Thursday, October 25, 2012

From Labor To Refreshment . . .: The Craft In Thirty Seconds

I think all Freemasons should be able to tell others in 30 seconds what Freemasonry is.
This article goes into that in more detail:
Re-Blogging with the permission of the author
(as stated in his FAQ)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Craft In Thirty Seconds

R.W. B. Michael H. Shirley 
Todd E. Creason, 33°
(reprinted with permission from The Working Tools Masonic Magazine

What is Freemasonry? It’s a simple question and one that should be fairly easy for a Mason to answer—right? You think that until somebody, perhaps armed with ideas gleaned from History Channel “documentaries” or the latest Dan Brown thriller, notices the square and compasses on your ring and asks, with genuine curiosity, “So what’s Freemasonry about? C’mon, tell me the truth.” Too many of us aren’t prepared for that question, and what the person asking winds up with is a confusing mish-mash of facts, something about George Washington being a Freemason and an assurance that the Shrine is a lot of fun.

That isn’t good enough. Worshipful Brother Christopher Hodapp, author of Freemasons for Dummies, has said that every Freemason ought to have an elevator talk ready, a thirty-second summary of what Masonry is, in order to satisfy those simply curious, while at the same time intriguing the light-seeking inquirer within.

When we began this conversation, neither of us had that talk ready. This article grew out of our discussions on what such a talk should include. We are both writers, and it startled us to realize how difficult it is to put into words what it is about the Craft that has made it so central to our lives.  Why, we wondered, could we not respond in simple terms to such a basic question?

Why is the question so hard to answer?  It might just be because we don’t think about it very much. Most of us are too involved in our lodges to think about the reasons why we joined to begin with and what it is we get out of it exactly. Our experiences within the fraternity are unique to the individual, so there isn’t a right or wrong answer to the question. We are different men pursuing different paths in life, and we come to Freemasonry in different ways.

"When I returned from the service, my father, who was an active Mason, said 'Noel, it's time to get serious about life.' He handed me a petition and said, 'I think this organization will help you do that.' He was right."

~Past Grand Master of Illinois Noel C. Dicks

Some of us petition a local lodge because it’s a family tradition; one brother we both know is a seventh-generation Mason, and many of us have a father or an uncle who was a Mason. Others join because they want to expand their circle of friends, to become more active in their community, to study philosophy, to improve themselves, or to give something back through Masonry’s numerous philanthropic endeavors. Still other young Masons join, at least in part, because they thought the movie National Treasure was really cool (Surprisingly, we both plead guilty to that one, although we’re not exactly young. Sadly, neither of us has found the Templar treasure…yet).

We all join for different reasons, the way we participate often adds something unique to the fraternity, and we all get something different out of it that keeps us enthusiastically coming back. For a Freemason, put on the spot and ill prepared for the question, it can become a daunting task to easily put into words what Freemasonry is in a meaningful way. How, he thinks, can I convey what it means to me?

“I am not sure I would have spent so many hours in canoes and on rivers with my Dad if we had not become Brothers. I will always love our common interest in Masonry for that.” 

~W.B. Brian L. Pettice, 33°

Why is having an answer to that question so important?  Freemasonry is often referred to as a secret society, but with Hollywood movies, websites, popular novels, YouTube videos, TV specials, and thousands of books on the subject, we sure aren’t doing a very good job at the secret part. Everybody seems to know something about our Fraternity these days.

We all know as Freemasons that it’s not a secret society, but the truth is that Americans have never been more fascinated with the subject of Freemasonry than they are right now. But unlike many organizations, we don’t advertise. We don’t run membership specials in the newspaper where if you petition the lodge before September 15th, you’ll get a free duffle bag (which you can keep as our free gift to you even if you decide not to join). Traditionally, Freemasonry’s only form of advertising is Freemasons. Remember? 2B1ASK1?  The question is, what will you say when 1ASKSU2B1?

Many of us petitioned a lodge after asking that very question of a Mason and getting an answer that convinced us that, however imperfectly we understood it, it was something we wanted to pursue.  But we’ll never know how many men decide not to petition because they were given a poor answer to the question.

