I have observed on numerous occasions, in Masonic groups on Facebook, on Reddit and the like, a young man just Raised to the Third Degree showing off the ring his wife purchased for him or which was his grandfather’s and has been handed down to him. The first comment — and for some reason all too often it is the first comment — is not one congratulating him on being Raised to the Sublime Degree or complimenting his beautiful ring. Instead, it is someone who believes the most important message to deliver is that he is wearing his ring with the points the wrong way.
Likewise, I have seen young men post pictures of their new Masonic tattoo, so proud of their membership in our fraternity that they have etched it indelibly into their flesh, and someone then writes out an entire paragraph of the most esoteric content of the first degree to explain why tattoos are forbidden, never pausing to pay attention to their own violation of the very promise which they are writing out to expose to profane eyes.
Let’s deal with the specifics of these issues. There is no Grand Jurisdiction in the world of which I am aware that has a regulation specifying that rings are to be worn points in or points out. I, for one, am unalterably opposed to any such regulation. A man proud enough of his membership to invest in and wear a ring can wear it points in, points out, or through his nose for all I care. He is my Brother and I glad that he is finding joy in our institution.
Freemasons have been getting Masonic tattoos for hundreds of years.
Indeed, when records of tattoos on sailors in the 18th century, kept to help identify individuals, are examined, Masonic tattoos are not terribly common, but they are there. Some sailors joined lodges and immediately got such tattoos in the hopes that should the worst occur and their body were to wash up on some strange shore, their Brothers would ensure that even a stranger, identified as a Brother Mason, now entirely destitute, would receive a dignified burial.
We put our symbols on our buildings. On the outside. Where they may be seen by anyone. We put them on our rings. I am pretty sure some of the complaints about Masonic tattoos have been typed by hands wearing rings with the very emblems about which they were complaining. Our symbols are explained to the initiated, but we have never hidden them from others — indeed in 1723 there was a Masonic procession, in London, in public, in which many of the emblems of the Craft were carried.
My lodge has many members who have tattoos — many have chosen to get Masonic tattoos. Some are simple square and compasses, others are far more complex. Some speak to the personal Masonic history of the individual and others to the particular preferences of the Brother. In every case, we’re simply glad that a Brother has felt so connected to our Lodge and to Freemasonry that he wishes to make a permanent statement of his love for the Craft.
Indeed, it is love that, believe it or not, I wish to discuss. I cannot imagine what it is like to sit in lodge with the sort of man who would tell a new Brother he is wearing his ring improperly. The level of pettiness and the lack of awareness of the soul draining impact of those words is simply stunning. It demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the most basic lesson of the Level and is almost entirely irreconcilable with Brotherly love. I cannot imagine what it is like to sit in lodge with a man would violate his obligation just to pour cold water on the joy of a Brother proudly showing off his new Masonic tattoo. That demonstrates a sort of blind legalism married to ignorance that is difficult to explain.
In the New Testament, we are told to remove the log from our own eye before attempting to remove the mote from the eye of our Brother. I would recommend this practice to those Masons inclined towards an over emphasis on the letter of the law or who believe that the peculiar practices of their lodge or jurisdiction are universal in Freemasonry.
Let’s always start with love towards one another, sincerely wishing to join in celebrating with our Brothers their joys rather than working to convert them to miseries. Let’s be less interested in trying to trip one another up with the letter of the law and remember that the tenets of our profession as Masons are Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.
If you’ve been listening to this podcast for any amount of time, you know I have a great deal of affection for my Mother Lodge. I was reminded of the reason for this at our last communication when I looked around the room at our collation following the meeting and found my Brothers genuinely enjoying one another’s company, laughing together, talking about their lives and about their families, and simply being glad to spend time with a Brother. We had done the Work of the evening — and done it very well, indeed. And now it was time to breathe life into the words our ritual by spending a little time together in celebration.
Let’s see more of this spirit in the way we treat one another both online and off. And the next time it occurs to you that some Brother has made some trifling error, instead of seeking to put him to death over it, why not cover it under a broad mantle of Brotherly Love and Charity?