The Art of Memory


The Art of Memory

The following article has been reprinted by permission of the Southern California Research Lodge, which first published it.  It is cited as follows:  Fraternal Review, “The Art of Memory,” (Vol. 58, No. 4, May 2017), C. Douglas Russell, Ed.

“Q & A: Merrick Rees Hamer, P.M.”

Bro. Merrick Hamer, P.M. is a native Californian, 33o Masonic Renaissance Man, member of several esoteric orders, actor, classically trained musician, author, poet, and speaker.  In 1971 he became a Freemason in Culver City-Foshay Lodge, No. 467, F.&A.M., where he served as Lodge Master several times over.  Subsequently his work, In Praise of the Mystical Light, was published by Newman University in a journal entitled Archaeopterx.

Interview by Jeriel Smith

Q (Jeriel Smith): What led you to join Freemasonry? 

A: The desire to become a Freemason was a matter that occurred naturally.  As a youth, at age sixteen, I was persuaded by a friend to join the Order of DeMolay.  Steady involvement in a youth fraternity that receives its inspiration from American Freemasonry, had prepared to make the profound decision to petition a lodge of Free and Accepted Masons.  I selected Culver City-Foshay Lodge, No. 467, which held sponsorship over my DeMolay chapter.  My father was a DeMolay in his youth and my grandfather, with whom I held a strong affinity, was a Freemason.  Collectively, these factors, with an unusual metaphysical bent, contributed to my decision to become a Freemason.

Q (Merrick Hamer): How long have you been a Master Mason? 

A: Since I was raised to the sublime degree of the craft 27 February, 1973, I have been a Master Mason for forty-four years.

Q: What has been your involvement in various Masonic bodies? 

A: After my raising in the symbolic lodge, I was initiated, at various times, into several affiliated bodies, including: The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (Southern Jurisdiction); all bodies of the York Rite; Legion of Honour of the Order of DeMolay; Royal Order of Scotland; Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis (SRICF); Allied Masonic Degrees.

Q: What is your current focus in Masonry? 

A: Having sat five years in its Oriental Chair, my foci have always included active support for my symbolic lodge.  Culver City-Foshay Lodge is a vibrant, diverse and amicable association of unique brothers, generously sharing their ideas.  Indeed, it is a lodge that I have helped to shape and that has helped to shape me.  It has pursued the deeper, esoteric nature of the craft; and it began this pursuit at a time when it was daring to do so.  It is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.  My present foci also include staged conferrals of the Degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, serving both the Los Angeles and Pasadena Valleys in California.  It is perhaps my involvement with the Scottish Rite that has earned my reputation for a capacity in memorization and refined delivery of ritual, which I believe is the essential topic of this interview.  Presently, I am serving as the Junior Warden of San Juan de Los Angeles Council No. 180, Allied Masonic Degrees.  My primary focus in Freemasonry embraces purposes that animates us all, the high call of charity and the fraternalism whereby we many help each other and offer encouragement to those who are yet leaning.

Q: What inspires you most about the ritual? 

A: Most Freemasons will acknowledge that their craft is not a religion, nor is it intended to supplant any religious tradition under which they might have been brought up and which they continue to practice.  Yet, what each perceives as the divine essence in his faith, will invariably emerge within the Freemasonic craft, in manifest ways that are understood universally.  The rituals reflect what I am saying here.  They are the instruments that resound the inner notions of the heart and recall from the dusty archives of the institution the Great Book of Nature and Revelation.  They are the instruments that resound the concordal strains and cosmic chords of life.  Yet, the rituals are for naught, when they are placed in the hands of those who do not understand their transformative potential.  They await the “Touch of the Master’s Hand.”*

Q: Can you please share a set of tips or techniques for memorizing ritual? 

A: Masonic ritual, to many participants, means the application rote memory and too often, unfortunately, it stops with that application, as though it were the whole of the ritual process.  The consequence of this limited view is delivery that is mechanical and prosaic.  Most learners who resort to the rote technique will group a few words together, regardless of how they fit into a syntactical structure, and when performed, their deliveries will be fraught with expressions that sound clean and precise, but lack the intended conveyance.  In some cases, they suffer incoherence, because of the metered manner in which they are uttered.  Excellence in Masonic Ritual will not necessarily involve the rote application, unless it is used in the early stage of memorization and is abandoned, once the application has served its purpose.  Alternatives, or supplements to leaning ritual would be meaningful and associative learning.

