“YOU ARE NOW PERMITTED TO EXTEND YOUR RESEARCHES INTO THE HIDDEN MYSTERIES OF NATURE AND SCIENCE”
When I went through my Second Degree and heard those words from the Worshipful Master, I was puzzled by them. Having been a university teacher and medical researcher for 13 years, and a member of the Singapore Medical Research Council for 5 years, why do I need any permission from the Worshipful Master to do research into the hidden mysteries of Nature and Science? That has puzzled me for many years.
In 2010, as part of my duties as the District Grand Mentor, I was in London for the Annual Provincial/District Grand Mentor Conference, which was held in Freemasons' Hall, Great Queen Street. As it happened, that year was the year when the Royal Society, the first scientific society in the world, and to this day, still the premier scientific society of the world, was celebrating its 350th Anniversary. Many of you already know, many of the founders of the Royal Society were Masons.
Grand Lodge used that opportunity to display the links between the Craft and the Royal Society by staging an exhibition in its museum on that very theme. One of the exhibits that caught my eyes was the minutes on display in the Minutes Book of Old King's Arms Lodge No. 28 of the meeting held on Monday, 4th March, 1734. In that section of the Minutes, it says, “Bro Choret – Lecture on the Brain and the Circulation of the Blood and Animal Spirit. Mr. Adam lecture (a demonstration using a microscope) was deferred to the next month.” I saw in that minute, a possible answer to the puzzle which has been on my mind for many years.
With that minute book of Old King’s Lodge No. 28 in mind, and knowing that I had to be in London again that year, therefore a month before my visit, I wrote an e-mail to the Grand Lodge's librarian, Mr. Martin Cherry, with a request that I be allowed to look at Old King Lodge minutes book around the year 1734. When I finally visited the Library, Mr. Cherry was kind enough to not only to show me transcripts of the Minutes, he also lent me two other invaluable publications:
“History of Old King's Arms Lodge No. 28” by Albert Calvert,
The Prestonian Lecture of 2004 by W Bro Trevor Stuart entitled “English Speculative Freemasonry Some possible origins, Themes and Developments.” For this I owe a great debt to Mr. Martin Cherry for this talk.
Old King's Arms Lodge No 28 was consecrated on May 25th, 1725. Right Worshipful Brother Anthony Sayer, the first Grand Master, was one of its Founding Members. The Lodge met on the first Monday of every month, and below is a list of the topics covered at their monthly meetings:
Title of Lecture
6th August 1733
Lecture about the Raphael Cartoons at Hampton Court
1st August 1733
Lecture on muscular movements
5th November 1733
Lecture about the force of muscles
03 December 1733
History of automata with demonstration
07th January 1734
An account of a water clock mentioned by Vitruvius and invented by Ctesbius of Alexandria.
04th February 1734
Two lectures, one by a Bro. Smith, possibly a visitor, on the requisites of an architect, and another lecture by Bro. Nathaniel Adams on “the way of writing.”
4th March 1734
Animal spirits through the heart demonstrated by dissection. (Note. William Harvey published “De Motu Cordis” in 1628, explaining the circulation of the blood due to the motion of the heart.)
3rd June, 1734
Bro. Adams, using a microscope, demonstrated microscopic specimens which the human eyes could not see – skin of man, down of a butterfly's wing, a louse.
1st July, 1734
Account of the “progress of the Wool from the Sheep's back to that of the consumer”
2nd September, 1734
Lecture on iron and steel manufacture
7th October, 1734
Bro Waring Display of plaster casts of human figures, plants and flowers, and Bro Clare lectured on military architecture
4th November, 1734
A talk on civil architecture
7th April, 1735
Lecture on Architecture in Britain
4th August, 1735
The digging of ironstone and the process of working it into the metal and the usage it met with till it becomes a bar of iron.
6th October, 1735
Bro Clare according to his promise in August last, entertained the Society with a small dissertation on magnetism.
20th October, 1735
“Bro Clare entertained the Society with the sequel of his lecture upon magnetism with which the confraternity seemed to be well entertained.”
17th November, 1735
“Bro. Dr. Greme entertained the society with the Beginning of a Dissertation on a very curious subject that of Fermentation where he showed that all vises and intoxicating liquors were only to be found in the vegetable Kingdom.”
15th December, 1735
Bro Dr. Greme again gave a talk on Fermentation
15th November, 1736
Bro Dr. Greme according to the Desire of the Master pursued the Agreeable Subject Fermentation which he had spoken upon for 3 lectures...”
7th February, 1737
Lecture on Beauty of Truth
Bro. George Payne lectured on the Lodge on building methods in ancient Persian and the W Master, Bro Clare, spoke about the properties of matter.
1st August, 1737
The Principles of Geometry in relation to the practice of Masonry
5th September, 1737
Dissertation on the nature of true friendship
5th December 1737
Bro. Gascoyne, a visitor, gave a 'discourse about Cheerfulness and the proper Motives to and the Assistance that conduce to it.” The Secretary commented, “He was very grave himself but gave very great Joy and Satisfaction to his Audience.”
