What Is Masonry?
Originally Published in Carl H. Claudy's Old Tiler Talks - 1925
"I've been a Mason six months now and I ought to
know something about Masonry. But there are more
secrets in the fraternity I don't know than those I have
The New Brother was puzzled. The Old Tiler laid
down his sword, picked up a half-smoked cigar and lit
it, and settled back in his chair.
"Get it out of your system," he invited.
"Is Masonry a religion," continued the New Brother,
"or a system of philosophy, or a childish getting
together of men who like to play politics and wear
titles? I have heard it called all three. Sometimes I
think it's one and sometimes the other. What do you
"It isn't a childish getting together for the love of titles
and honors," answered the Old Tiler. "Men would
soon invent a much better organization for the
satisfaction of such purposes. In fact, he has invented
better ones. Men who want to play politics and be
called the Grand High Cockalorum of the Exalted
Central Chamber of the Secret Sanctorum can join
these. If Masonry were nothing but play, it wouldn't
live, and living, grow.
"Masonry isn't a religion. A religion, as I see it, is a
belief in deity and a means of expressing worship.
Masonry recognizes Deity, and proceeds only after
asking divine guidance. But it does not specify any
particular deity. You can worship any God you please
and be a Mason. That is not true of any religion. If you
are a Buddhist, you worship Buddha. If a Christian,
Christ is your Deity. If you are a Mohammedan you
are a worshiper of Allah. In Masonry you will find
Christian, Jew, Mohammedan and Buddhist side by
"Masonry has been called a system of philosophy, but
that is a confining definition. I don't think Masonry has
ever been truly defined."
"Or God," put in the New Brother.
"Exactly. A witty Frenchman, asked if he believed in
God, replied, 'Before I answer, you must tell me your
definition of God. And when you tell me, I will answer
you, no, because a God defined is a God limited, and
a limited God is no God.' Masonry is something like
that; it is brotherhood, unlimited, and when you limit it
by defining it you make it something it isn't."
"Deep stuff!" commented the New Brother.
"Masonry is 'deep stuff,'" answered the Old Tiler. "It's
so deep no man has ever found the bottom. Perhaps
that is its greatest charm; you can go as far as you
like and still not see the limit. The fascination of
astronomy is the limitlessness of the field. No
telescope has seen the edge of the universe. The
fascination of Masonry is that it has no limits. The
human heart has no limit in depth and that which
appeals most to the human heart cannot have a limit."
"But that makes it so hard to understand!" sighed the
"Isn't it the better for being difficult of
comprehension?" asked the Old Tiler. "A few days
ago I heard an eminent divine and Mason make an
inspiring talk. I hear a lot of talks; nine-tenths are
empty words with a pale tallow-tip gleam of a faint
idea somewhere in them. So when a real talker lets
the full radiance of a whole idea shine on an
audience, he is something to be remembered. This
speaker quoted a wonderful poem, by William Herbert
Carruth. I asked him to send it to me, and he did;
please note, this busy man, president of a university,
and with a thousand things to do, didn't forget the
request of a brother he never saw before!"
The Old Tiler put his hand in his pocket and took out a
much-thumbed piece of paper. "Listen you," he said,
"'till I read you just one verse of it:
"A picket frozen on duty;
A mother, starved for her brood;
Socrates drinking the hemlock,
and Jesus on the rood;
And millions who, humble and nameless,
The straight hard pathway plod;
Some call it consecration
And others call it God.'
The New Brother said nothing, held silent by the
beauty of the lines.
"I am no poet," continued the Old Tiler, "and I know
this isn't very fitting, but I wrote something to go with
those verses, just to read to brothers like you." Shyly
the Old Tiler continued:
"Many men, banded together
Standing where Hiram stood;
Hand to back of the falling,
Helping in brotherhood.
Wise man, doctor, lawyer,
Poor man, man of the hod,
Many call it Masonry
And others call it God."
"I don't think it makes much difference what we call it,
do you?" asked the New Brother.