Masonic Customs: Then and Now
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A discussion of relevance regarding Masonic Customs in the 21st Century

presented at the
59th Annual Midwest Conference on Masonic Education, Omaha, Nebraska
April 26, 2008
R:.W:.B:. Tim Couch, DDGL 34th Masonic District of Missouri

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Good morning Brethren. I bring greetings from the Masons of the great State of Missouri.

When I was first approached about speaking at this conference I was handed a stack of research and a list of web sites, and I was told my topic would be “Masonic Customs – Then and Now.” It seemed pretty straightforward at the time, a twenty minute presentation on the customs of Masonry through the ages. So, I began reading the research and browsing the web sites and taking notes and organizing my thoughts. And then, I came across this: “One ancient regulation forbade Masons from partaking in games of chance except at Christmas time.”

And I thought......why? Why, if Masons were forbidden from gambling would they be allowed to partake at Christmas time? I racked my brain to come up with a reasonable explanation for this regulation. I searched the Internet but that was it, just that one sentence with no elaboration and no explanation. I knew there had to be good reason for it, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it might be. Finally, I said to myself, “Mine is not to question why. Our ancient Brethren had good reason for it and that’s all that matters,” and I moved on with my research.

But that little “why?” kept coming back to haunt me. I found myself asking “why?” every time I read of another custom. It’s easy enough to understand why from a societal or organizational point of view. Our customs, whether societal or Masonic, teach us the proper way to behave. But, Freemasonry is also about improving ourselves as individuals, so there had to be more to these Masonic customs than merely learning proper behavior. There had to be hidden lessons, secret meanings. So, I began to dig deeper and some interesting things revealed themselves.

Masonic Customs, to cast a wide loop, encompasses every public and almost every private interaction between two or more people. We’re going to break down these interactions and view them from a Masonic standpoint using the three steps delineated upon the Master’s carpet.

On the third step, the top step is our Masonic ritual. When performed properly Masonic ritual is a beautiful thing. We use it during the Degrees to bring increasing amounts of Light to our candidates, and we use it to transmute the Lodge from one tiled state to another. Every word, every pronunciation, every enunciation matters; every step is measured and precise; every movement prescribed. At least that’s the way we do it in Missouri. I can only presume that’s how you guys do it as well.

On the second step we have Masonic decorum. These are our ceremonies or demonstrations which, though performed in public, have specific rules or guidelines as to how we are to behave. These would include Masonic funeral services, the open Installation of Officers ceremony, the honoring of distinguished Brethren, and others. Although Masonic decorum has specific guidelines of behavior these guidelines are not fixed as is our ritual. They can be altered to suit the situation or circumstance.

And then on the lower step we have what we will call our Masonic manners. These are exactly as they sound: saying please and thank you, waiting to be recognized before speaking, not interrupting while someone else is speaking, ladies first and monkeys last as my wife says. Basically, Masonic manners are the same manners that Mom and Dad drilled into you as a child, the same manners that in today’s increasingly casual society we witness less and less.

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