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The Mystic Tie

STB-OC40 October, 1940

Adieu! A heart-warm, fond adieu!
Dear Brothers of the Mystic Tie
Ye favored, ye enlightened few
Companions of my social joy!
The immortal verse of Robert Burns, written in his farewell to his
brethren of St. James Lodge, Tarbolton, Scotland, first
popularized, if it did not originate, the three words now
universally recognized by all English speaking Freemasons as
expressing the very essence of the Fraternity.
But to recognize is one thing to define is quite another, as any
man may discover who attempts to describe a perfume, a sunset, a
symphony, so another may smell, see, hear with the speaker.
What IS the Mystic Tie? Is it an obligation, taken before an Altar?
Is it a Covenant, entered into between a man and men, before God
and his fellows? Is it a thing that one can hold in his hand and
see with his eye? Is it a matter of that land of the inner life, in
which a man thinks the thoughts he never tells and learns the
truths he cannot teach?
To every man, even the most extrovert and obvious-minded, comes at
times a spiritual experience. Tongue-tied in the grip of emotion,
few phrase it. But it happens and none who reads these lame words
but will admit it to himself at least, no matter how vociferously
he denies it aloud.
It comes in as many ways as are men to whom it comes. One man
stands before a mighty mountainhis eyes follow its rocky fastness
up, up, up to where austere saw teeth of stone cut into the blue.
Something in the might, the majesty, the aloofness, the dignity,
the timelessness of the mass passes from rock to heart and sings
therein a harmony which never quite dies away. Another cultivates
a rose garden and in the pure beauty of the blossom which bursts
forth under his ministering hands sees a vision not of the earth,
earthy. A third kneels in a cathedral and as the organ's deepest
diapason sounds a note so low it is hardly heard, so profound
nothing else can be heard, and a shaft or sunlight strikes through
stained glass to pick out a bit of stone carving, feels himself
close to the eternal verities . . .
And others sit in a Lodge a familiar. everyday, ordinary fact of
brotherhood's experience. They hear familiar ritual they see
familiar faces they engage in familiar actions. There is no
element of surprise, or drama, or great event, yet there is
something present which is found nowhere else something that men
come, and come, and come again, often all their lives through, to
get . .
As illusive as a half-memory or childhood, as hard to catch as a
sunbeam, as intangible as the hint of spring that sets the birds to
flying north, it is as strong as steel, as permanent as the earth,
as certain and dependable as gravity.
Brother Arthur F. Powell comes as near as may be to saying what is
not sayable
"What strand is it that tugs at our hearts. taut when so many
threads are broken in the rough ways of the world?" he asks. then
answers: "Ask what it is in the wild that calls to the little wild
things? What sacred secret things do the mountains whisper to the
hillmen, so silently yet so surely that they can be heard above the
din and clatter of the world? What mystery does the sea tell to
the sailor, the desert to the Arab, the arctic ice to the explorer,
the stars to the astronomer? When we have answered these
questions, mayhap we may divine the magic of Masonry. Who knows
what it is or how or why unless it be the long Cabletow of God
running from heart to heart?"
We learn in school that a whole is the sum of all its parts. If,
then, we might list all the parts which compose the Mystic Tie,
their sum should be the definition of the whole. But it is not.
Firstly, we cannot "list all the parts," since one man's list and
that of his brother would differ even as our brother's differ from
ours. And secondly and finally. a whole which is the sum of all its
parts is materialand the Mystic Tie is not made of matter.
We all have the same number of letters in the alphabet: we all have
access to the dictionary which contains every word in the
languagebut we do not know how to take of these and write a
Psalm of David, or Sermon on the Mount. Wt have the bricks and the
stone and may even possess the planbut the mortar of the spirit
to build them into something deathlessthat escapes us. Modern
musicians have more notes to the scale than were known to Brahms
and Beethoven and more strings and brass and woodwind to sound
thembut who writes symphonies as the Masters wrote?
Still, we may try. knowing in advance that we must fail..
Ritual is a part of the Mystic Tie. How or why man must make
rituals and learn them, love them, preserve them, is as mysterious
as anything in lifebut it has always been so. There is something
deep within us which demands a set form of expression: we may say
the thought in a thousand ways but we do say it in unison and in a
special way. And this is true whether it be Freemasonry or Church
or everyday life which is filled with a ritual so common that we do
not think of it as ritual. "Good morning! How are you?" ritual.
To smile on seeing a friendly face ritual. The clasp of hand to
hand the familiar gathering of family about a table school,
business, earning a livingall are rituals without which life
would be unlivable. The lover's kiss and the words which all the
world knows but which are invariably whispered as a secret these,
too, are ritual. And so the ritual of the Lodge, with its old, old
truths phrased in stilted old-fashioned words and teaching anew
every time it is heard what is already known of all who hear
itthis golden chain of sounds which die even as they are born,
and yet which never cease sounding once they have been taken into
the heartthey are a part of the Mystic Tie.
Teaching and learning ritual is a part of it. Long ago, answering
some question regarding the oral and the cipher method of teaching
ritual, Dr. Joseph Fort Newton, beloved and inspired brother,
"What is efficiency in the teaching of Masonry? Surely it is
something more than accuracy of the letter, valuable as that is. It
is also the communication of a spirit, and we submit that this
highest and most precious result is better achieved by oral
instruction. It goes deeper, it stays longer, it touches parts of
our nature which are not reached by decoding a cipher. For example,
we were instructed in Masonry by a noble and gracious man to whom
Masonry meant very muchlong since gone to join the white and
silent people we call the deadbut the impress of his spirit
lingers still. He gave us something which no book can give, because
the finest truth is communicated only through personalityit
passes silently, mystically, from soul to soul. It is so in all
education. The best thing a lad gets at college is not from books,
but from his contact with strong menas when Garfield said that
the best university would be to sit on one end of a log with Horace
Mann on the other end. Inaccuracies may be corrected, but we cannot
think that the hours which we spent in fellowship with the gracious
man who instructed us in the days that come not back, were wasted.
