Operative Freemasonry: A Manual for Restoring Light and Vitality to the Fraternity by Kirk C. White is a great book and a quick read. I’m torn between immediately reading it again and trying to lend it to brothers to read.
Operative Freemasonry offers some excellent background info and philosophy of masonry that should be a part of every Master Mason’s education, but its real value is as an instruction manual for practicing Freemasonry on a personal level. The chapters are well organized and present excellent information. The first two chapters titled Light Defined, and Secrets and Mysteries, the book worth having alone. To the new Mason, these chapters offer a glimpse of how Freemasonry truly works and the potential that can be strived for in the personal Masonic journey.
Brother White has degrees in psychology, religion, and counseling, along with post-graduate study in psychosynthesis, initiatic techniques, and the psychology of personal transformation and consciousness change. His education and knowledge in these areas are extremely clear and well showcased in this work. I particularly valued the insights given in the areas of the psychology of ritual, setting, and secrets.
The West Gate
There is a lengthy section about procedure for new candidates – for guarding the west gate. While I don’t disagree that the detailed candidate roadmap presented is an excellent one, I do feel that the process should have some room to be tailored to the candidate and to the flavor of the lodge. In particular, regarding the candidate himself, differences in the candidate’s familiarity with the fraternity (family connections, DeMolay membership, etc.) or the members of the lodge may warrant some changes to the process.
All of the contact a candidate has leading up to initiation is setting the stage for that event by establishing relationships, setting expectations (both an understanding of the lodges expectations for him and his expectations of the lodge), setting a tone, filling in appropriate information, establishing intent, and creating investment. Any steps a lodge can take in this regard will be a benefit. In that regard, I do fully support the intent behind those sections of Operative Freemasonry.
Traditional Observance Parallels
A lot of the ideas in this book relate closely to ideas from the Traditional Observance (TO) movement. I don’t think TO is for every lodge or every brother, but I do think the ideas are worth discussion and consideration. From what I understand, WB Andrew Hammer’s paper “Eight Steps to Excellence: The Observant Lodge” is considered to present a somewhat foundational core to the TO experience.
The strongest correlations with TO values are in relation to guarding the west gate; excellence in ritual; dressing in a manner that sets apart the lodge experience; creating a solemn, coordinated, contemplative atmosphere for lodge; and the importance of masonic education.
Perhaps the most novel part of this book for myself was the eighth chapter on Daily Freemasonry. In it, WB White offers ideas for the daily ways we can practice Freemasonry, offering that doing so, whether by the same small practice each day or by varied practices practiced when possible, we are improving ourselves and the craft. The idea should be rather self evident. In our closings we are charged to take our Freemasonry with us, and in the degree lectures we are given many specific pieces of instruction that must be applied to be of value.
There are a few ideas perhaps taken too far, or expressed with an intensity that may not mesh well with many lodges. I don’t doubt the author is correct in the reasoning he gives for taking those positions, but wonder if, like TO practices, they might be best suited to lodges catering to the type of men that want that experience. In particular, I’m referring to the heightened state of awareness described for initiation.
On the whole, Operative Freemasonry provides incredibly valuable insights into WHY Freemasonry works as it does, why our ritual is structured as it is, and how we can apply this information. It is genuinely inspiring because where most books try to address these from a historical perspective, Worshipful Brother White does an excellent job of addressing them from the psychological, bordering on neuroscience (though I don’t recall him using that term) perspective.
I’ve actually wanted to write on many of the topics presented for some time, and have several drafts started. I can now say that I’ll be discarding everything I’ve started to write and have in this book a new foundation on which to base any future work after a great deal more research. Thank you, WB White for your contributions to the craft.