I would recommend that the first step be to read or hear the ritual several times to determine the basic meanings and the small nuances that support the them.  Metaphors and allusions often have profound traditions behind them; and these should be recognized, since meaning influences presentation.  The Masonic rituals are at least two hundred years old and contain words that are unusual in modern speech; and these should be carefully studied, to assure that they will be delivered with an understanding of their usage at the time the rituals were conceived.  The next step would be group the words of the rituals by phrases or complete sentences, depending on length for the memorization process to begin.  It is important that the words of each group have syntactical relationship.  This way, the rote process will work with distinctive speech phrasing, rather than with a merely a pulsated repetition of words that will be difficult overcome, once memorization has been accomplished.  Some learners will memorize by association and identify words or phrases with objects or concepts.  This can be very effective during this early phase, yet the associations should be abandoned after they have served their purpose, so as not to become hindrances inconsistent with later efforts to carryout interpretation.  Once the groups are committee to the memory, the next step should be delivery in a fashion that is natural to speech.  This requires that the learner suspend his rote efforts and analyze each phrase for its logic, and to deliver it as though he were addressing a person in a real-life setting.  One should observe carefully the roles of nouns, pronouns, verbs and punctuations to ensure that they are logically applied.  This will resolve problems with monotony and superficiality. 

Q: How do you move from learning the words to internalizing the meaning? 

A: Internalizing may be accomplished in different ways and it likely will vary in accordance with the interpretation of the text.  It will be dependent, however, upon a mind free from the burden of having to recall words.  Now, many grade schoolers have learned through the rote process and its routine occurrence, the Pledge of Allegiance before the American flag.  In this example, the need to recall is eventually transcended, since by constant repetition, the words of the pledge become permanently fused to the juvenile memory.  Even with adults, this is the point at which one can evoke a sense of patriotism and deliver the pledge with conviction and charismatic spirit.  The same principle applies to the learning of Masonic texts.  The transcendence of recall dependence allows the emotive faculties to bloom and take charge; and there is no doubt that, while the rituals of Freemasonry are in part didactic, they are full of allegory and opportunity for emotive presentation.

Q: What about delivery? How do you make it come alive? 

A: Everyone has the capacity for emotion, though some of us hide our emotions.  Moral and social compunctions are in part responsible for the reluctance to display unrestricted emotions; and it is only fitting that emotional expressions should be appropriate to the circumstances.  Yet, it is unwise to suppress the aspiration to emote in exchange for what is phlegmatic.  One must overcome the fear of ridicule, if his reluctance will stifle a dynamic performance.  I am not necessarily referring to “stage fright.”  The craft must allow for unfettered expression and take care not to stigmatize it.

Q: How do you maintain or retain what you’ve memorized for the next time it’s needed? 

A: By limiting oneself to the rote phase is not enough to accomplish retention for an enduring time, since is works initially with the short-term memory function of intellection.  I advocate, therefore, the engagement of the emotive faculty.  Episodic and semantic memories are far more enduring and will respond more effectively to the demand for recall.  By associating the rituals with emotionally based stories or concepts (identified with what early philosophers called the humours), and by an appeal to aesthetics, one will discover ritual to bear importance commensurate with his life’s most endearing events; and recall, therefore, is assured.  The intonation, inflexion, and timing of words, are comparable to our association with colours, which are attached to the semantic memory.  The famous Mannheim School of the eighteenth century applied the Doctrine of Affections, in which musical formulae were devised to induced moods in music.  The same idea can be applied to the formulation of rituals, through the treatment of words, phrases and stories.  As a Freemason and as a musician, this is my testimony, and this is what I advocate.

*[“The Touch of the Master’s Hand” is a poem by Myra Brooks Welch,’s-Hand]

The following question, due to a lack of space, was not included in the printing of the Fraternal Review.  It is included here, as an additional enhancement:

Q: Do you see memorizing as a mental exercise, or is there something more than that in the idea of the repository of a faithful breast? 

A: The process of memorization is naturally mental, and depending upon previous training, the process will vary in difficulty for individuals. The extent to which it becomes an emotional process will bring to relevance the concept of the “Faithful Breast.” The expression is, of course, symbolic of our guard and appreciation for prudence. Additionally, it is a reference to the seat of not only are our passions and prejudices, but knowledge of beauty, charity and Brotherly Love. It is with our trusted brethren that our deeper understandings of life may be shared. Let the brethren, therefore, take their rituals to heart! Let them sing and make a joyful noise unto the Lord!

