VISUAL AIDS IN MASONIC EDUCATION
This Short Talk Bulletin has been adapted from a paper presented at
the Northeast Conference on Masonic Education and Libraries in 1963
by the late Most Worshipful Brother Conrad Hahn, PGM, Connecticut and
former Executive Secretary of The Masonic Service Association.
In considering this subject, we must not be misled into thinking that
we have suddenly gone modern. Visual aids in education are not only
one of the oldest specialties in modern pedagogical practices; they
are also among the oldest teaching devices used by man. Even
Pythagoras used visual aids in demonstrating the 47th Problem; he
probably traced the figure on the sand so that his students could
visualize it. Freemasonry, likewise, has been using visual aids ever
since it became an instructive art,
whether operative or speculative.
During the eighteenth century the lodge of each degree was traced
upon the floor of the room in which the brethren met. With such
designs it was possible to illustrate many of the symbolic actions of
the ritual by actually walking the candidate through the various
areas of the Craftmen's lodge.
By the time the nineteenth century had arrived, these charcoal,
chalk, and clay designs on the floor (rather messy to remove) had
given way to tracing boards or wall charts, on which the Master or
instructor pointed to the various symbols or objects which were
delineated thereon for the visual instruction of the candidate. In
America the most famous of these was Jeremy Cross', The True Masonic
Chart and Hieroglyphical Monitor. Such charts enjoyed a vogue in the
1800's which is hard to describe to modern lodge members, because
they are not accustomed to complete exemplifications of the symbolic
degrees, including all sections of the lectures.
From the very beginning of symbolic initiations in fraternal
organizations, ritualistic floor work was conceived and intended to
be a visual as well as an auditory or dramatic aid to the instruction
of candidates. What the candidate sees is one of the most important
devices for impressing on his mind the spirit and tenets of the
institution. This is why neat and proper dress, smooth and
rendition of speeches, clean aprons, well maintained costumes,
precise and well rehearsed movements--all are important visual aids
to impress upon the initiate the dignity, decorum, philosophy and
traditions of Freemasonry. Any discussion of visual aids for Masonic
education, therefore, should begin with an insistance on thorough,
competent, ritualistic floor work. Good ritual exemplification is a
"must" in Masonic instruction, for seeing is believing.
Most of us, however, in talking about visual aids in education, have
in mind such modern mechanical devices as films, motion picture
projectors, film strips, tachistoscopes, graphs, speed reading
machines, etc. Grand Lodge committees on Masonic culture or education
would be well advised to go slowly in considering plans for promoting
the use of many such devices in the constituent lodges as a
result of the advice of well-meaning brethren who are "experts" in
the field of visual education. There are definite limiations on the
use of modern visual aids in Masonic lodges.
The chief function of a Grand Lodge Committee on Masonic Culture or
Education, so far as visual aids are concerned, should be the
collecting and collating of information about visual aids. What
Masonic or other suitable films, slides, film strips, projectors,
stereopticans, charts, etc. are there available within the
Jurisdiction. Where? Which are available on loan, or for purchase, or
What are the best one.s for lodge halls or larger auditoriums? All
these questions can be answered by experts in the field of visual
education, or by representatives of corporations which manufacture
visual aids equipment, and which have spent much time and money in
researching this area.
For many years Masonic lodges have limited their use of visual aids
to slides projected through a stereoptican, to illustrate the symbols
explained in the lectures of the degrees. As a matter of fact, such
slides (or film strips) are practically the only visual aids
equipment advertised in the catalogs of Masonic Supply companies. Of
course, some Grand Jurisdictions do not permit their use.
I trust I shall not be completely misunderstood when I say,
"Brethrcn, it's time for a change!" The available slides and film
strips are as dated as antimacassars and Morris Chairs; they are
artistically crude and uninspiring. Some are horrible examples of
over-crowded design or composition. Some are
illogical in the point of view presented throughout a series, jumping
from the ancient to the Victorian, and back to a mediaeval
conception. They don't impress well-educated initiates; they bore
them or cause them to laugh.
