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The Builder

Graphic courtesy of Stephen McKim
Graphic Courtesy of
Stephen McKim

The Builder was published by the National Masonic Research Society from 1915 - 1930. It stands, nearly a century later as one of the greatest Masonic publications.

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The Builder January 1915

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St. John the Divine and Notre Dame de Rheims.

By May Preston Slosson

I watch the patient masons in the sun Building a House to God upon the hill That overhangs the city; just begun The toil of years--the care--the loving skill.

Another minster lifted arch and spire By patient builders wrought in futile trust. The Iron Eagle dropt a plume of fire-- And all its beauty is a heap of dust ! -The Independent.

The Builders

By the author of "Poems of The Temple."

When I was a king and a mason--
A mason proved and skilled,
I cleared me ground for a palace
Such as a king should build.
I decreed and dug down to my levels;
Presently, under the silt,
I came on the wreck of a palace
Such as a king had built.


A part of a builder's profession
Is digging in ruins of old,
And his findings, in rapid succession,
Equip him with merits untold,
For the builder who never uncovers
The work of the centuries past
Is the builder who never discovers
Construction most certain to last.

Far back before history's pages
Did ever their stories relate
Or the sayings of eminent sages
Their quota of learning donate,
We find over lands without number
Where human achievements were felt,
Their ruins profusely encumber
The sites where the race had long dwelt.

And the study of long hidden symbols
Induces the mind to concede
That their mystical system resembles
Our own very closely indeed.
And the builders of old, laid foundations
Of ethical value so rare
That their teaching of mystic creations
With Masonry closely compare.

And we find them in cities long buried
When civilization's decay
O'er the work of the builder fast hurried
With ruthless demolishing sway.
In the temples of Indian ages
And far on the banks of the Nile
Where the work and the study of sages
Their wonderful stories compile.

And remote from all eastern persuasions
Of all known connection devoid,
In old Mexico's ancient creations
They find the same symbols employed.
'Tis the soul of the Master revolving
All lands in the universe through,
With His children of nature evolving
From light of the old to the new.

--Lewis A. McConnell.



BECAUSE Masonry touches life on many sides, and has journeyed so far adown the years - gathering stones from many fields go wherewith to build its House of Truth - it has an interest in many kinds of books. Therefore, from time to time we shall make note of such books as have to do directly or indirectly with the history and aims of the order, and occasionally with those great books which should be the concern of all who love mankind.

World-shaping is the word to describe "The Golden Bough," by J.C. Frazer, begun some thirty years ago and now completed in ten large volumes. (Macmillan Co., New York.) Surely this is one of the great literary achievements of the race. There is nothing to compare with it, except, perhaps, the "Decline and Fall of Rome," by Gibbon, or the colossal output of Voltaire. It is a study of the origin of religion carried on over all the world, through the literature of all the centuries, through the traditions, customs, rites and folklore of the ages found in books or in aboriginal environments. It is hardly too much to say that these volumes contain the largest amount of widespread learning of any work produced in the English-speaking world, and it will be difficult to find in any language a study which can vie with it in thoroughness of research and skill of presentation.

Strangely enough, this monumental work began with a study of what seems, at first sight, only a curiosity of custom-the custom, that is, whereby the ancient Priest of Aricia, near Lake Alba, held his office on condition that he would fight any competitor for it to the death who succeeded in plucking from a sacred oak in the Grove of Nemi a golden bough. Macaulay speaks of this custom in one of his "Lays of Rome," and the problems suggested by it to Dr. Frazer were: Why did the old priest have to be slain by the new one before he could be inducted into office; why was he called the King of the Grove; why need he be slain at all; and above all, why did his successor have to pluck the golden bough ? Such inquiries led the searcher far afield, and the result is a mass of facts which will have to be reckoned with in the future, and may upset theology quite as radically as "The Origin of Species" did biology fifty years ago.

A wonderful book, this, which properly reviewed would easily make a volume. What a picture we have here of that strange, weird creature, man, terrible in his heights and depths, blend of dirt and deity; so absurd-and, oh, so pathetic-in his facing of the mystery of life and the world; yet sublime even in his superstitions. It takes us back into the old dim abysm of time to the very origin of thinking, and the birth of music, worship and art. We visit the cradle of the gods in the morning of time. Religion has its beginning, so this writer holds, in what we stall magic. Man found himself here, and he could only live by working, but things happened to make his efforts go awry. Animals escaped from his traps, waves swamped his boats, winds toppled trees on him, enemies ravaged his fields. Thinking that wind and wave and fire were manifestations of invisible powers, he set about to conciliate, to propitiate those powers-hence his religion of magic.