The Jungles of Venus, Giant Ants, and Freemasons


The Jungles of Venus, Giant Ants, and Freemasons

By Curtis Scott Shumaker, P.M.

One of the most interesting aspects of becoming a Mason involves how we may see the world in a new light. Works of art, architecture, literature, film, and music that we encountered before joining the fraternity sometimes reveal new meanings to the initiated. Images, phrases, and concepts that once seemed mysterious or incidental acquire deeper resonances as we recognize connections to our newly gained symbolic and intellectual knowledge. From the librettos of Mozart’s operas to the choral lyrics of Beethoven, from the novels of Mark Twain to the poems of Rudyard Kipling, from the animations of Walt Disney to groundbreaking TV series Battlestar Glactica and Twin Peaks, we are continually surprised by references to our craft, leading us to richer insights into familiar works.

In my case, the most recent occurrence of this experience came when I returned home to Oklahoma for Christmas, and looking for some light reading, came across a series of old science fiction novels written by Ralph Milne Farley in the mid-1920s, which I had not read since I was about 14. The books (The Radio Man, The Radio Beasts, The Radio Planet) were much as I remembered them: hastily written pulp fiction with rather generic plot lines with fantastic creatures and beautiful princesses in peril. Always enjoyable to read, but not great literature. Guilty pleasures, as we say in the world of literary academia.

To summarize briefly the plot: A brilliant radio engineer named Myles Cabot invents a device that teleports him to Venus, a planet that, in the early 20th century, still held the promise of life beneath its opaque cloud layer. Cabot finds a rich, tropical ecosystem ruled over by the Formians, a race of giant ants which enslaves the Cupians, a humanoid species with antlike antenna. Neither race uses sound for speech; rather, they communicate by radio waves through their biological antenna. Cabot quickly devises a mechanical apparatus which enables him to interact with both groups. He falls in love with Lilla (a princess of a royal but powerless Cupian family), leads a revolution against the Formians, and establishes an enlightened, just civilization for the newly freed slaves. In the second novel, the ants stage their own rebellion and kidnap Princess Lilla, requiring more heroics from Cabot. The third novel involves a war with a race of giant bees, and of course Cabot must once again rescue his princess.  Standard stuff for the early, primitive era of science fiction, much like the John Carter of Mars fiction by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

However, as I reread the books, I began to notice a number of Masonic references, just a few at first, but eventually cumulating in a serious and effective expression of Masonic values. I will mention only a few points here, leaving the readers to ferret out the rest, assuming any of them decide reading such fiction is worth their time (I’m on the fence on the matter—my time might have been better spent rereading Moby Dick).

First, all the intelligent races of Venus refer to their supreme being as “the Great Architect.” Later, a religious shrine is described as containing a cubical alter in the center of the room, surrounded by three large candles arranged in an equilateral triangle. In the first two novels, it is suggested that the source of these allusions is an ancient “lost religion.” In the third novel, The Radio Planet, Cabot finally encounters a temple of the mysterious order. After receiving a secret pass word from an adept, he repeats it to a guard outside the door of the inner room of the temple, who knocks three times on the door:

The knock was repeated from within, the door opened, and Myles entered to gaze upon a strangely familiar scene. The room was richly carved and colored. On three sides hung the stone lamps of the Vairkings. Around the walls sat a score or more of long robed priests, some on the level and some on slightly raised platforms. On the highest platform of all, directly opposite the point where Cabot had entered, sat the only hooded figure in the chamber, quite evidently the leader . . .

Take away the robes and substitute a top hat for the leader’s hood, and this could be a description of our own lodge, or any lodge.