I have never forgotten my first impressions of the four cardinal
virtues explained in the E.A. degree. There were flashed on the
screen four stiff, amply bosomed goddesses of doubtful Greek origin,
so vacant in their expressions, and so voluminously draped in a mid-
Victorian fashion, that when Prudence appeared, I instinctively
shuddered and said to myself, "Her name may be Prudence, but the
only thing her father and mother taught her was prudery . "
I'm not asking for an Epstein nude or a spidery Modern Calder mobile;
but certainly we have enough gifted Brothers in the arts of design
and painting, who could produce symbolic suggestions of the four
cardinal virtues more appropriate to the age of Space, not to have to
put up with that dull and listless
stuff any longer.
In fact, with the enthusiasm for photography prevalent today, and
with the excellent equipment being used by shutter-bugs in every
community, lodges could be encouraged to initiate some "do it
yourself" projects for visual aids of this kind. Glass slides can
still be made fairly cheaply on the handicraft basis. Some Brothers
with skills in sketching and design could be put to work to make such
illuminated aids for ritualistic instruction in the lectures of the
three degrees. The more we can give new members some challenging and
interesting projects to complete, the more we shall capture and hold
their interest in Masonry .
The commonest area of interest in visual aids, especially in Masonic
lodges today, is motion pictures, not primarily for instructional
purposes, but for purposes of entertainment and inspiration. Here
again, Grand Lodge Committees should consider their function to be
simply that of a clearing-house or information center. Some value
judgments will have to be made concerning the kinds of films to list,
because willy-nilly, such catalogs of films will become "official,"
in the sense that "the Grand Lodge approves these films for lodge
use." Film library experts should be consulted and used in this kind
The most logical place to start is with the Film Library at the state
university. Practically all of them maintain prints of motion
pictures for educational and inspirational use which are available to
schools, civic agencies, clubs, and industrial training programs. The
rental fees are usually quite modest. Every Grand Lodge Committee on
Masonic Information could work up such a list of recommended films
for lodge programs, by consulting the film librarians at their state
Businesses and industrial corporations sometimes make available an
outstanding play or special program which they sponsored as a
television program. These films, if available, are usually listed in
the film catalogs or agencies like the ones mentioned above.
In addition, corporations arc also producing films for their own
public relations programs; and while many of these are fundamentally
"sales talks" to push their own products, some of thcm rise above
that level and become valuable programs for general education .
Really, the greatest problem in developing a catalog of films for
lodge use is NOT where to turn or what to look for; it's the fact
that you can never stop. Such lists will have to be revised and added
to year after year.
Let me also remind you that your Masonic Service Association has
produced some films for lodge use,--primarily to furnish good
speakers via the movie camera for lodges which cannot bring
outstanding speakers into their lodges. M.S.A. maintains a library of
Masonic films which are available for a small rental service fee.
While I do not believe that Committees on Masonic Education should
encourage the use of motion pictures as the principal programming
device for their constituent lodges, especially for "educational" or
"inspirational nights," I am sure that we all agree that these visual
aids have a definite place in the over-all improvement of lodge
activities, especially in helping Masters bring light to the Craft.
But Masters need help. They need information. and that is why I
suggest that such committees limit their function to provide film
catalogs and lists to benefit the lodges of their Jurisdiction .
There is indeed a God's plenty in this particular area of visual
aids. Consult the experts. It some of them are Brothers, put them to
work. They'll like their Masonry better if they can serve it
Motion pictures are here to stay. They can serve the great purposes
for which we are laboring here. So let there be light-about visual
aids as well as about mentor systems and lodges of instruction.
Editors Note: Films available from The Masonic Service Association
are listed and summarized in thc Masonic Digests and Films catalog
which will be furnished upon request.