Ruffians, our Brothers

From Bro L. DeWayne Nichols, Maryland, USA

Every Master Mason I know understands exactly where in the ritual I am speaking of when I say “ruffian”. It is a word that is associated with a few individuals in the Master Mason Degree. From the American version of this degree I have seen worked in various grand lodges we are not told much about them. All we know is they are masons who do an evil deed.

However, I have recently read parts of ritual that is worked primarily outside of the United States a description of them which I find very telling. There is one phrase that doesn’t provide much more information but sometimes a little goes a long way. In M.M. Taylor’s Ritual of Craft Masonry we read “Fifteen fellow crafts of that superior class of workmen appointed to preside over the rest,…”

This does not give much because, yes, in the various American variations there are indeed fifteen who are involved in the plot. What it does give us or at least what it gave me is something that logically makes sense. That is “superior class of workmen appointed to preside over the rest,” these were not just ordinary masons no these we highly skilled and knowledgeable men. These were men who not only supervised the many numbers of other Craftsmen but they also knew the personal schedule of one of our ancient grand masters.

These ruffians were not cowans, they were not eavesdroppers, no they were not pretenders. Brethren they were us. They were men who had worked in the quarry and received wages. They were men whom were close to their grand master. They were men who were appointed to preside. They were Masonic leaders.

Yet they were evil, selfish, and worked extremely hard to force a change in the craft. The result of their hard work was death and chaos. Not only did they not achieve what they wanted but they stopped others from obtaining what they were working for. They stopped each of us from gaining what we have been searching for.

We all know the story is not factual and its purpose to communicate life lessons. As each of us has went through the degree we either portrayed or observed another portray our late grand master. So we each tend to take the lessons from his point of view. They are the most obvious and the most rattling. But surely there is more?

Stop and think were these men always ruffians? I believe not. Like each of us they were Craftsmen who had been Apprentices and through their work proved to be more capable. No these men certainly were of lawful age, properly vouched for, and under a tongue of good report. The rolls had to be called to determine who they were. Why, because there was no one in the Craft who assumed these three were bad apples. They after all were Brothers and Masons. They were men whom had worked with dozens if not hundreds of other masons honorably from possibly decades.

But their actions are now branded forever in each of our minds as the pivotal portion of the Third Degree. They are not considered our brothers no they are ruffians. When their wickedness was discovered their brothers hunted them down and eventually killed them. The actions caused damage to the Craft. They saw the end coming and panicked.

How can we apply this today? What is the lesson I want to pass along in this paper? That these men were Masons and though the lack of patience began conducting themselves in unmasonic ways.

After they had completed their plans they regretted it immensely. They had remorse; they were not evil to the core. But the wrong choice at the wrong time damaged their lodge and cost them their lives.

Today our fraternity is changing. Our membership numbers are less today than during the Great Depression. Today how many of our Masonic leaders, members, and casual observers see this as the fraternity coming to an end. Like our misguided allegorical Brothers, might we also become ruffians?

Might we panic and wonder if we will receive the master’s word. Might we panic and make a rush decision that goes against centuries of Masonic teachings that will cause confusion and possibly death. I can firmly and positively tell you Brothers, I don’t know.

Are the changes we are making and have made regarding membership, advancement, and leadership, the right choices? Again I don’t know. I don’t think they are but I don’t know. What I do know is like the Craftsmen left in the quarry after the ruffians acted there is confusion in the Temple. There are no plans on the trestle board. And our Grand Master is teaching fewer men every year.

Will we like the ruffians of old be guilty of murder? Will we commit a crime worse than theirs? Will we strike the final blow? Will we say “good night Brethren” and never resume labor again at the sound of the gavel? Will we ask “who comes here” and have no one answer? I do not know.