That’s why it’s so important to be prepared. We all know that question is going to be asked of us.  We just don’t know when or where.  Todd got surprised recently when he left the mall and found a young man looking at the back of his car in the parking lot—Todd was prepared to see a big dent in his bumper, but that’s not what it was about at all.  “Are these Masonic symbols?” the young man asked.  And for a change, Todd was ready for him.  That one moment of inquiry is, more often than not, when a potential member either decides to join or to pass based solely on how we respond to that simple question.

So what should I say?  And that’s another challenge because we know what we shouldsay, but we’re torn by what we have experienced ourselves.  We should say something about it being the world’s oldest fraternal organization.  We should say something about our philanthropic pursuits and the good we do in our communities.  We should say something about the moral values our fraternity holds dear—amongst those brotherly love, relief, and truth.  We should say something about making good men better. We might even be tempted to use the old standby—the traditionally accepted centuries-old answer to that question, that Freemasonry is “a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”  But do you believe that anyone is going to understand that answer today?

So how do I get to my answer to the question?  We can only speak authoritatively of our own experience in this matter, and we have discovered that we have had to think actively about what Freemasonry means to us and not just let it sit on the edge of our subconscious. Our experiences have been different. Todd jokes that he told his wife that being a Mason would involve only a meeting a month and a couple pancake breakfasts every year, and Michael wasn’t sure what he would find but he really thought the tradition he’d read about was cool (only one of us was right). Michael was thrown in at the deep end, being elected Junior Warden two weeks after he was raised, and Todd jumped in, writing the book Famous American Freemasons before he’d learned how to make a good Masonic corner (and some would argue he still can’t).

Start by asking yourself a few questions...   You’ve got to think about this.  Perhaps the best way to begin formulating your answer is to ask yourself a few questions first, and try to come up with simple one-sentence answers. 

What should a perspective member know about our fraternity?  Perhaps that it’s the world’s oldest international fraternity.  That its focus is to make good men better.  Past Grand Master Noel C. Dicks put it well when he told Michael that "Masonry won't automatically make you a better man, but the teachings of the fraternity will supply the tools and opportunities to assist you in reaching that goal." Perhaps that it’s a place where men of many different backgrounds come together and do important work.

How has being a Freemason changed me?  Do you feel like Freemasonry has improved your life?  Do you think you’re a better husband and father?  Have your Brothers helped you through a difficult period in your life?

“Masonry requires me to assume my Brothers’ best intentions. That necessarily changes me for the better.”

~R. W. B. Michael H. Shirley

Why do I think Freemasonry is important?  Is it because of the charitable works the fraternity is involved in?  Is it because of the difference in makes in the lives of the men who are members?  Is it because Freemasonry still regards moral tenets and virtues as important and requires good character as a prerequisite for membership?

What is it I get out of it that keeps me involved?  Is it that feeling that I’m contributing to some greater good?  Is it having the opportunity to meet and spend time with men that share the same ideals that I do?  Do I have opportunities to do things within the fraternity I don’t have the opportunity to do in the outside world?

“I can’t think of a better way to improve both yourself and the community in which you live than to become a Freemason.” 

                                                                                    ~W.B. Gregory J. Knott
If you don’t like our questions, you can come up with your own, but if you can answer those questions, you’re well on your way to your answer for that unexpected elevator question.  All you have to do is expand on it.  Once you have an answer you’re happy with, memorize it just as you would a bit of ritual—it may be the most important piece of memory work you ever do.  By having that answer ready when you’re asked, you could change somebody’s life in the same way being a Mason has changed yours. 

When someone inquires about Freemasonry, he’s not looking for something easy or obvious; he’s looking for something more profound. He’s looking for what we have. The third tenet of Freemasonry is Truth. That’s what he’s looking for, whether he knows it or not. What matters most of all is that Truth be our face to the Profane world. If your answer is True, if it is the answer of a Mason, rather than the pitch of a salesman, then maybe, just maybe, your questioner’s eyes will be opened a bit wider to the possibilities before him. The unexpected elevator question is a chance to be a Mason in the eyes of the world, and to make the gift of Freemasonry available to a future Brother.

Be ready for that moment!


Michael Shirley & Todd Creason
Todd E. Creason, 33° is Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 and the author of several books including “The Famous American Freemasons”series.  He’s the Business Manager at the Office of Technology Management at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley is the Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master for the Eastern Area for the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F. & A. M.  He is Past Master of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and Leadership Development Chairman for the Grand Lodge of Illinois. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is Freemasonry a Science, Art, Religion, Philosophy,..........?

