Here’s part five of our MEGHP’s 10-part commentary on ideas to rejuvenate and restore Freemasonry here in Illinois, with a special emphasis on Capitular Freemasonry. These essays are based on Texan Brother Lance Kennedy’s, “10 Propositions for Texan Freemasonry.” You can read his whole article here.
This is one part of my 10-part series that I have been really looking forward to! Brother Kennedy entitles his point, “Enter the Mysteries,” and talks about how (at least he thinks, in Texas) he thinks lodges have become less proficient and even uncaring in how they confer our degrees and the reverence paid during our ceremonies. While I’m not sure if I would go that far, I have seen a remarkable “casual” attitude toward perfecting and portraying our degrees. Now, some Companions are learning new parts, perfecting ones they know, and really reaching out to give pointers to those who are becoming good ritualists. But there are just as many who hide a ritual book on the podium, under a chair, or sneak a cue card in their hand (and I’m just as guilty here as others!).
I think it’s fine to be struggling with learning a part in our degrees. We all are the imperfect ashlar seeking perfection and everything is a progress toward that goal. A Masonic mentor of mine once said, “There are three ways to do ritual. The way it is taught or written, the way you do it when you are practicing, and the way it gets done in front of the candidate.” How many of us, in the midst of our lines or movements, instantly realize what we’ve done wrong and it eats away at us for the next half hour? I know I have.
One thing I really like to see is when a Companion, who has mastered the recital and floorwork, really putting in some personality into their part. The Overseers in the Mark Master Degree are where this is commonly first seen. The Principal Sojourner’s part in the Royal Arch Degree — itself a marathon role to take on — can really present some opportunities for dramatic presentation. Think about this once you’ve become comfortable with a role you are taking.
And while our instruction is to confer our degrees as they are intended, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be thinking about possible enhancements and improvements. Once you get past how things “should be done,” there’s no reason why you couldn’t present a thoroughly thought out change to our Board of Grand Examiners for their consideration.
If you want to see outstanding Masonic ritual, I would suggest visiting one of our Masonic youth group’s conferrals. For whatever reason — a more supple, accepting mind? — these kids are almost always experts at ritual, floorwork, etc. I’ve never not been impressed with what the Rainbow Girls, Jobies, or Demolay can do.
One last pet peeve of mine: open ritual books on the sidelines during degree conferral. It’s fine to follow along as the degree progresses, but put the book down and watch what is happening. See if you can realize when something goes wrong or is done spectacularly well. Pick a part and follow along in your mind: Think about the words being said, the floorwork, the subtle movements, how the character interacts with others. In short, set the written book aside and experience the degree at a different level. Trust me on this.