Over the past ten years, I have presided over and participated in nearly one-hundred Initiations – the ceremony where one first becomes a Freemason. Literally thousands of hours of practice, study, and rehearsal, to make sure the candidate has the most moving and honest experience possible, to be true to our ancient ritual and interesting to the new Brother. With all that experience, having served in nearly every officer position possible possible for an Initiation, able to go nearly start to finish of the three-hour affair, line after line, all by myself, I still look back at my own first steps into Freemasonry and can only recall three specific moments of that night.
The final step in applying to be a Freemason is to knock on a door – three distinct raps – that the Lodge may know that a candidate was outside and ready for Initiation. I remember very clearly being told by a guide that the Brothers were ready for me and to take a deep breath. I inhaled with a measured deliberateness, exhaling only when I truly was ready. In my mind that was the last opportunity to chicken out, to turn away and remain ignorant of what lay behind the door. Thinking of my grandfather and the many Brothers who had come together to perform the Initiation, I knocked.
Freemasonry uses darkness and light as allegories for ignorance and knowledge. Depending on context that can mean awareness of one’s flaws, awareness of the opportunities to do good in a community, or even awareness of the time of day – making sure not to spend too much time on any one activity or project such that the rest of the day suffers. I can look back through the Lodge minutes to find the exact number, but I believe there were perhaps thirty Masons in attendance, both members of the Lodge I was joining and others in the community who I had met along my journey.
That moment when I was brought from darkness to see the light of Masonry, it felt instead as if the room were filled with every Freemason throughout history, including my grandfather, watching me join. I would never claim to be a spiritual person, but that moment sticks with me in a very real, almost tangible way. It’s that kind of emotional impact I want to impart on others as they join the Fraternity, and so causes the long hours of studying.
Joining Freemasonry, one of the first orders of business is to be taught what many of the symbols and metaphors the Craft uses, along with details about what the Lodge and its officers represent. The third moment that sticks with me is watching the Worshipful Master speak both eloquently and comfortably, going into great detail about all aspects of this First Degree, seeming to continually draw further meaning and substance the longer he talked. Very quickly I realized that he was presenting a lecture that had been written hundreds of years ago, if not longer, and that every man in the room had gone through the same experience, had been taught through the same words.
Now that I myself have given that lecture, clocking in at over half an hour of monologue without the benefit of note-cards or prompts, I can truly understand the effort he put into his performance. I remember being awed not only by his ability to retain all of that information but also to present it almost conversationally, as a friend rather than strict headmaster. Again, this is the experience I strive to provide to other candidates and Masons alike when it comes to the performance of our ritual, particularly on those solemn occasions where we Initiate, Pass, or Raise a Brother.
Those three moments are what stick out most to me when I think about my Initiation into Freemasonry. Several hours of more than a dozen officers performing a three-hundred year-old ceremony and I can recall just three specific pieces. If nothing else, the fact that I remember those moments so clearly is encouragement and motivation to make sure the ritual I perform, as well as teach in my role as Officers’ Coach, is exemplary from start to finish. I know not every Brother is going to remember, or focus, on the same things, and so I want to ensure that, whatever moments stick clearly in their minds, that they have the best experience of Masonry I can provide.