 “In a society so widely extended as Freemasonry, the branches of which are spread over the four quarters of the globe, it cannot be denied that we have many members of rank and opulence; neither can it be concealed that among the thousands who range under its banners, there are some who, perhaps from circumstances of unavoidable calamity and misfortune, are reduced to the lowest ebb of poverty and distress.” (1)

The question that comes to my mind when I think about this topic is this – What is that ‘thing’ or ‘quality’ about Freemasonry that ‘binds’ such diverse people as mentioned in the passage above together?
Therefore through this essay, I seek to arrive at an understanding of what freemasonry is by illustrating some of the categories that describe it and evaluating if any of them can be used to categorize it succinctly. If not whether there is some other term that does and if so what it could be.

The most well-known definition is that which first appeared around the 19th Century, which states that:

“Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” (1)

Now I will attempt to elaborate on this definition to get a handle on what freemasonry is. To analyze the meaning of this definition of Freemasonry a little better let us break it down into its smaller parts:

Phrase 1:"...a peculiar system of morality..."
Interpretation: The word peculiar
 (2) arises from the Latin root"peculiaris".
Technically it means "characteristic of only one person, group, or thing", or "different from the usual or normal". 
Nowadays the word peculiar has negative connotations, as anyone who hears this word today associates it with meaning "strange" or "odd", but in the 19th century it meant "special and unique".
The word system (3)
(from Latin systēma, in turn from Greek σύστημα systēma) means "An organized set of interrelated ideas or principles."
The word morality (4) (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior") it refers to an ideal code of conduct, one which would be espoused in preference to alternatives by all rational people, under specified conditions. Therefore this phrase refers to a special and ideal set of principles that form the basis for a code of conduct.

Phrase 2:"...veiled in allegory..."
Interpretation: The word veiled (5)
means "concealed or disguised" or "muted or unclear".
The word allegory refers to a story or visual image with a second distinct meaning partially hidden behind its literal or visible meaning.
Therefore this phrase refers to a method of communication which uses a narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form to convey an abstract idea or concept that plain language has difficulty in describing or which would take a long time to communicate.

Phrase 3:"...illustrated by symbols."
The word illustrate (6) (Latin illūstrāre or illūstrāt means to make bright) means "to clarify by serving as an example or comparison"
The word symbol in the simplest sense, refers to anything that stands for or represents something else beyond it— usually an idea conventionally associated with it. For eg. the Indian flag is a symbol of the country India.
Therefore this phrase refers to the usage of an object as an example or comparison to represent another idea or concept.

By now the question that begins to form in the minds of people who have understood the definition is - is Freemasonry a kind of education?
My answer to that is, yes but it is not an end in itself (although for some people it might be). Just as we need to learn to drive a car before we can actually drive safely (literal meaning). Just as we need to be lit before we can go out into our society and be beacons of light to others. (figurative meaning). Just like that we need to learn a certain special system of morality before we can implement that in the various spheres of our lives. An education is something that later on helps one to practice something so Freemasonry appears to educate us – but to what end? Is it to practice a science?... is it to practice an art?... or is it to practice a philosophy or is it to practice something else?!
Allow me to now speculate on some of these questions.

Is it a Science?

We all know that scientist or academic men like to spend time in the company of like-minded people talking about their pet theories and discussing new inventions and discoveries; so is it some sort of science that Freemasonry teaches such that its members due to a common love for science come together?
Freemasonry points out to us the importance of the science and exhorts us to explore it and with its aid understand the hidden mysteries of nature.
The high value it places on the understanding of architectural study or science is clear to most masons; who realize that with science man can raise huge buildings. But looking at this on a deeper level the mason in search of true light is lead to the realization that there is a Great Architect who has so intricately designed the universe itself based on the principles of science so deep of which Man has only begun to scratch the surface.
There is science in Freemasonry, but alas it does not explain why it is so beautiful for that we may need to explore the next term – Art.

Is it an Art?