6th March, 1737
The W. Master gave a Lecture on Honesty
4th September, 1738
Lecture on Painting.
5th March, 1739
Lecture on Astronomy by Bro. Robertson
2nd April, 1739
A lecture on social virtues of Good Fellowship
7th January, 1740
A Lecture on the proportion and Harmony of Architecture and Masonry
As you can see this list started with the meeting held in August, 1733, and the last lecture was in January 1740. There were 78 months between those two dates, of which, 29 were devoted to lectures. Of those 29 lectures, 21 were on subjects related to the “hidden mysteries of nature and science.”
In other words, 37% of the meetings were devoted to lectures, of which out of the total of 78, 27% were on the hidden mysteries of nature and science. So that of that litany of lectures a quarter of the number of meetings were devoted to the hidden mysteries of nature and science, many of which were at the cutting edge of science at that time.
My question finally answered?
Were lectures on nature and science only peculiar only to Old King's Arms Lodge No. 28?
I am sure many of you must be asking that question.
To answer that question, I shall quote from the book I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, “History
of Old King's Arms Lodge No. 28” by Albert Calvert.
From page 9 of his book, Albert Calvert said, “The practice of reading papers at the lodge meetings, which is alluded to on the first page of the 1733 Minutes Book, was according to Brother H. Sadler, a custom much in vogue at this time among the higher class of Lodges.”
To me personally, the titles of the litany of lecture finally answered the question since my having been passed to a Fellow Craft. In the context of the 18th century, at the height of the flowering of the Enlightenment ideals, that exhortation, “You are now permitted to extend your researches into the hidden mysteries of Nature and Science” makes sense.
European society was emerging from the Age of Scholasticism where truth was deduced by logic. From axioms derived from revealed truth, to truth induced from empirical evidence. The motto of the Royal Society was and still is, “Nullius in Verba” (take nobody's word for it), which is the bed rock on which science is based. Freemasonry is very much a product of English Enlightenment.
Now my next question is, “Have we lost our way?”
To quote, this time, from the 2004 Prestonian Lecture by W. Bro Trevor Stuart entitled “English Speculative Freemasonry Some possible origins, Themes and Developments” he said in that lecture, “English Freemasonry had become too obsessed with maintaining the correct forms. Perhaps far too much of our time and energy is still being devoted to the preservation of status, to the acquisition of ever higher ranks and 'better' regalia, to ensuring that our ceremonies are conducted with absolute, invariable precision as if our rituals were inviolable texts set 'in concrete'.
Perhaps we are too concerned with the outward appearances, with preserving our rituals intact and have forgotten the need to create opportunities for every member of our Lodges to make is 'daily advancement' in Masonic knowledge without necessarily being 'word perfect' in reciting the texts.
Perhaps sensing we might have gone too far in insisting on a rigid formulation of the rituals and disregarding the traditions that lodges have built up over the years. Let point out that in the latest version of Emulation Rituals, on page 14, in the introduction, it says, and I quote:
“..no suggestion is made, nor should it be made, that any one system is 'right' and the others 'wrong'. Private Lodges are free to choose their own system and the choice and traditions of the Lodge is this regard should be paramount.”
Can any stronger words be found to support lodges in maintaining their traditions?
The interminable arguments whether the compasses on the VSL should face East or West, or whether we should wear the apron this way or that way. Does it matter? The questions that are discussed in the lodges of old seemed to be more interesting and engaging.
This then brings me to another peculiar question that has occupied some of our minds. Since we don't seem to discuss anything in our lodge these days, why are we warned against the discussion of politics and religions in lodge? Now that we know that in lodges of old, they did discuss many interesting topics, from science to arts to philosophy, do those prohibition makes sense. The Craft in the early 18th century has just emerged from years of religious conflicts, and in England, from the turmoil of the exile of James II and the Glorious Revolution, which resulted in William of Orange and his wife, Mary, being placed on the throne of England. Was it surprising therefore to forbid the discussion of religion and politics in lodge?
Personally I feel a tremendous sense of freedom, having seen those minutes. Do we need to be obsessed about doing a degree ceremony at every meeting? And when a lodge has no candidate for a degree working, does it have to just open and close and go for dinner? We have been urged to study the Seven Liberal Arts, we have been told to study the hidden mysteries of nature and of science so as to better discharge our duties as a Mason and estimate the wonderful works of the Almighty, so when we have no degree working, what is there to stop the lodge from getting a speaker to talk on the cutting edge of cosmology, of mathematics, of sciences and so on?
If we are true to our Masonic calling, learning more about the hidden mysteries of nature and science
should and could be part of the lodge's activities. I leave that thought with you as I end this talk this evening.
As an addendum, reading the minutes made me realize, Masons through the ages were having the same problems we face today
Brethren failing to pay their dues
Black balling of proposed names for initiation and joining.
There was one incidence where a name was blackballed and they discovered who did it. The two members were then excluded from the lodge. The two excluded brethren appealed to Grand Lodge, and for reason not recorded in the minutes, one exclusion was reversed by Grand Lodge, and the other confirmed.
It's quite comforting to know human nature hasn't changed that much over the centuries.