Jim Tresner, 33°, G.C.
Myth and ritual are the lifeblood of Masonry. We teach by means of ritual, and what we teach are the essential lessons encoded in the great myths. A very important word of warning: in our materialistic world, we have come to regard myth as a rather feeble attempt on the part of a pre-scientific people to explain the world around them. Thus, one person of my acquaintance sneers with lofty lip at the poor ignorants who had to make up the myth of Noah’s Flood to explain the rainbow -- when his more clear-sighted mind knows it to be a simple matter of refraction of light. In his colossal arrogance, he, of course, completely misses the point.
The story of the Flood is not an attempt on the part of a pre-scientific buffoon to explain the rainbow. It is a great epic explaining the relationship of man and God, and man’s attempts to understand that relationship. It deals with the deepest realms of human hopes and fears, having little to do with either floods or rainbows. Myths transmit truths, not facts. Rituals codify those myths and allow us to act them out so that we can learn in the only way such learning is really possible: by participation.
The books this month are not newly printed, but they are books of which
the new Scottish Rite Mason should be aware.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, first pub. in 1949, Hardcover, 416 pages, $9.98 (ISBN: 1567311202)Myth and ritual lie at the heart of humanity and are expressions of that humanity. They give shape and definition to Masonry and are essential to who we are and what we do as Masons. These two books may help make that Masonic experience even rich and more meaningful.
Personal opinion: next to Morals and Dogma, this is the single most essential book for a man who wants to understand Masonry and the Scottish Rite. Campbell brought the insights of the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung to the study of the great patterns in mythology. In this book, he concentrates on the Hero -- the man who goes on a quest to benefit others and in the process is forced to confront his own true nature. In doing so, the Hero develops power, wisdom, and insight.
As you read the book, it is easy to see the relationship to Masonry, especially in the Blue Lodge Degrees but also throughout the Scottish Rite. The Hero has companions on the trip who help him (the Stewards) but who are forced to abandon him at a critical juncture. He is lead by a wise elder (the Senior Deacon), and usually (in the heart of the experience which is always a form of initiation) he encounters the father-figure (the Worshipful Master). From that figure, he receives instruction and the ability for insight and awareness. He is transformed -- sometimes physically, always mentally -- by the experience. The three elements of the mythic journey are the departure, the initiation, and the return. It is easy to see the structure of the Masonic Degrees in the terms Campbell uses.
It is not a difficult book to read. Campbell is a great storyteller, as those who saw his program The Power of Myth on PBS can attest, and he is telling some of the greatest stories of all time.
From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives, by Robert Fulghum, 1995, hardcover, 273 pp., $20.00 (ISBN: 0679419616)
You may be more familiar with Fulghum as the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. This book is written in the same relaxed comfortable style of a chat with an old friend. He is speaking of ritual here in its largest sense as well as its narrowest -- the actions of our lives with which we define ourselves and the world around us. Ritual, like myth, is a matter of identity. It is important because many people simply do not understand why Masonry insists on ritual and the ritual experience. Yet, as Fulghum clearly shows by example and illustration, without rituals we are at sea.
He also shows that ritual arises out of our own humanity -- to be human is to be a ritualistic being. Far from being something strange and foreign, ritual resonates to our very selves. Not all ritual, and not always, of course. Most of us have had the experience of suddenly encountering a word or gesture in ritual -- whether it is the ritual of the church, the ritual of government as at an inauguration or patriotic celebration, the ritual of the Masonic Degreees, or our personal daily rituals of getting ready for the day or ending our day’s work, or the special rituals of our lives such as birthdays and marriage -- which suddenly stirs deep memories and emotions.
Fulghun began his thought and research for the book by writing down some ides which seemed to him to be true: “From beginning to end, the rituals of our lives shape each hour, day, and year. Everyone leads a ritualized life. Rituals are repeated patterns of meaningful acts. If you are mindful of your actions, you will see the ritual patterns. If you see the patterns, you may understand them. If you understand them, you may enrich them. In this way, the habits of a lifetime become sacred.” The book is an exploration of these insights.