By: Brother Alan Jamison, Damascus Lodge #10, F&AM
This year, the Worshipful Master appointed me to be your Tyler. Who is the Tyler? What is his importance? Of course, we are all familiar with what he currently does and where he is stationed in the Lodge… He is the brother “without the door armed with proper implements of his office.” But he is more than this.
Historically, we know that the medieval operative craft guilds jealously guarded their trade secrets. They would post a sentry outside the meeting place to protect it from inspection or intrusion by the uninitiated. He was known as an outer guard, guarder or doorkeeper and often was the most junior apprentice, who was not eligible to attend the trade discussions.
From a Masonic perspective, the Tyler continued this guarding tradition. The 1723 First Book of Constitutions described “another brother to look after the door,” and in Regulation XXVI charged the use of porters or doorkeepers. The word Tyler first appeared in print in new Regulation XXVI of the 1738 Second Book of Constitutions, which recalled Old Regulation XIII of the first Grand Lodge of 17l7, which required that “another brother and Master Mason, should be appointed the Tyler, to look after the door.”
The ritual tells us that he is “armed with the proper implement of his office,” not only to ward off potential intruders but also to symbolically guard the Book of Constitutions from alteration. This was described as a sharp instrument, initially a pointed trowel and later a sword.
Today the Tyler uses only an emblem of his position, a single unsheathed sword. Military or militia was required to relinquish their swords before entering the lodge room. However, in other jurisdictions, it may be a colonial musket with a bayonet or crossed swords, right over left. Before opening some lodges, a sword lies on the Worshipful Master’s pedestal. At the proper moment, the Tyler is summoned into the Lodge and must answer specific questions as to his place and duties. Then the Worshipful Master hands him the emblem, investing him with the power to ward off intruders and “suffer none to pass but such as were duly qualified.”
A Tyler is appointed to his office and compensated for his duties and “lonely position.” He is a Master Mason who is respected and well-informed in Masonic law and custom. His qualities must include a good memory, trustworthiness, dignity, sympathy, patience, and dedication. He recognizes and greets the brethren, assuring that they are “duly qualified” by being clean, not inebriated and properly clothed with aprons.
He is a one-man welcoming committee for visitors, giving them the first and most important impression of his Lodge. He assures that members and visitors sign the Tyler’s Register. In the old days, when taverns and other non-permanent places were used, it was the Tyler’s charge to form or draw the lodge with chalk and charcoal. Within a rectangle, he displayed various Masonic emblems of the proper degree level. His classical duties included the preparation and service of notices and summonses. He had the key to the apron box and was in charge of the Lodge’s possessions, arranging them properly for upcoming meetings and securing them afterward. He gave notice of the times of “calling on” and “calling off,” oversaw the proper preparation of candidates and even collected visitor’s dinner fees! The special “Tyler’s Knock” signals the lodge already in-session that a qualified brother requests admission. He will refuse entry to anyone whom he does not personally recognize or who cannot be “properly vouched for” by another brother. If this visitor is subsequently cleared by an ad-hoc examining committee, he will administer the Tyler’s Oath.
Many of you know I grew up in Fredericksburg, VA. I was surrounded by history. As a child, I would ride my bike to the historic part of town, where on Princess Anne Street, I would pass by a placarded historic building. I later discovered it to be the square and compass of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, the Mother Lodge of George Washington. Ironically, I rode along Cowan Street to get there.
Years later, I discovered the petitions from my ancestor, a highly regarded town minister, to gain membership into an Illinois Lodge under dispensation on January 3, 1842. The petition came back favorably in a Stated Meeting on February 3, 1842. On April 22, 1842, he was initiated, passed on April 29, and raised to the sublime degree on April 30.
My family roots take link me even further to Freemasonry, mixed with sensationalism and the history of Rosslyn, its chapel and the St. Clairs. Hugh de Payens served on the First Crusade with Henri St. Clair, 1st Baron of Rosslyn. The St. Clairs were loyal to Robert the Bruce. Sir Henry St. Clair, 7th Baron of Rosslyn, fought at the Battle of Bannockburn.
There is a legend that the Knights Templar reached Scotland and were welcomed by Robert the Bruce; the Templars helped Robert the Bruce win the Battle of Bannockburn, and that the King was so grateful for this, that lands and titles were awarded. If this is true, it is not a great leap to suggest that the St. Clairs must have been involved with the Templars in some way, given their loyalty and close relationship to the King.
