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: ‘The story unfolds …’
It was a mid-week phone call. Pleasantries over, Fred gently enquired if Charlie was any happier with his understanding of the Royal Arch ceremony.
‘Not really,’ said Charlie. ‘It is colourful for sure, it has a lively story and there’s some great prose in it but I can’t really see any structure. I still find it all a bit confusing.’ After a pause he added: ‘For a start, Fred, how and why does the Royal Arch complete, add to, explain or even improve the three existing Degrees.?’
Fred said gently: ‘Let us just ask ourselves one question, Charlie. How does the ‘compasses’ in the Third Degree Tools finish?’.
‘Compasses? Mm. I think, Fred, its “He will reward or punish as we have obeyed or disregarded his divine commands”.
‘Well, Charlie, as these commands form the basis of the morality underpinning all three Masonic Degrees the Third is remarkably silent about where these commands are to be found or, for that matter, the basis of their authority. Simply put, the Royal Arch ceremony provides the answers about which the Third Degree is so singularly silent.’
‘I now get that – but it doesn’t seem to follow the pattern of a Craft ceremony’.
‘Well no, Charlie, because these answers are set in a most enjoyable little morality play instead. The play is presented, if you will, in four acts. In the First Act the Candidate is of course Obligated but he is then provided with a parchment which suggests the source of those divine commands. He’s also made aware, in a very dramatic fashion at the end of the Act, of the true focus for all Speculative Craft Freemasons to follow.’
‘In Act Two, using the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple as a backdrop, he joins some Sojourners (or builders) sent from Babylon to Jerusalem who’re tasked with exploring the foundations on which the new Temple (and hence all Speculative Freemasonry!) is to be built. In a colourful and action-packed adventure they make some surprising discoveries, including a hint about the source of the divine commands and the nature of the Supreme Being behind it all’.
‘In the third Act the Sojourners report back to their Masters with their findings. These are of such great importance the Sojourners become handsomely rewarded and as a final gift the significance of their major discovery is shared with the Candidate.’
‘Act Four is purely informative and educational. Here the three Leaders take it in turns to give lectures on the historical, symbolic and mystical nature of the Order of the Holy Royal Arch. These are interesting background if a little wordy.’
The phone line was silent.‘Any help, Charlie?’, said Fred.
‘Gosh, so many thanks, Fred. I believe it says “From the want of light I was unable to discover their meaning”. You’ve shone a damn big lamp for me this evening!.’