Fred and Charlie are mere fictional creatures drawn from within my fevered brow, writes their creator Michael Lee, an experienced Freemason from Wiltshire. Their relationship, if any, to known human beings is entirely accidental. If inadvertent identification has been alleged then the parallels about monkeys randomly typing Shakespeare come easily to mind.
When trying to discuss many Masonic themes there is rarely a Stygian black or a pure Snow White – there is just a palette of shades of grey (considerably more than fifty, I might add!). In a monochrome one-person-me-write-your-read type of article discussion tends to be wordy and, frankly, often unconvincing. I decided many moons ago that to hold the attention of my Lodge of Instruction I needed to devise a dialogue format. In Masonic brotherhood sharp opposites aren’t appropriate so a complementary pair had to be envisaged. What better way than to make the protagonists two masons with which my Lodge of Instruction could identify – enter stage left a Past Master who doesn’t know it all but knows where to find it and, enter stage right, an enthusiastic younger mason who has an enquiring mind and a thirst for knowledge.
The choice of names – Fred and Charlie – came straight from an article written in another lifetime about the C13 builders of Salisbury Cathedral. Fred’s been a Freemason for a couple of decades; Charlie’s much younger and newer to it. They’ve struck up a friendship, and this series will allow us to eavesdrop on their Masonic communications. This month: ‘A staff appointment’.
Charlie called in to have a chat. He was blessed (or cursed?) with an ever-enquiring mind. Indeed, invited to say whether the Pope was a Catholic, he was well able to create a full-scale debate on the topic without a single hat being dropped.
‘Fred, I must be a pain with all my questions. Tell me, where do you get all your patience from…and just where do you get your satisfaction as a Preceptor, eh?’
Fred enjoyed his charges asking questions – in fact the more the merrier, shows they had a real interest in their Masonry. ‘Well, Charlie, my satisfaction? Largely because our Royal Arch ritual is the real deal. It’s based on – indeed the words are largely lifted from – the King James Bible. We spoke of Isaiah. He was the great Prophet of the Babylonian exile and inspired Zerubbabel as we know. Oddly he also inspires me as a Preceptor. In fact he wrote (*):
“From now on I show you new things,
Hidden things you did not know before.
They were not created long ago but in this very hour;
Before today you had never heard of them
You cannot claim, ‘I know them already.”
”This surely persuades any Preceptor worth his salt to share what little knowledge he has with those who ask…so what what was your question? You always have one!’
‘Well, funnily enough, Fred, I do. There are twelve ensigns on the floor apparently of equal importance. Why is the Banner of Judah always chosen as the staff of office for the Candidate?’
‘Basically, Charlie, at the time the Temple was rebuilt, of the original Twelve Tribes Judah was so to speak the last man standing’ .
‘Why, Fred, what had happened?’
‘After the Moses reached the ‘Promised Land’ the Twelve Tribes slowly dispersed around the region well away from Jerusalem. Dan and Asher, for example, went north towards Damascus, Manassah occupied the Syrian Golan Heights, Reuben drifted south east-wards beyond the Dead Sea, Simeon stayed in the south west. Judah and Benjamin alone remained close to Jerusalem and Jehovah’s Temple’.
‘Worse was to come. Away from the Temple the Tribes gradually became disobedient, disloyal, intermarried and – disastrously – began to worship other gods. Jehovah’s vengeance was dramatic and absolute. He ended his Covenant with them. The northern tribes (called Israel) were vanquished by the Assyrians in 722 BC and deported, never to return. The southern tribes (known as Judea and including Judah and Benjamin) were later dispersed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC as our story tells us. However Judah alone was shown mercy because, although once disobedient and fractious, its Prophets ensured it remained faithful to Jehovah throughout their exile in Babylon’.
‘As the most loyal and devout of the Twelve Tribes it was therefore Judah that was selected by Cyrus to rebuild the Temple, a temple built appropriately enough by their forefathers five hundred years earlier. All other Tribes had worshipped false gods and being unworthy their mere presence would pollute Jehovah’s house on earth. For the Candidate to assist in this work his staff of authority could therefore only be from the resident Tribe, that of Judah’.
‘I didn’t know all that, Fred’
‘Few do, Charlie’.
‘Well, Fred you began our chat with a bit of Isaiah. In return let me offer my Preceptor a verse of a Psalm (**):
“Thy word is revealed, and all is light;
It gives understanding even to the untaught.
Thy instruction is wonderful;
Therefore I gladly keep it.”
Fred roared with laughter. ‘Oh, well done, Charlie, you’ve topped me this time. I’ll really have to smarten up my act before we meet again…’
* Isaiah. 48 v.6
** Psalm 119 v.129