Land of Saints and Scholars

Ireland is known as ‘The Land of Saints and Scholars’. What a grand opportunity it must have been for young James Agar to enter Trinity College in Dublin on this day (May 6) in 1775! Now Trinity College is home to the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland — The Long Room Library. But in 1775 the focus was on a complete education in literature, scripture, Latin, and geometry.

(This is a photo of me with a textbook from the 1790s at the Trinity College Rare Book Room)

I’ve not heard that word before…


When spoken this word sounds the same as ‘heal’ or ‘heel’.  In the ritual it rhymes with words around it such as ‘conceal’, and ‘reveal’.  Indeed, the initiate hearing the word hele for the first time will begin to understand that it probably has a meaning connected to secrecy.  The educated man has learnt that ‘hele’ is a proper word of the Scots language, and that this word means to keep a secret.

Thus the initiated Mason learns that he is being instructed three times over to respect secrecy.

And the sources of our Masonic ritual are better appreciated. 

I do note that in some places the word hele is pronounced as ‘hale’ or ‘hail’. There are explanations for this pronunciation that are — in my opinion — separated from the elegant simplicity, rhythm, rhyme, and context, of the lecture.

Go big…

The word ‘dilate’ is usually heard in a health-care setting. When you visit an optometrist you may receive some drops in your eyes to dilate the pupils. The common man understands this is a verb, an action.  It is to physically make something wider or larger. 

A Candidate receiving his first instructions within the tyled recesses of a Masonic Lodge may simply accept that there is a further meaning.  And indeed, when he explores this word with his sponsors and mentors he will learn that there is a further meaning. 

As Masonry comes to us from an earlier age, an older meaning is intended of the word ‘dilate’ in our lectures.  That meaning is to describe something, or to speak about something in detail and for a long time.  Within the context of the lecture that deals with a virtue that is close to every Mason’s heart, it is hoped that the virtue is so well understood by the Candidate that we do not have to pause and give examples.  Rather, we can immediately continue and see that virtue demonstrated by the Candidate.

“Do it with Enthusiasm” means something else to a Mason


Today we want things done with enthusiasm, and we see an enthusiast as someone who is happy to do something.  The educated man understands that this was not always the meaning, and our Ritual draws from this earlier time to offer a warning.  Early in the 1700s there was a religious movement recognized as heretical, or contrary to then-current religious dogma.  Adherents were called enthousiastes and met with opposition by ecclesial authorities.  Knowing this earlier meaning and the circumstances that gave rise to it allow the initiate and Mason to properly appreciate the full meaning of the lecture describing the plumb rule.

Wiped out? Forgotten?

Here is another word that is heard by Masons in our Ritual. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t used when a few guys get together for a coffee or other beverage.


Effaced rhymes with ‘defaced’ and doesn’t quite mean that.  The Mason on his journey is reminded of an earlier lecture, with the hope that he hasn’t forgotten that lesson because Masonry is a progressive science.  Something that is effaced has been removed, or obliterated, or erased, or worst of all: forgotten.  Our lessons are portrayed with drama to make an impression not only on the mind of the initiate, but on the mind of every Mason, so each of us can learn to apply the lessons throughout our lives.

Robbie Burns, and James Agar

Each January 25th there are many celebrations of the birth of Robbie Burns. He is recognized and honoured as the famous poet of Scotland. Also on this day we can bring to mind James Agar, on the anniversary of his death. He is underappreciated as an Irishman who did well in England.

Both Robbie Burns and James Agar were Freemasons. Both contributed significantly to the Fraternity by their words and with their actions.

As we toast the birth of Burns, let us also recall the death of Agar. And for both let us be grateful for lives well lived.

Epitaph on a Friend by Robbie Burns

An honest man lies here at rest,

The friend of man, the friend of truth,

The friend of age, and guide of truth,

Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,

Few heads with knowledge so inform’d,

If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;

If there is none, he made the best of this.

“Conduce” means something…

Here is a definition of a word found within Masonic ritual that is not common outside of our Lodge rooms.


The uninitiated man might think the word was mis-pronounced and should have been ‘condense’, or perhaps ‘conduct’, or maybe ‘induce’.  A newly-made Mason upon hearing the word ‘conduce’ in the context of the lecture may begin to appreciate that it has some meaning connected to a positive action.  And indeed, educated men of the Middle Ages brought the word ‘conduce’ from Latin into English with the positive and active meaning of ‘to lead’.  As an experienced Mason delivers the lecture with this word he is encouraging the Candidate to take a course of action that will lead (or conduce) to make him a better man; and able to exert his natural abilities more fully; and toward two high goals. 

The Vocabulary of Great Oratory


One might hear the word assiduity in great oratory: Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill have used it.

Masons hear it during an annual ceremony, where it is part of an instruction. 

Assiduity is an obscure word with the several meanings of ‘constant diligence’, and ‘close personal attention or care of a person’.  These are traits we expect in those who lead us; that they will always focus on being a leader, and be aware of the needs of the Lodge.  Learning from the example of the esteemed Brethren who have gone before us, and demonstrating those abilities to others, is how leadership in our Fraternity offers a path for good men to become better.

What is a cardinal?

Here is a definition of a word found within Masonic ritual that is not common outside of our Lodge rooms.


Look!  Is it a red bird?  Is it a baseball player?  Is it a leader of the Catholic church?  No.  It has something to do with virtues.  How can that be?  An outdoorsman, or navigator, or one who has worked with a compass to determine a direction might recall the four cardinal points of the compass being north, east, south, and west.  It is the educated man who understands that a ‘cardinal rule’ is the most profound rule, and that the ‘cardinal virtues’ are those natural virtues which are so important that all other virtues derive from them.  The cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, can be traced in both religion and philosophy to earliest times.  They are so fundamental, crucial, and important, that all other virtues hinge upon them.  The newly initiated Mason learns that when the four cardinal virtues are practised together with the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity), then within our fraternity may be found the three great social treasures of fraternity, liberty, and equality.  The cause of good then hinges on the cardinal virtues.

Provided for your daily advancement in Masonic knowledge from the Sarnia District Masonic Library.  Wor. Bro. Marshall Kern, Librarian & Historian. 

Masonic Library and Museum Association

On Saturday September 12, 2020, the Masonic Library and Museum Association presents their Annual General Meeting. It will be on-line, as so many events are this year.

I will be presenting at the AGM. Yes, I’ll talk about the Master’s Emblem — and my focus will be on the role that Libraries have to support research.

For more information and to register, visit this website:

UPDATE AFTER THE EVENT — Some AGMs are dull. Not this one. Dedicated librarians and museum staff attended from Europe, North America, and Australia. There was free-wheeling sharing of opinions and suggestions for software to catalogue books and publications. And even some good-natured comments about who has the largest personal library! As well, there were a couple of attendees just starting with Lodge or Grand Lodge libraries — all they have is a large pile of books and lots of questions. They were given lots of answers and encouragement. And my presentation was very well received. Next year’s AGM will be in Grand Rapids MI.