There was nothing wrong with magic save that it reasoned wrongly from insufficient facts. Something happened, and then another thing good or evil followed, and man connected the two, trying the while to do the things which brought the good sequences and to avoid the things which brought the bad ones. There was a time, Frazer thinks, when man did not even trace the cause of birth to the relation between the sexes. Similarly, if a rabbit crossed his path when he went to hunt and he had no luck, he blamed it on the rabbit. If some one glared at him when he was cutting a tree and the tree fell and hurt him, he remembered the evil eye. After this manner there grew up customs arid superstitions now almost unintelligible-as, for example, cannibalism. None the less, cannibalism had a reason, if so it may be called, which was that, if one ate a powerful enemy he had slain, he absorbed the power and courage of his enemy and became, by so much, a stronger, braver man. Numberless glimpses of this kind we get of-the early, groping, timid, fearful life of man, halfbeast and half-child - stories beautiful in their horror, and horrible even in their beauty.

Happily, one need not accept the theory of Frazer to enjoy this journey back into a time so far gone that only fragments of its thought and faith and fear remain, like fossils in a rock. He holds, what some of us do not believe, that man was ever a materialist. Far from it. Instead, we see even at the lowest much that is not of dead matter; much not of the brute. We see man looking out and up, as if called to do so by something not himself; something within seeking union with Another whose call he heard in the voices of the winds. Indeed, Frazer in his mighty labor has builded more wisely, more spiritually than he knew; and by showing the old backward and abysm of time out of which man has climbed, he reveals to what heights we have attained. Looking at his facts from a point of view other than his own, we the more appreciate the grave and haunting eloquence of his closing words:

"The temple of the sylvan goddess, indeed, has vanished, and the King of the Wood no longer stands sentinel over the Golden Bough. But Nemi's woods are still green, and as the sunset fades above them in the west there comes to us, borne on the swell of the wind, the sound of the church bells of Aricia ringing the Angelus. Ave Maria ! Sweet and solemn the chime from out the distant town and die lingeringly away across the wide Campagnan marshes. Ave Maria !"

Truth to tell, even while Frazer was writing his wonderful book, his theory was being assailed - and, some of us think, successfully - by Lyall, Jevons, Andrew Lang and others. Its basic defect was that it found the origin of religion in the reasoning faculties, forgetting, apparently, the deeper region of the emotions. Most certainly the true order of things was and is, first, Reality, then Feeling, and finally an effort to rationalize the contents of reality as revealed in feeling. Magic was logic, albeit erroneous, yet logic trying to connect cause and result. No one faculty or set of faculties must be credited with the creation of religion; it is the response of the whole of man to the total appeal of life

Such is the position of E. S. Hartland in his most delightful and valuable work, "Ritual and Belief" - a work of peculiar interest to Masons, if for no other reason, for its philosophy of the origin and uses of Ritual. (Scribner's Sons, New York.) According to this admirable scholar and psychologist, ritual had its origin in the craving for movement and dramatic excitement - perhaps in play, as when the Hottentots danced all night in the moonlight, invoking her aid with wild gesture and song. Born of the impulse to action, it liberated emotion; the emotion, in its turn, was intensified by its collective expression; and so the action becarne a custom, and gathered meaning. Later, it would serve also for the expression of ideas, one of which was that just as dramatic action influenced human relations, so, somehow, it might influence external nature - hence magic. Long eras of evolution passed before belief became definite and cogent.

Of course, there is much else in this brilliant book, but this point is indicated for the reason that it needs to be considered by the members of an order in which Ritual has so large a part. First, it shows that ritual is native to man, and a necessity of his nature, liberating emotions unutterable in words. Second, that ritual comes, naturally, if not inevitably, to have magical meaning and power, and leads to the easy belief that when a sentiment has been expressed dramatically, that is enough. No one need be told that this has all along been the danger - aye, the curse - of organized religion, in that too many men think that when they have observed certain rites they have fulfilled their moral obligations, the religious emotion finding expression in ritual rather than in character and the doing of good. It is hardly less a danger of Masonry, against which we must be always on guard, lest the very purpose of the order be made of no effect. Third, as thought deepens and broadens, ritual must receive the reconsecration of nobler ideas, and become the medium through which those ideas are expressed. Ritual, if not thus enriched by growing thought, is apt to become an empty routine bereft alike of beauty and power.

