Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur
jducoeur

Ritual does not save us from games of telephone

This month's Lodge meeting is going to be the Third Degree -- we're raising three brethren to the status of Master Mason. It's always a big deal, and as so often, my Lodge is doing it as a Past Masters Night: instead of the usual line of officers, the ritual will be performed by past Masters of the Lodge. As Ritualist, my main task is going to be herding the cats on rehearsal night (which I expect to be no small trick, given that many of these guys are thirty years older than me), but I am of course also going to take part.

For a change, though, I'm not doing any part of the ritual itself -- instead, I'm going to deliver the Charge. This is a speech given to the newly-elevated brethren, extolling their new status and charging them to walk uprightly as Masons. There's no set ritual for the Charge: often, it's just an extempore speech. But for years now, I've been looking for an opportunity to deliver the so-called "Canadian Charge", which one of the old past Masters of the Lodge, Carl Atlas, used to give. It's a poem, typically delivered with the lights down, and done well it can be ferociously dramatic.

[Digression: I just turned off the television, which had been playing the weather reports. It just switched over to Days of Our Lives, whose introduction always amuses me, because it is so screamingly Masonic: the sand-through-the-hourglass metaphor for life is one of the better speeches in the Third Degree.]

Anyway, I didn't have a copy of the Canadian Charge to hand, so I went online to look for it: there are no secrets contained therein, so I figured, correctly, that I could find it. What I hadn't expected was that I found half-a-dozen copies of it -- all different. They're all recognizably the same poem, but under several different names, with no two quite alike. They don't even agree in case: some are first person, some second. Some have six verses, some seven.

After staring at them for the past week, I just sat down and started to hybridize: if there is no One True Answer, I may as well pick and choose the bits I like. I started with the version from Lawrenceville Lodge, mixed in some bits from Phoenix Masonry, adjusted a bit from Ed Halpaus' excellent historical essay, and a few further tweaks from the Iowa Masonic Library. I'm still contemplating whether to include the elegant preamble from Warren Lodge (whose version is otherwise identical to the original Lawrenceville version).

I'm still tweaking and tuning, but it's starting to sound right: the scansion is improving, the mouthfeel of the words is getting smoother, and I'm picking and choosing the details of the symbolism. (A word changed here and there can radically change the meaning of a version.) I've included the fifth verse (missing from several versions), and the line in verse six that is missing from the Lawrenceville and Warren versions (and which is necessary to make the verses line up right poetically).

For those who are interested, here's my current working draft:

Canadian Charge
(AKA "On Yonder Book", AKA the Morris Charge, AKA Candlelight Charge)

1.
In Mason's Lodge, with darkened eyes
With cable tow about me,
I swore to hele all mysteries,
That Masons keep, and Masons prize,
The Brothers' secret whispered low,
The words they speak, the things they do,
In mystic manner taught me.
On yonder Book that Oath I took,
And will I break it? Never!
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
(Step, Due Guard and Sign of an Entered Apprentice,
one with each "this")

2.
I swore to answer and obey,
All summons sent me duly,
By brothers' hand or Lodge array,
I swore that I would never stray,
From Ancient laws and rules that bound,
Freemasons in the days renowned,
But would observe them truly.
On yonder Book that Oath I took,
And will I break it? Never!
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
(Step, Due Guard and Sign of a Fellow Craft,
one with each "this")

3.
I swore with generous gifts, to care
For those with sorrow smitten,
The brother on the darkened square,
The mourner with disheveled hair,
The orphan doomed, alas, to stray,
Upon a rough and rugged way,
While tears gush forth unhidden.
On yonder Book that Oath I took,
And will I break it? Never!
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
(Step, Due Guard and Sign of a Master Mason,
one with each "this")

4.
I swore to deal in honesty,
With each true heart around me,
That "Honor bright should ever be
Unbroken bond" 'twixt him and me,
Nor wrong nor guile, nor cruel fraud,
Should ever break the sacred cord,
By which my vows have bound me.
On yonder Book that Oath I took,
And will I break it? Never!
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
(Giving the Step, Due Guard and Sign of all 3 Degrees,
one with each "this")

5.
I swore to guard the portals close,
Of the Masonic Temple.
To rid the quarries of their dross,
To build each mystic wall across,
With body perfect, upright heart,
And mind mature in moral art
In Precept and example.
On yonder Book that Oath I took,
And will I break it? Never!
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
(Pointing to Greater and Lesser Lights and letter G,
one with each "this")

6.
I swore the Chastity to guard,
Of women true and tender.
Of Mason's widow, wife, or child,
His mother, sister, undefiled.
To them I pledge a brother's love,
By Him who rules the Lodge above,
To be a true defender.
On yonder Book that Oath I took,
And will I break it? Never!
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
(Giving Distress sign - one motion with each "this")

7.
My Brother (or Brothers):
These are your Vows, Be they your cares.
And may such light be given,
In answer to your earnest prayer,
That you may ever do and dare,
All that God's gracious Laws enjoin,
So that, when shades of night decline,
You may be found in Heaven.
On yonder Book these Oaths WE took,
And will we break them? Never:
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.

(Have candidate(s) join with you in giving the Steps, Due Guards
and Signs of all three Degrees - one with each "this")

Written by M.W. Benjamin L. Hadley, P.G.M.
Sometimes referred to as the "Candle Light Charge"
Lawrenceville Lodge version,
hybridized by Wor. Mark Waks with bits from PhoenixMasonry
and Murray's "Masonic Matters" essay
and Iowa Masonic Library's "Morris Charge"
Tags: masonry
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