However, the most meaningful, albeit indirect, references to Masonry flow from the character and actions of Myles Cabot himself. He steadfastly represents the basic tenants and values of Masonry. The society he builds from the ruins of war and slavery is overseen by a pluralistic, constitutional government of the type Freemasons generally encourage. Also, although Cabot is cast in the mold of early 20th century adventure heroes, full of what was then known as “derring-do” (a tendency to solve problems by grabbing a weapon and charging into the fray) his most important accomplishments involve scientific investigation and careful logic. Star Trek fans may recognize in him a prototype of Spock, who replies to dire threats with the dispassionate statement “fascinating,” more interested in knowledge and understanding than his own safety.  Time and time again, when Cabot has been taken prisoner or otherwise placed in mortal danger, he observes his surroundings with a detached scientific inquiry, outwitting opponents and overcoming obstacles with calm reasoning rather than brawn and brute force. In fact, according to the author, Cabot’s most praiseworthy act of heroism is his construction of a complete radio apparatus from scratch in a stone age society, from the smelting of basic metals and complex alloys to the manufacture of electrical generators and vacuum tubes—a feat that consumes several chapters of The Radio Planet. Indeed, throughout the novels, I believe all the arts and sciences of the Staircase Lecture are represented, including the specific professions listed in the geometry section.

Intrigued by all these sophisticated notions in a work whose plot was driven by fantastic creatures and wish-fulfilling fantasies, I researched the author and discovered he was a Mason of prominent civic accomplishments. Farley was a nom de plume of Roger Sherman Hoar (1887-1963). A Harvard graduate and teacher of advanced engineering at Marquette University, he served in World War I, developing an astronomically-based method of aiming artillery. He served the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as an assistant attorney general and state senator, where he advocated for women’s right to vote. He also wrote a well-regarded book on constitutional law. No doubt this background helped him develop a realistic and historically relevant political world set amongst giant insects. In fact, his novels eerily seem to predict the circumstances of World War II, not only in the rapid rise of an humiliated enemy (ants/Nazis), but in the political circumstances of King Edward VIII, a Nazi sympathizer forced to abdicate in favor of his younger brother, an untested and (at first) unpopular King George VI. Although these real-life events took place over a decade after the writing of the Radio novels, Farley’s plot neatly parallels them.

Of course, this last bit is simply an interesting coincidence, but the overall point is that, since many authors and artists of various media are Freemasons, we, on becoming Masons, can learn much about how our values are projected into the world by their works. All we need do is take the care to observe them, even in the places least expected, much like the nameless Fellowcraft who sits by the acacia in the wilderness.

How to square your square


How to square your square

By Bryan Godwin

When thinking of early triumphs of architecture, the builders of ancient Egypt often draw our minds. Just how did this ancient society build what still amounts to some of the largest and most impressive monuments on Earth?

While many aspects of Egyptian archeology are still a matter of speculation and theory, we do know that nearly all buildings started with the creation of a square. The creation of mathematically exact right angles and perpendiculars was, at the time, somewhere between magic, religion and geometry. The creation of a square was often the first step of any construction, and for temples and houses of royalty, it took the form of a religious ceremony.

The Egyptians even had a word for the men who held the magic of right angles; the “harpedonaptai”, which translates into “rope stretchers.” These operative builders had the understanding of what would come to be known as the “Pythagorean Theorem” long before the time of Pythagoras. It is likely that Pythagoras, who was known to have traveled and been educated in Egypt, might have first pondered his famous mathematical problem, while in that part of the world.

The harpedonaptai used ropes, tied or marked at thirteen regular intervals, creating twelve equal parts. These ropes would first be staked on one end, and then a second stake was inserted at the fourth knot. [sp] This left two free ends, one three total parts long, one five total parts long. With these ends the harpedonatae scribed two semi-circles. When the point where these two met, was connected to the first peg three parts from the end of the rope, a perfect right angle, or square, resulted. The axis of the initial leg of the triangle was often oriented to point due east, in honor of the Sun. Consequently, on having the first leg oriented due east, the corner vertex would be the intersection of north and east. The tradition of a cornerstone being laid in the north-east corner of a building, likely stems from this practice.

The masonic square is one of the most recognizable symbols of our fraternity. It is an emblem of the Master of our lodges, and reminder to be true and virtuous. The ancient Greek name of the square was gnomon, from which comes the English word knowledge. The Greek letter gamma is drawn like a square standing on one leg, the other pointing to the right, and is possibly derived from the square. Gnomon, in turn, derived from the square, which the philosophers knew was at the root of their mathematics.

As the new year is upon us, perhaps we should look back to the ancient builders and their ability to prove their squares through seemingly simple techniques, such as stretched ropes, and apply the same metaphor to ourselves. It is not just the process of chipping away at rough and superfluous edges that perfects a stone, for without aid of a true square we would not know if we are on the right path. By refreshing our minds with the obligations we have taken, our rituals and tools, we can walk more uprightly and keep square our personal angle on truth and morality.