Origins of Masonic Memory Part III – The Age of Enlightenment to Modern Times

Finally, we reach the present period … with the formation of the first modern grand lodge in the early 1700’s

 

During this period Masonic ritual continued to evolved. Different lodges had different workings, and the number of ceremonies began to change and be morphed into degrees. No one knows exactly how and if, masonry transitioned from operative stonemasons into our current band of masonry. However, the overwhelming amount of evidence points to that as being a fact, especially when you considered in Scotland, which was late to form a grand lodge, did so with lodges that were still filled with operative masons.

 

Rafael T Pinke points out in his paper memory in lodge, and 18th century mnemonic, that memorization took on a new motif, that of imprinting. We first see this in a the first book on modern freemasonry, the constitutions of the freemasons. In a history of the craft, we see that it is mention that Masonry is imprinted on the mind of Adam.

During this period, it is believed Masons continued to memorize portions of the ritual and began developing external memory aides. (Tracing Devices).

In the late part of the 18th century an highly educated Brother named William Preston felt the degree system at the time had fell into shambles.

He began to correspond with lodges and grand lodges from all over Europe, hoping to obtain pieces of masonic knowledge he felt were lost or unknown. He next formed a club of masons who helped him review all the information and digest it into more comprehensible form.

When he was done he shared his work now called the Illustrations of Masonry with the Premier Grand Lodge of England, who incorporated his work into their rituals.

Throughout the work Preston talks of the need to imprint (memorize) the teachings of masonry on to the mind, and that it was the duty of every mason “to make a daily progress in the Art (freemasonry)”.

In discussing, the symbols of the first degree he states the fourth section of the rituals (the one existing at that time) detailed the origins of why we used the method of Hieroglyphic (symbolic) instruction, he states symbols were useful for two reasons. The first it helped conceal knowledge, and the second, more pertinent to this current paper it was because of their ability to imprint on the human mind.

 

He writes Every thing that strikes the eye, more immediately engages the attention, and imprints on the memory serious and solemn truths.” This is just like what is detailed in ancient manuals of memory, that things that were visual or could be visualize were easier to remember.

 

He combine this with his idea that the lectures should be further imprint by studied daily and recited at the meetings. These lectures he sought to continuously improved by discussion and debate. This he said helped imprint on their memory a faithful discharge of their duties.

 

From here the history of masonic memorization takes many different routes. According to harry Carr, great Masonic Historian. Prestons work spread to the U.S. by his students Webb and Dungan, and the the art of masonic memory evolved into a new form.

 

When the two grand lodges of england finally merged in 1813, much of the ritual workings of their previous degree were greatly reduce, and much of prestons work was removed. Proficiency for english brothers became about passing a series of 10-12 questions, written out in plain english, with maybe a word removed. However, tracing boards became more common place.

 

In the U.S. things were different, proficiency was based on giving the proper answer to over 50 or so questions, that one had to know by heart.

 

These he had to learn directly from another brother who was so competent. In many jurisdiction, the use of a cypher helped the study of the proficiency, however unlike in England, every single word was in “code”.

 

This lead Harry Carr to conclude that in America we studied ritual a lot more in depth then overseas. There is another thing to emphasize.

 

The abundance of the need to memorize tons of ritual verbatim, is also the reason for the main memory technique to be used was verbal repetition.

 

This marked a change in the way education was looked at in society as well, and rote learning came to predominate everything. This continue for over 200 years, until today ….