Among artist and art loving people there is again a common love for art that brings them together for exhibitions and even prompting them to donate money to charity events – all out of a love and appreciation for the art that they enjoy. So is it some sort of art that Freemasonry expounds that brings men together?
In the Installation ceremony (Canadian) there is a mention of the following lines:

Masonry, my brethren, according to the general acceptance of the term, is an art, founded on the principles of geometry and directed to the service and convenience of mankind… (7)

But does the fact that there is an art involved in masonry tell us that is that all encompassing category into which we can push Freemasonry? I think not, for there is a passion and zeal among its adherents seen normally only among those whom we would call religious – never mind that some people’s religion is their fascination with cars or in the case of women their fascination with footwear!

Is it a Religion?

Religion is one area that tightly binds and separates men in such a strong way that some have killed and been killed for their belief in that religion. Is it some sort of ‘new’ religion that Freemasonry teaches these men that they decide to join hands even with those of other faiths?
The triumph of Freemasonry has been that it teaches no dogma. It has no creed and it does not tell you which God to believe in, which person to vote for or even that this masonic symbol means only this one thing and nothing else! Every Master Mason is free to interpret the world based on that light that he has attained or yet to attain – does this sound like a religion? Not to me. To me it sounds like it is more of a philosophy or a way of life.

Is it a Philosophy?

Is it some idea or philosophy that Freemasonry teaches that men from all walks of like realize the truth in it and come together as a group? Is it a new world order as President George Bush put it?
So what is the philosophy of Freemasonry? On a simplistic level, its teachings can be explained in a few points:

  • Belief in a Supreme Being.
  • This Supreme Being created everything including us.
  • This Supreme Being has revealed to Man certain Moral laws.
  • There is an afterlife when we will be called upon to give an account for our actions in this life.
To me it looks like a category that covers most of what I have seen in Freemasonry. But am I right? Is this the all-encompassing category into which we can put Freemasonry? To find our answer let us look at how Freemasonry had been defined by Freemasons.

What is Freemasonry?

So what exactly does freemasonry do for a person?
Why is it that some people spend their whole lives and a lot of their free time on Freemasonry?
What is this “attraction” that Freemasonry holds that is not seen among other groups?
In modern times it becomes fashionable to be vague and just define it most simply by saying:

“Freemasonry - Making good men better!”

In his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (8) the author Daniel Pink suggests that motivation by means of rewards (example bonuses) and fear of punishment (no promotions), does not work.
The book claims that we have progressed into an era where our motivation is largely intrinsic, or from within ourselves and that this type of motivation can be classified into:
  • Autonomy,
  •  Mastery and
  • Purpose

I now highlight some of the areas where our masonic philosophy reflects these qualities. It is only a matter of time for the mason who has internalized these teachings to become motivated to perform exceptionally in other spheres of his life. The reason being wherever you have a good mix of these traits – in an organization or a home or even a relationship; there you see motivated people performing better than before!


Freemasonry teaches people to be autonomous as is evident in the NE charge:
“You, being newly admitted into Masonry, are placed at the North-East part of the Lodge figuratively to represent that stone, and from the foundation laid this evening may you raise a superstructure perfect in its parts and honourable to the builder.” (1)
Notice that we are not taught that we are just another wheel in a big machine; we are taught that we are to attempt to ‘raise a superstructure’ ourselves.


In the words of Hiram Abiff: “…no doubt patience and industry would, in due time, entitle the worthy Mason to a participation of them, (1)” Fellow Crafts who have shown mastery in the craft are finally raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason.


The search for light is the beginning and continual endeavor of all masons. This is translated into a search for truth and is the equivalent to the search for the everlasting; the great “I Am”. To a mason who has understood the deeper meanings of the search for truth that becomes a lifelong journey of self-examination and conquest not just of the outer but also the inner realms of one’s existence.

In this sense Freemasonry helps people grow, build themselves up and thus helps make good men better!! When a group of such men get together it can not only benefit their families, and communities but ultimately society itself. And that my brethren is what Freemasonry is about.

In my view Freemasonry through its philosophy addresses these three areas in a very holistic manner. Brotherly love, Relief and Truth under the Fatherhood of God in the brotherhood of Man is one explanation of Freemasonry - that touches on its core principles.