Sixteen years ago Archdeacon Cheetham published his Hulsean Lectures on "The Mysteries, Pagan and Christian," and they had a wide reading. Since that time - or, to be more accurate, very recently - the debate has become more acute as to how far, and what ways, St. Paul was influenced by the Mystery cults, and the results of the late course of research, led by Cumont and Reitzenstein, are summed up by Dr. A. A. Kennedy in his "St. Paul and the Mystery Religions." It is a timely book and an able one, having a fine precision of scholarship, a conscience for facts, and a wholesome skepticism of theorizing. In a field where similarities of language and affinities of thought have been pushed too far, such a sane and critical work is welcome. St. Paul knew of the Mysteries; he uses some of their technical terms, but that he was greatly influenced by them in his thinking, is not true. Of late an attempt has been made to show that not only the theology of St. Paul, but the whole primitive Christian creed and cult, was simply the old Mystery religion revamped, but the effort fails. The value of this volume to Masons is that it states briefly and lucidly what is known of the Mysteries which our order perpetuates, in some fashion,today.


Without any boast, it is believed that this initial issue of "The Builder" will commend itself to the intelligent confidence of the Order, as showing the high level on which the Research Society begins its work. Nor will that level be lowered by one jot or tittle, its effort being to unite liberty of thought and scholarly accuracy with simplicity and lucidity of style, the better to serve the Craft for whom it labors.

Surely the lectures by Prof. Pound on "The Philosophy of Masonry" are memorable in many ways, furnishing leadership and inspiration for those who seek to think things through in quest of the reason for Masonry, its faith, and its ideals. The remaining lectures in the series have to do with Krause, Oliver and Pike, with a final study of Masonry in the light of present-day philosophy, entitled "A Twentieth Century Masonic Philosophy." These lectures will be widely read, as they should be, alike for their own merit and for the distinction of their author; and we are happy to announce that they will be issued in permanent form as the first book put forth by the Society.

Looking forward, we are soon to present a very valuable article on Masonry as interpreted by Goethe and Lessing, by Dr. Paul Carus, editor of "The Open Court" and the "Monist," which will serve as an admirable accompaniment to the translation of "Ernst and Falk," by Brother Block. Going farther back, we have in hand the "Regensburg Stonemasons' Regulations," bearing date of 1459, which will throw new light on certain aspects of ancient Craft-masonry in Germany. Among other articles of unusual interest will be an essay on the founding of Masonry in America, by Brother Melvin M. Johnson, Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts, which will contain new material of great value.

Also, ye editor hopes, in the not distant future, to begin a series of papers which he ventures to present as chapters of a possible biography and study of Albert Pike. It is indeed strange that there is no adequate account of that master genius of Masonry, who found the Scottish Rite in a log cabin and left it in a temple. Scholar, jurist, orator, thinker, citizen, he was a Mason to whom the world was a temple, a poet to whom the world was a song. These papers have been in mind for years, and not a little material has been gathered, but the editor will welcome reminiscences, letters, incidents, documents of any kind bearing on Pike; and, after using them, will carefully return them, when so desired, to those who send them.

Speaking of Pike, recalls Mackey, Fort, Drummond, and other pioneers in the field of Masonic Research, sketches of whom, at once sympathetic and critical, will be welcomed by "The Builder." Gould rendered a real service to the Order with his series of essays on "Masonic Celebrities" years ago, and we need a similar record of great Masons in America, especially those who labored to advance Masonic learning. If some brother in South Carolina will recall Dr. Mackey, and show him to us in habit as he lived, with an estimate of his labors in behalf of the Order, the whole Fraternity will be grateful. So also George F. Fort whose "Early History and Antiquities of Freemasonry" is one of the most brilliant books in our literature.

Once more let it be said that the pages of "The Builder" are open to the Craft, of every rite and jurisdiction, inviting discussion of every aspect of Masonry - its history, philosophy, symbolism, ritual, and practical problems. Lectures, old documents, study programs, biographical sketches, any kind of information of value to the Craft in any of its activities, will be welcomed. No one need hesitate to offer any suggestion, for "The Builder" exists only to serve Freemasonry; and should there be any Brother who imagines that it has any other motive than that confessed in the Foreword, well, we have a sure way of dealing with him, guaranteed never to fail:

"He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took him in."

Recently there was unveiled in New York City a statue of Edwin Booth, erected in Gramercy Park, near The Players, the famous club founded by Booth. It was designed by E. T. Quinn - who also wrought the bust of Edgar Allan Poe, in Poe Park - and shows the great actor in a characteristic attitude as Hamlet; the part which he was born to play, and in which temperament, personality and art so blended that he did not merely act Hamlet, but was Hamlet. He revealed once more that great gentleman doing his gentlest, bravest and noblest with a sad smile and a gay humor in a world not simply complicated, wicked, absurd, and tiresome, but also ghostly. Booth was an ardent Mason, and he it was who said that of all great tragedies, the drama of the Third Degree of Masonry stood out in his mind as the simplest and most profound. His brethren everywhere will rejoice in this memorial, the more so for that the art of an actor dies with him.

- Source: The Builder January 1915

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