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: ‘Making light of it’.
Charlie was sitting on Fred’s patio closely comparing the speed with which two droplets were slithering down the side of his ice-cold Peroni. He won his mental bet and as a prize awarded himself another Peroni. Fred meanwhile was emptying his mower box into the barrow so that he could gratefully limp off, join his guest in exploring the cold box.
‘How’s the Royal Arch coming on? Know what it’s all about yet?,’ jested a surprisingly jovial Fred, removing his bottle top with an accustomed ease.
‘There’s a reference in Chapter ritual about ‘want of light’. I thought it simply meant being unable to see or read the parchment but old Carl told me that there’s much more to it than that. When I asked him what, he just smiled and said “you must find the answer for yourself.” What did he mean, Fred?.’
Fred laughed. ‘That’s old Carl for you. He’s right of course. Only you can find the answer’.
He paused.‘There are several references to light in our ritual: “in the light of our mysteries”; “for want of light I am unable to discover” – mentioned twice I think; “Light – the predominant wish of your heart”; “for the same want I was unable to read its contents”… Yes, there’s certainly a goodly number of mentions’.
‘Mind you the first step in understanding or interpreting any of them is in Royal Arch’s ‘other half’, the Third Degree ceremony. We really need to understand that Degree properly if we’re ever to understand the Royal Arch. Do you remember the Charge? “Let me beg you to observe that the light of a Master Mason is Darkness visible”.
‘Darkness visible’ – that’s an odd phrase. What’s it mean, Fred?’.
‘It’s a phrase from Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ – “yet from these flames… is not light but darkness visible” Perhaps we can come back to that!’
‘It doesn’t sound my scene, Fred, but thanks all the same’.
‘The thirty or so lines of the Charge in the Third have been described variously as being the heart, the soul, the marrow, the essence, the core of Speculative Freemasonry. You can pick your own description, Charlie. Certainly the theme of ‘Darkness Visible’ has attracted the attention of many great authors over the years. They nearly all found that a complete book was necessary to express thoughts inspired by just these 30 lines.’
‘Best not go there, Fred.’
‘Our Charge in fact refers to three sources of light: ”that Light which is from above”, “this glimmering ray’”and “that bright Morning Star”.
‘Let’s try to disentangle them. “That Light which is from above”. What do you reckon that means’, Charlie?’
‘Well, give me a moment, The Candidate’s in darkness, right?. Must be the candle by the Master’s Chair.’
‘Very reasonable – but Charlie, could there be other explanations – say, the words in the VSL or perhaps divine inspiration? As the Candidate’s already been informed of three Great Lights in Freemasonry and that “the first of these is the VSL” it’s probably not that’.
‘I think the key is the reference to human reason. This suggests that it’s not a physical but a mental and spiritual light that’s being discussed. “That Light which is from above” may perhaps best be explained then as the guidance or inspiration that flows directly to the Candidate from the Great Architect’.
Charlie thought for a moment: ‘What about ‘this glimmering ray’ though?’
‘I think the clue here, Charlie, can be found in the remainder of the sentence – ‘you perceive you stand on the brink. etc.’ As the candidate is being asked to view an object in the Temple the light can only be a physical one and, in the prevailing darkness, the candle by the Master’s Chair is the only possible source. The word ‘glimmering’ (“to shine faintly and intermittently” ) is important. The flickering alludes to the frailty of human existence. Interestingly as only a candle flame has this quality ‘Grand Lodge’ doesn’t officially approve of any alternative such as a lantern or artificial light possessing a steady beam’.
‘The only other other reference I can think of, Charlie, is: “we lift our eyes to that bright Morning Star”. The phrase comes from Revelations (Ch. 22 v. 16):
“It is I, Jesus…I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star…”
Its inclusion was an over-sight by the 1816 Lodge of Reconciliation which removed all other references to a specific religion’.
‘I think we can sum up, Charlie, by saying that in all of Speculative Freemasonry the word ‘Light’ can have three meanings – the physical light that illuminates, say, a page or scroll; the inspiration or enlightenment that may come from reading that page; and, thirdly, the divine assistance that comes directly to a Mason from his Supreme Being perhaps in answer to a prayer.’
Let’s now see how all of this might help explain our Royal Arch ritual. Shall we remind ourselves of the phrases in question: “in the light of our mysteries”; “for want of light I am unable to discover”; “Light – the predominant wish of your heart”; “for the same want I was unable to read its contents”.
‘In that the aim of the Royal Arch is to seek the name and nature (really the same thing) of our Supreme Being – TTALGMH – through the revelations of His written word, we need to draw on all three interpretations of the word ‘Light’ each and every time it is mentioned in our ritual’
‘We need physical light to read our VSL, we need intuitive light to fully understand the words we read – so that we may the better approach our Supreme Being – and we then need the light of His Divine Guidance to give direction, meaning and purpose to our lives.’
‘That, my Charlie, I believe sums up the significance of Light in understanding the Royal Arch and indeed all Freemasonry.’
‘I feel just that little bit overwhelmed, Fred’.
Fred laughed. ‘Let’s just say that we have tried to make light of a very difficult subject, shall we, Charlie?. Perhaps another Peroni?’