1. Craft Freemasonry. Craft Ritual Book (Indian). Seventeenth Edition. New Delhi : Grand Lodge of India, 1997. p. 200.
2. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. peculiar. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
3. —. system. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
4. —. morality. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
5. Unabridged. veiled. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
6. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. illustrate. (n.d.). [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.] illustrate. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10
7. Marner, R. W. Bro. Wally. Canadian Installation Charge. [Online] [Cited: August 30, 2012.]
8. Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. 1 edition (December 29, 2009). s.l. : Riverhead Hardcover, 2009. p. 256.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Friday the 13th of October 1307 and the end of the Knights Templar

Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day in most parts of the world. The origins of the connection between the number thirteen and ill fortune are many but the most common stemming from another Christian source, the Last Supper, at which Judas Iscariot was said to have been the thirteenth guest to sit at the table. (Judas later betrayed Jesus, leading to His crucifixion, and then hanged himself). This Christian symbolism is reflected in early Western references to thirteen as an omen of bad fortune, which generally started to appear in the early 18th century and warned that thirteen people sitting down to a meal together presaged that one of them would die within the year.
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable[1] has entries for "Friday, an Unlucky Day" and "Thirteen Unlucky". Interestingly it says "Friday the Thirteenth: A particularly unlucky Friday”. Now it would stand to reason that if a black cat crossed my path on Friday the 13th then it would be considered more unlucky than if it hadn’t!
But it seems that Friday the 13th was indeed unlucky for the Knights Templar in 1307. It was on this day that King Philip IV of France ordered Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and scores of other French Templars to be simultaneously arrested. The arrest warrant started with the phrase : "Dieu n'est pas content, nous avons des ennemis de la foi dans le Royaume" ["God is not pleased. We have enemies of the faith in the kingdom"][2].
Wikipedia mentions the events of the arrests, charges, and dissolution of the Knights Templar as follows[3]:

The Background: In 1305, the new Pope Clement V, based in France, sent letters to both the Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and the Hospitaller Grand Master Fulk de Villaret to discuss the possibility of merging the two Orders. Neither was amenable to the idea, but Pope Clement persisted, and in 1306 he invited both Grand Masters to France to discuss the matter. De Molay arrived first in early 1307, but Pope Clement was delayed for several months. While waiting, De Molay and Clement discussed charges that had been made two years prior by an ousted Templar. It was generally agreed that the charges were false, but Clement sent King Philip IV of France a written request for assistance in the investigation. King Philip was already deeply in debt to the Templars from his war with the Englishand decided to seize upon the rumors for his own purposes. He began pressuring the Church to take action against the Order, as a way of freeing himself from his debts.

The Event: On Friday, October 13, 1307 (a date sometimes spuriously linked with the origin of the Friday the 13th superstition) Philip ordered de Molay and scores of other French Templars to be simultaneously arrested. The arrest warrant started with the phrase : "Dieu n'est pas content, nous avons des ennemis de la foi dans le Royaume" ["God is not pleased. We have enemies of the faith in the kingdom"]. The Templars were charged with numerous offences (includingapostasy, idolatry, heresy, obscene rituals and homosexuality, financial corruption and fraud, and secrecy). Many of the accused confessed to these charges under torture, and these confessions, even though obtained under duress, caused a scandal in Paris. All interrogations were recorded on a thirty metre long parchment, kept at the "Archives nationales" in Paris. The prisoners were coerced to confess that they had spat on the Cross : "Moi Raymond de La Fère, 21 ans, reconnais que (J'ai) craché trois fois sur la Croix, mais de bouche et pas de coeur" (free translation : "I, Raymond de La Fère, 21 years old, admit that I have spat three times on the Cross, but only from my mouth and not from my heart"). The Templars were accused of idolatry.After more bullying from Philip, Pope Clement then issued the papal bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae on November 22, 1307, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest all Templars and seize their assets.

