About nine, or maybe ten years ago, in about 2007, I was happily "unattached" when a Freemason from a Horsham Lodge rang up to tell me that I was qualified to be their next Master. I was astonished. After two years away from the ritual, most of the little that I had learned, was leaking away from my memory. I guess I was a little flattered, but also more than a little terrified.
I'd been a pretty poor specimen of a Freemason until then. I was made a mason in about 1981 and raised to be a master mason about 2 years later. I'd sat on the back benches at lodge meetings, struggling to stay awake as ceremonies were performed that simply did not fire me with enthusiasm. I really had no idea what was going on.
I had attended lodge of instruction, learned actions, words and phrases that meant little or nothing to me, and I was told that I was "doing really well". In due course, they progressed me through the ranks all the way to Senior Warden, at which point my personal life took a nosedive. I made my excuses, stood aside and became unattached.
Then came that phone call! It was December and feeling a sense of destiny (yes, truly I did) I agreed to take the Chair. I was then told that the ceremony was in six weeks' time, and there were things I had to know, followed by an Initiation one month later.
The Director of Ceremonies (DC) was a giant ego of a mason: he knew it all by heart and had enormous expectations of all of us and I just knew that I was not up to the job. In fact we were afraid of him - man’s his ashes are embedded in the lodge wall, so he's still watching me! For the next six weeks, I read the Blue Book in the bath, in the toilet, in bed at night! I recorded the paragraphs that I needed to memorise, and echoed them back to myself while driving. I went to every LOI. Senior Freemasons tutored me in Wednesday's at a travelling lodge that moved from house to house by week. Eventually, the time came to do the deed for real. I remembered nothing at all! It's takes time and repetition rather than last minute panic to learn our ceremonies!
So in my first year as a Master I documented every sign, every gesture, every word, every variation, every contradiction: I documented it, played it back at lodge of instruction, challenged others when it changed differently from week to week, and wrote it all down. I did that for each degree and for Installation and that is the only way that I actually managed to learn it.
I learned everything in chunks as I went through things in detail. Paragraphs in random order, to later be assembled In the right sequence. Acronyms to help me to remember which words were used in which minor variations of similar paragraphs. Diagrams to help me remember where each Officer had to be, and when. They had to be there and what they had to say when they were there: and when it came to the live events, I still made mistakes.
I have now been a DC for about 10 years and in more than one lodge. So what have I learned?
Firstly, I firmly believe that it's not the precision of the words that counts: it's the sentiment behind them and the metaphors within them that really matter.
Secondly I have understood that it's not how the lodge, or the province that matters when we perform a ceremony: it's how the candidate experiences it that really matters.
Thirdly, I know that however hard we strive, if we achieve perfection in this world it will be an illusion or a fluke.
Next, I feel that the deepest truth of our brotherhood lies in the support that we give to each other, and to all humankind, and that this is what really matters, not the regimentation of the rituals, not the theatricality of the delivery, not the politics of the institution, that makes us true Freemasons,
Lastly, my duty as DC is to get the best out of each individual and to blend us all into an effective team, so that the exercise of our floor work, the memorisation of our words, the embedded lessons of our metaphorical plays mean more to us at a deeper level than before, to make good men better.
Worshipful Brother Ian Aird, Director of Ceremonies (3 August 2017)