Tonight’s Masonic education will be on four words we’ve echoed since time immemorial, “so mote it be”. I’ll begin with the words of Albert Pike:
“It is for each individual Mason to discover the secrets of Masonry, by reflection upon its symbols and a wise consideration and analysis of what is said and done in the work. Masonry does not inculcate her truths; She states them, once and briefly; or hints them, perhaps, darkly; or interposes a cloud between them and eyes that would be dazzled by them. “Seek, and ye shall find, knowledge and the truth.”
That I started really looking into what we say and what we do in this lodge. Sure, it has a simple value, but to the outside? What are those words?
So Mote It Be. Four words we’ve said hundreds of times, more especially in a Masonic lodge. No lodge has ever opened or closed, in due form, without using it. Yet, few know how old it is, much less what a deep meaning it has in it. The words have been shouldered forward in time through the fraternity. The word mote is an Anglo-Saxon word, derived from the verb motan, meaning “to be able to”, or “must. Have to.”
The words are referenced twice in the Masonic document titled the “Regius Poem”, one of the oldest Masonic documents in existence. Dated 1309, it’s a rhymed verse and consists of 794 lines. Almost 3/4th of it down, it says,
And very contrition for my sin,
That I never, Lord, die therein;
And as thou were of maid born,
Suffer me never to be lost;
But when I shall hence wend,
Grant me the bliss without end;
Amen! Amen! So mote it be!
Now sweet lady pray for me.”
The second time,
“When he doth speak, hold thee still,
When he hath done, say for thy will,
In thy speech that thou be discreet,
And what thou sayest consider thee well;
But deprive thou not him his tale,
Neither at the wine nor at the ale.
Christ then of his high grace,
Save you both wit and space,
Well this book to know and read,
Heaven to have for your reward.
Amen! Amen! so mote it be!
So say we all for charity.”
What, then, is the meaning of this old phrase, so interwoven with all our Masonic lore, simple, tender, haunting? Simply put, it is the Masonic form of the ancient Amen which echoes through the ages, gathering meaning and music as it goes until it is both one of the richest and most haunting of words.
When we have uttered all that we can utter, and our poor words seem like ripples of the unspoken, somehow this familiar phrase gathers up all that is left- our dumb yearnings, our deepest longings and bears them aloft to One who understands.
The place of prayer in Masonry is vital and profound. As man enters the Lodge, as an initiate, prayer is offered for him to God, in whom he puts his trust. Later, in a crisis, he must pray for himself, orally or mentally, as his heart may elect. It is not just a ceremony; it is basic in the faith and spirit of Masonry. It is also the assent of man to the way and will of God; assent to His commands. Assent to His providence, even when a tender, terrible stroke of death takes from us one much loved and leaves us sorrowful. Still, somehow, we must say: “So it is- so it be”. It is not blind submission, nor dumb resignation, but a wise reconciliation to the will of the Eternal.
There’s more wisdom in a whispered prayer than in all the libraries of the world. A Masonic prayer said for generations goes “May two brothers enjoy and serve thee together, and so live today that we may be worthy to live tomorrow.”
So mote it be.