The Aftermath: Pope Clement called for papal hearings to determine the Templars' guilt or innocence, and once freed of the Inquisitors' torture, many Templars recanted their confessions. Some had sufficient legal experience to defend themselves in the trials, but in 1310 Philip blocked this attempt, using the previously forced confessions to have dozens of Templars burned at the stake in Paris.With Philip threatening military action unless the pope complied with his wishes, Pope Clement finally agreed to disband the Order, citing the public scandal that had been generated by the confessions. At the Council of Vienne in 1312, he issued a series of papal bulls, including Vox in excelso, which officially dissolved the Order, and Ad providam, which turned over most Templar assets to the Hospitallers.As for the leaders of the Order, the elderly Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who had confessed under torture, retracted his confession. Geoffroi de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, also retracted his confession and insisted on his innocence. Both men were declared guilty of being relapsed heretics, and they were sentenced to burn alive at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314. De Molay reportedly remained defiant to the end, asking to be tied in such a way that he could face the Notre Dame Cathedral and hold his hands together in prayer. According to legend, he called out from the flames that both Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God. His actual words were recorded on the parchment as follows : "Dieu sait qui a tort et a pëché. Il va bientot arriver malheur à ceux qui nous ont condamnés à mort" (free translation : "God knows who is wrong and has sinned. Soon a calamity will occur to those who have condemned us to death"). Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died in a hunting accident before the end of the year.With the last of the Order's leaders gone, the remaining Templars around Europe were either arrested and tried under the Papal investigation (with virtually none convicted), absorbed into other military orders such as the Knights Hospitaller, or pensioned and allowed to live out their days peacefully. By papal decree, the property of the Templars was transferred to the Order of Hospitallers, which also absorbed many of the Templars' members. In effect, the dissolution of the Templars could be seen as the merger of the two rival orders. Some may have fled to other territories outside Papal control, such as excommunicated Scotland or to Switzerland. Templar organisations in Portugal simply changed their name, from Knights Templar to Knights of Christ – see Order of Christ (Portugal).
The modern day fallacy debunked
The problem with ascribing the origin of the superstition to this event is that this event was not a big deal to most of the world at the time (except to the Knights Templar of course!). Some scholars are now convinced the stigma is a thoroughly modern phenomenon exacerbated by 20th-century media hype.[4]

[1] E. C. Brewer and J. Ayto, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Orion Books Limited, 2007.
[2] C. G. Addison, The History of the Knights Templars. Cosimo, Inc., 2007.
[3] “Knights Templar,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 12-Oct-2012.
[4] “Why Friday the 13th Is Unlucky,” Urban Legends. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 13-Oct-2012].

photo credit: teresia via photopin cc
photo credit: Svadilfari via photopin cc
photo credit: neilalderney123 via photopin cc
photo credit: Harvard Avenue via photopin cc

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How MemStash can help you memorize anything!!

Throughout life Man will encounter situations where he comes across “something” outside of himself and there is a possibility that if he is able to absorb that thing into his being he may achieve growth. 

That something can be something abstract like an idea or something material like food.

As many of us already know learning is not as easy as eating a French fry. But on the other hand what we learn or don’t learn can decide what we can or can’t do later on in life! 

Memory is an important component of learning and the purpose of this article is to introduce the idea and a free method of memorizing using technology that we already use every day.

This particular technique exploits what is called Spaced repetition and is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect.

Introducing MemStash, this is a FREE Online website.
Firstly you have to sign up for an account, after which they will tell you to drag a button to your browser. Once that is done you are set.(Don't worry there are pictures showing you what to do :))

How to use it: Whenever you come across anything you want to memorize, just highlight it on the web page using your mouse. Then click the "Stash This" bookmarklet, and MemStash will take care of the rest. 
You'll get three reminders via email or SMS within 10 minutes, 24 hours, and 7 days to remind you of it. 
All you then have to do is spend some time memorizing the material at those intervals and you will see that it sticks more easily than your earlier attempts at memorizing.

You can click on the picture below to sign up too.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Science behind Stories and their Impact

If I dip my finger three times in wax, does that make me a candle?

What is the aim of a masonic ritual?
Basically what it does is just tell a story.
After listening to this story the person who hears this story is encouraged to reflect on it - in his own time and manner and take away from the experience something that he finds valuable.

