I should also emphasise that most of the symbols used in Freemasonry have official explanations in the rituals of the various degrees in which they are manifest and it is generally the most sensible course to take these explanations at their face value. However, this should not preclude a serious enquirer from the pleasure of studying how many of these symbols have been used and interpreted in other cultures, other civilisations or in ancient religions, and indeed it can be especially profitable and instructive to search for reference to Masonic symbols in the VSL. For example, we read in Isaiah XLIV 13 "The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass and maketh it after the figure of a man..." Isaiah is here referring to graven images but it is an interesting parallel to the more laudable purposes for which the compass is used in Freemasonry. The compass is also referred to in the VSL in Proverbs VIII 27 where we read "When he prepared the heavens, I was there; when he set a compass upon the face of the depth". Here 'compass' is used in the sense of a limit or boundary which corresponds precisely to its symbolic meaning in Freemasonry.

Another more complex example is to be found in Deuteronomy XXV!! 5 :And there shalt thou build an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones; thou shalt not lift up any iron took against them" and there is another passage concerning Solomon's Temple in 1 Kings VI 7 "And this house, when it was building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither; so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was building". A PM of my mother lodge in Dublin wrote in a pamphlet that the reason for this was that iron was the metal used in warfare, whilst the altar was a symbol of peace and he cited ancient rabbinical writings to this effect. (Hebraic Influences on Masonic Symbolism by Bernard Shilman 1929).

There are, of course, many books apart from the VSL where one can read about Masonic symbolism, a prime example of which is Masonic Symbols by Rev George Oliver, which is a Masonic classic. In this book, Oliver expounds on numerous symbols, including aprons, cherubim, the circle, the East, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Divine Lights, the moon, Pillars and the number Seven, to mention but a few.

If any of you should become really attached to a profound study of this aspect of masonry, you will find yourselves involved in all kinds of highways and byways including archaeology, comparative religion, primitive art and possibly even a study of various fantastic and colourful writers on occult matters, many of whom made claims to Masonic correspondences, most of which were spurious. A number of these matters are dealt with in the works of the Masonic author A E Waite, who, amongst other works, wrote an Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and 'The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry'. Here again, a note of caution should be sounded, but in the long run an advancement can be made in Masonic knowledge as well as in one's general education, by reading these kind of books with discernment and a critical eye.

Closely allied to Masonic symbolism is Masonic philosophy and Masonic ethics, but when everything is boiled down to the basic essentials, the whole lot can be summed up in the concise statement that as Masons we should live by the Golden Rule and it needs no great or exceptional intellect to understand what that means. It is because of this that Freemasonry is not a religion and consequently there is no such room in our organisation for Masonic theologians, because we simply have no need for them.

It therefore follows that Masonic research is within the mental and intellectual capability of each and every one of us - all that is needed is a genuine interest combined with a healthy curiosity. I hope, therefore that these few words of mine this evening may help to stimulate that curiosity in some of you and encourage you to see not only for that which was lost but for that hoard of Masonic jewels which can best be described as that wisdom which is more precious than rubies. I ask you to appreciate that I have barely skimmed the surface of a vast store of knowledge which is an inexhaustible mine whose riches are there for the taking.

We have taken a brave step in many respects by venturing to form this Lodge - here in the Bahamas Masonic books and literature are not easy to come by and it will take a great effort to build up our own store of Masonic treasure. I look forward to many pleasant meetings of this Lodge in the future, and I hope that you will give me the opportunity to address you again on perhaps one or two Masonic topics in which I have a special interest.

Meanwhile, I would suggest in particular that some worthy Brother in this Lodge should undertake to compile a history of Freemasonry in the Bahamas because the little which has been published in this field so far is, in my view, woefully inadequate.

I thank you once again, Worshipful master, for allowing me to deliver this inaugural Lecture and I also thank you, my Brethren, for your patience and attention in receiving it.

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