I have often wondered why or how any of this can matter. These are all great men! How can I even compare myself to any of these? What true connections do I have with any of this? You might be surprised by my conclusion:
Every Mason, before becoming a Brother, does the same thing as those did before him: kneel at a place depicting the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of King Solomon’s Temple—better known in Masonic circles as the alter in the Sanctum Sanctorum—and offer a prayer of supplication. Whether it be a king, ruler, minister, or servant to the people (or all of the above), we each devote our resources and energy to be a better man.
Every man’s personal prayer is his own, but there is a prayer we all share and discuss, the Chaplain’s Prayer:
Most holy and glorious Lord God, the Great Architect of the Universe, the giver of all good gifts and graces. Thou hast promised that “where two or three are gathered together in thy name, thou wilt be in their midst and bless them.” In thy name, we have assembled, and in thy name, we desire to proceed in all our doings. Grant that the sublime principles of Freemasonry may so subdue every discordant passion within us—so harmonize and enrich our hearts with Thine own love and goodness – that the Lodge at this time may humbly reflect that order and beauty which reign forever before thy throne. Amen.
Most holy and glorious Lord God, the Great Architect of the Universe
It is interesting to note that the Masonic prayer allows every Brother to define beyond title, who and what God is. We pay our respects because of what we have received.
A giver of all good gifts and graces
A Lodge, after all, is a place where a man can rest from his labors without having argument or prejudice, to reflect on how to improve oneself. In a recent meeting, we were asked, “Why Damascus?” Is it irony that the ancient city used to be surrounded by an oasis? It is common for Bedouin tribesmen, natives to the ancient land, to show the greatest hospitality to their guests.
Ancient Damascus is surrounded by desert. Every step in a desert outside a place of refuge must be done decisively and deliberately. It is ironic that we pray for grace. I ask whether we are asking for elegance or refinement of movement or the covenant bestowal of blessings?
Being an Architect
Being an architect means we need to build. Building takes action. It also means that we know how to properly use the tools that have been bestowed or gifted to us and produce fruitful results:
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:15-16).
I am not a religious man, but I am an ethical one, and I know the truth when I hear it. Being a Mason is of little consequence if we don’t take the time to show what we have learned. Many men can and do walk through our doors to ask us what makes us special or different; we won’t be anything of importance to ourselves or others if we fail to show our light to others. We pray to proceed with the Architects gifts and graces.
Remember that we do not pray to remove passion but to subdue it. We still must be passionate about our Craft, or we lose what makes it important!
To harmonize and enrich hearts means that we don’t act alone on logic and knowledge but bring it into harmony within God’s love and goodness, otherwise known as charity.
To reflect means to mirror our actions. To have order means to have a purpose: a cause. This reminds me of chivalry. Kenelm Henry Digby wrote, “Chivalry is only a name for that general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world.”
A Tyler does, armed with the implement of his office, guard at the outer door. What does he guard against? Cowans and eavesdroppers. What is the difference between that and a petitioner? In my humble opinion, it is that of a thoughtful and patient desire to learn and grow versus one who wants to cut corners and pry for answers without understanding the context. The Tyler guards the sanctity of the Craft, rather than what physically takes place in the Lodge. Let’s all be Tylers.
WHAT MAKES A MAN A MASON?
George M. Free
What makes a man a Mason, O brother of mine?
It isn’t the due guard, nor is it the sign,
It isn’t the jewel which hangs on your breast
It isn’t the apron in which you are dressed.
It isn’t the step, nor the token, nor the grip,
Nor lectures that fluently flow from the lip,
Nor yet the possession of that mystic word
On five points of fellowship duly conferred.
Though these are essential, desirable, fine,
They don’t make a Mason, O brother of mine.
That you to your sworn obligation are true
‘Tis that, brother mine, makes a Mason of you.
Secure in your heart you must safeguard and trust,
With lodge and with brother be honest and just,
Assist the deserving who cry in their need,
Be chaste in your thought, in your word and your deed.
Support he who falters, with hope banish fear,
And whisper advice in an erring one’s ear.
Then will the Great Lights on your path brightly shine,
And you’ll be a Mason, O brother of mine.
Your use of life’s hours by the gauge you must try,
The gavel of vices with courage apply;
Your walk must be upright, as shown by the plumb,
On the level, to bourn whence no travelers come.
The Book of your faith be the rule and the guide,
The compass your passions shut safely inside;
The stone which the Architect placed in your care,
Must pass the strict test of His unerring square.
And then you will meet with approval divine,
And you’ll be a Mason, O brother of mine.