Neuroscience has discovered that we can change behaviours by changing brain chemistry. How do we change brain chemistry?
The easiest way to change brain chemistry is by giving the person some drugs. But since most of us are not licenced practitioners of medicine that option is out. What neuroscientists have discovered is that depending on the emotional state that is created in the mind, different chemicals are released in the human brain. Emotional states can be created by various means. Luckily for us there are ways of increasing those very chemicals in the human brain through other means.
The five senses afford their own means of touching the mind from the confines of the physical world.
  • Vision: Painters and artists know the effect their painting - a visual stimulus, can have on the emotional state of someone who views their art[1].
  • Hearing: Listening to music is one method. Sad music can make people feel sad [2].
  • Smell: The oldest part of the brain and also the least understood but at the same time the most potent in its ability to induce and maintain emotional states. Everyone who have ever dabbed a drop of perfume will attest to the importance it has in elevating one’s mood.[3][4]
  • Taste: The old adage “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” holds true today as it did at the time it gained currency. Scientist wanted to know if this was something that we learnt as we grew up or something that we were born with and did an interesting experiment among newborn children where they gave them plain water, sugar and lemon to taste and recorded their brain activity and facial expression. The results of the study showed that we humans are indeed born with a sweet tooth that pleases the mind.[5] Perhaps this is also the reason why human milk is sweeter than that from cows.[6]
  • Touch: The reason that our species has survived so far is because of the strong feelings this sense arouses among us. The therapeutic value in touch is also known as many people who have been on the hospital beds will attest that they felt less anxious when there was someone to hold on at the hospital bed side.[7]
But then most of us are not trained in the liberal art of music neither are we master chefs! What then is a method that most people can use? The easiest way of creating an emotional state in the mind of another is by talking to them. More particularly, telling them a story. Any of you, who have read bed time stories to a child, know how much it builds a bond between you and the child.

Behavioural scientist have also found that there are certain emotions that when triggered causes behavioural change.
Two of theses emotions are distress and empathy. These emotions led to the release of two chemicals cortisol and oxytocin respectively.
Cortisol is a stress hormone and is released in response to stress. This hormone helps us focus on the situation that is causing us stress.
Oxytocin is known as the love hormone and is associated with care, connection and empathy. If released this leads to a feeling of empathy with the situation and promotes bonding.

Freemasonry takes good men and makes them better through the telling of stories. The parroting of words does little to influence the mind of a person observing the proceedings, but the recruitment of as many of his senses as possible along with a certain atmosphere will definitely leave a lasting impression on the mind of any person.
How does one create this atmosphere? By introducing the element of drama! Gustav Freytag[8] (1816 – 1895) was a German novelist and playwright. According to Freytag, a drama is divided into five parts, or acts, which some refer to as a dramatic arc [9]:

  1. Exposition: Some essential background information.
  2. Rising action: Obstacles that are encountered.
  3. Climax: The turning point of the story or the most dramatic part.
  4. Falling action: The pieces of the story falling into place.
  5. Dénouement: The conclusion where the conflicts are resolved and a sense of relief is gained from the untying of the plot.
Those of us who study the ritual on a deeper level will soon pick up those parts of the ritual where we need to incorporate these elements for maximum effect.

For reflection, I will leave you with some questions to ponder on.
Some ritual stories ‘impact’ us so much that we are changed by it.
Have you ever seen or heard such a story?
Have you ever been changed because of an experience?
Can you bring about such a change in an individual by telling them a story?


[1]     L. Pessoa, “To what extent are emotional visual stimuli processed without attention and awareness?,” Current Opinion in Neurobiology, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 188–196, Apr. 2005.
[2]     J. K. Vuoskoski and T. Eerola, “Can sad music really make you sad? Indirect measures of affective states induced by music and autobiographical memories.,” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 204–213, 2012.
[3]     N. Gueguen, “EFFECT OF A PERFUME ON PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR OF PEDESTRIANS,” Psychological Reports, vol. 88, no. 3c, pp. 1046–1048, Jun. 2001.
[4]     J. Ledoux, The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. Simon and Schuster, 1998.
[5]     N. A. Fox and R. J. Davidson, “Taste-elicited changes in facial signs of emotion and the asymmetry of brain electrical activity in human newborns,” Neuropsychologia, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 417–422, 1986.
[6]     O. Maller and R. E. Turner, “Taste in acceptance of sugars by human infants,” J Comp Physiol Psychol, vol. 84, no. 3, pp. 496–501, Sep. 1973.
[7]     P. Heidt, “Effect of therapeutic touch on anxiety level of hospitalized patients,” Nurs Res, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 32–37, Feb. 1981.
[8]     “Gustav Freytag,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 03-Oct-2012.
[9]     “Dramatic structure,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 30-Sep-2012.

photo credits:

Werner Kunz via photopin cc
betta design via photopin cc
~jjjohn~ via photopin cc

Monday, October 1, 2012

Medieval Church Builders

Interesting, simple and insightful 4 min video on practical geometry used by Medieval Church Builders.