Never! Perhaps we are sentimental. If so, we are glad of it. But we
do feel that to abandon the oral teaching of Masonry would mean the
loss of something unique, particular, and fine, and we know of
nothing to take its place."
Friendship is a part of the mystic tie that glory of life in which
man finds a man in whom he can trust, for whom he would labor, with
whom he would live. Not the greatest poet who has yet lived has
been able to define friendship. We know what it is, but we cannot
explain it. Yet it is there, alive, vital, a part of Lodge life, an
integer in the whole, and so a part of the Mystic Tie.
Mystery is a part of itindeed, is it not named for mystery? And
Freemasonry is so filled with mysteries! From whence came it, this
chain of fraternity which began we know not when and grew we know
not how? And whither does it go? The one as much a mystery as the
other. Why do men seek that which does not advertise, which is
known so little, (and that little, so badly) by the outside world?
What unknown millions of men once trod its halls? Their names,
their lives, their acts, their influencewe know them not. True,
we can sup with Ashmole and enter St. Peter's with Wren we can
kneel with Washington in a Lodge in Fredericksburg, and we can
touch the hand of Lafayette in a Masonic procession at least in
reading and in imagination. But the millions of unknowns who
stepped as we have stepped, who spoke as we have spoken, who
pledged as we have pledged, who lived and loved and died in
Freemasonry, as we live and love and will diethey are a mystery
a dear, bewildering, unknown and forever to be unknown mystery
buta part of the Mystic Tie. The "secrets" of Freemasonry are a
part of it. Granted that those secrets are of use and value only to
the Freemason, the fact remains men love that which is secret,
that which sets them off from their fellows that which the
uninitiated cannot share. Passengers on a liner exclaim at the huge
size of an iceberg, seldom realizing that there is eight times as
much ice below the surface of the sea as is visible above. So with
the power of the secrets of Freemasonry the bond that lies within
them is eighty times eight tighter than is tied by their mere
Quoting again from the so-very-quotable Dr. Newton, writing in The
"In the Old Charges of Craft Masonry the initiate was obligated to
keep the secrets of the Craft, by his honor as a man on the
'contents of this holy Book.' What were those secrets in the olden
time? They included the technical secrets of his artwhich have
become symbolical secrets to usand the Signs and tokens by which
he made himself known as a Master Mason when he went a-journeying.
Those secrets protected both the artist and his art. What are the
secrets of a Master Mason now? Not the wise and noble truths which
the order teaches. Our fundamental Principles are the common
possession of thinking men and are the foundations of the higher
human life everywhere. Now what is secret in Masonry is not the
truth which it teaches. but the method by which it teaches itits
ceremonial and symbolism, and the signs and token by which it
protects the privacy of its Lodge room that it may teach more
impressively. Also, those signs and tokens serve as a cover under
which charity, brotherliness, and the busy heart of love can work
without ostentationenabling us to serve a brother in perplexity
or need without wounding a heart already sore. Therefore, if those
secrets were surrendered, something beautiful and fine would he
lost. In other days it required some courage to be a Mason, and
those old pioneers who faced obloquy for their Masonic faith and
fellowship, knew what they were about when they took no risks of
having their sacred secrets violated but kept them warm and tender
and true, passing them from mouth to ear down the years!" Of the
Mystic Tie, too the universality of Freemasonry is a part. Two and
a half million brothers in this nationfive million in the world.
In every civilized Country Freemasonry has grown and thrived
until, alas, the idealogies of Dictators who revere only force
struck down the gentle Craft in conquered countries. To be a part
of anything important is always a bond: to be a part of anything so
universal so widespread, so essential to so many peoples in so many
lands and times surely this is a part of the Mystic Tie.
"My Mother Lodge!" Next to his family and his God many a man keeps
thought of Mother Lodge closely and dearer in his heart than
anything else the world may offer him. Its hall may be small and
old. Its furniture may be shabby and decrepit. The pictures on the
walls may be faded, the carpet worn, the physical side wholly drab.
but the Mother Lodge itself is neither shabby nor drab, it shines
with a gentle radiance in the hearts of brethren who love it and
the light it sheds they will follow far. Surely it too, is a part
of the Mystic Tie..
So on these pages might run on for volumes and still the story
would not be told nor the arts listed show forth the truth of the
None who have known it would think of denying the strength of the
Mystic Tie. None who have its cord about their hearts would loose
it. None can wholly comprehend it: none define, describe it. It
exists it works its gentle miracles: it is as mighty as it is
intangible. Perhaps that singer of Freemasonry had a partial vision
of it when he wrote "The Road":
So many men before thy Alter kneel
Unthinkingly, to promise brotherhood:
So few remain, humbly to kiss thy rood
With ears undefened to their mute appeal:
So many find thy symbols less than real.
Thy teachings mystic, hard to understand:
So few there are in all thy far flung band
To hold thy banner high and draw thy steel,
And yetimmortal and most mighty , thou!
What hath thy lore of life to let it live?
What is the vital spark, hid in thy vow?
Thy Millions learned, as thy dear paths
they trod.
The secret of the strength thou hast to give
"I am a way of common men of God."
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