This essay was previously distributed in printed form and was written while I was a fellowcraft.
After I recited my Entered Apprentice Posting Lecture in open Lodge our Worshipful Master asked me to help our other Entered Apprentices by passing along the techniques I used in memorizing the lecture. As a similar request was received from an Entered Apprentice to a different lodge, I decided that the best way of imparting my thoughts on memorization of the lecture would be in written form. I hope that this essay proves to be helpful to those learning the Posting Lecture.
Why learn the ritual?
After sitting in a stated Lodge meeting or two it becomes quite clear that our Blue Lodges are extremely ritualistic in nature, and that indeed ritual is the largest part of, and fundamental character of our formal gatherings.
With time, and perhaps travel, it becomes clear that this ritual can either seem dead and meaningless or be a vibrant inspiration that follows us out of the temple and remains with us in the profane world. I personally noticed this by traveling with my mentor to surrounding Lodges where I watched ritual performed, good and bad, discovering meaning or a lack of it by how well it was done.
My mentor, and my Lodge did not push me to move from the Entered Apprentice Degree to the Fellowcraft quickly, instead they provided me with time to watch the Degree performed in other Lodges, and time to learn about the ancient fraternity I had become a member of. I believe that this period of time and learning will prove to be of great importance to me in the years to come. Certainly someone who is pushed through the Degrees with great haste or held to lower standards for advancement (such as memorization of the obligation alone) will later regret the fact that he was not properly exposed to the ancient rituals of our craft and his lifetime of Masonic experience may suffer for it. Of course, in a similar vein, but on a more extreme scale, the "One Day Conferrals" one learns of cannot provide a true or proper initiatory experience for any candidate. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate that my lodge is holding its candidates to high standards and is providing the time to meet those standards.
Spending time in my own Lodge, and visiting others at the very beginning of my Masonic career made it clear to me that the ultimate success of our Lodges is dependent upon good ritual. Quality ritual inspires the brotherhood while poor ritual cannot hold the interest of the assembled brothers and on an emotional level feels like dead words, utterly devoid of meaning.
The ability to perform ritual is a skill. The simple fact of the matter is that some brothers will have a greater interest in it, and talent with it than others, some will therefore be better at it than others. I did not know, and indeed from within myself cannot know if I have a natural talent for the delivery of the words that make up our ritual, but I did recognize the tremendous importance of it to our fraternity, and I promised myself that I would do the very best job with the ritual that I was able. The first ritual I was asked to perform was of course the Entered Apprentice Posting Lecture. I knew that if I did not perform it to the best of my abilities I would be disappointed in myself, and of equal importance, provide nothing positive to our craft.
The meaning of the ritual
The Posting Lecture is a review of our initiation as Entered Apprentice Masons, and our obligation as such.
Our initiatory experience as Entered Apprentice Masons can be thought of as a symbolic rebirth. It is a way in which our old life, that which we have done before, passes behind us, and a new life is opened to us. A new life that is better than that which we lived before, a new life in which we are better men than we were before. This is the meaning of the statement that Masonry takes good men and makes them better. Through our initiation it is hoped that we will forget the negative aspects of our former lives, leaving our myriad of vices in that former life, and replacing them with virtues in our new lives as Masons.
Indeed Masonry is set apart from all other institutions open to us by that initiatory process. Without it Masonry would be no different than the service clubs that are active in our communities. Without it we would not be a brotherhood that has succeeded, for centuries, in making good men better.
Given the extreme importance of initiation to Masonry, and to us as individual Masons, it is vital that we have a full understanding of that initiation, an understanding that is provided by the serious contemplation and learning of the Posting Lecture.
Our obligation as Entered Apprentice Masons allows for the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood to begin being formed, and starkly reminds us of the trust placed in us by all other members of our fraternity. This trust in our personal honor and shared brotherhood is vital to the great gifts Masonry has been able to bestow upon our world.
While the origins of our institution may be lost to the mists of time, what is not lost is the knowledge that Masonry has always stood for, and been the strongest possible advocate for religious freedom. At a time in which any deviation from the approved state religion meant torture and death our institution valued religious freedom and brought the concept of it to the world. Men bound together, with unbreakable bonds, by the same obligation that we take today, purchased for us the religious freedom that we take for granted in our modern nation.
What is also not lost to the mists of time is the role Masons, and our Masonic lodges played in the creation of our United States. Those men who broke away from King and Country forged the first nation in history to recognize that legitimate government exists only through the consent of the governed; that the individual reigns supreme. Without the assurance of secrecy, and thereby safety, provided by our Masonic obligations many of the men who founded our nation and created a beacon of freedom for the entire world to emulate would not have been able to discuss and develop the ideas of liberty with their friends and fellow nation builders.
Examples, like these, of the good works Masonry has performed for this world, and the role of our obligation in providing safety and security so that those works could be performed are indeed boundless, great and small, but the fact remains that there is much work yet to be done. Religious freedom does not reign everywhere nor is political liberty universal. It is our charge as Masons to do this work, and in places it is still dangerous work indeed.
That is the importance of our obligation and that is why we must sear it deeply within our minds. The Posting Lecture helps us to do that, and indeed to reflect upon that most solemn promise to our fellows.
Our initiation and our obligation are so vitally important to our craft, and to us as individuals that we owe it to our brothers, and ourselves to learn the Posting Lecture, and recite it, to the very best of our abilities. Any lesser effort cheats the brotherhood and ourselves.
The practice of memorization
The first, most vital step in memorizing the Posting Lecture is to get each word right. If we memorize incorrect words it is extremely difficult to change them for the correct words later. My mentor, and our Worshipful Master were both extremely helpful to me in figuring out the cipher and in making certain that the words I read into it were indeed the intended words. I was also however not afraid to ask others when these two gentlemen were unavailable. By spending time in our Lodge we quickly learn which members know the ritual best, and I found that all were happy to help me with a difficult cipher or misunderstood meaning.
The second step I took was to read the cipher, straight through, aloud, over and over again. I did this until I could read it without hesitation and the words would flow off of my tongue in a good rhythm. If we live with others we must remember that the Posting Lecture is a Masonic secret and use care to ensure that others do not overhear our words. My own practice was done in my office, in a separate building from my house. The cipher needs to be read aloud because the part of our brain that controls speaking is additional to the part used for reading. If we only read it silently, we will be unable to teach ourselves to recite it well.
Once I became able to read the Posting Lecture straight though with ease, I began memorizing it in short sections. I would work on a specific section until I had it just barely memorized, then I would add it to that which I had memorized earlier and work through the entirety up to and including that which I had most recently memorized. To keep that which I had already learned fresh in my mind, I did not allow more than twenty-four hours to pass before reviewing everything that I had learned up to that point.
In time, by working on a section at a time, and reviewing the whole daily, I had succeeded in memorizing the entire Posting Lecture. Then came the time to polish, practice, and perfect my delivery of the words. I did this by again reviewing that which I had learned, practicing it over and over, again always by speaking aloud.
I used care to practice in a large and loud enough voice to fill the temple where the Posting Lecture would be recited in open Lodge. I did this because when it comes time to recite it among our fellows we don't want to be distracted by having to think about speaking loudly enough. We instead want it to just flow unconsciously.
I also, in my practice, added small body movements to the words. I think that these movements help us to remember the words, and as a side benefit make our recital of them more interesting for those who happen to be watching. For example, when speaking of the Three Great Lights, I practiced gesturing to those Lights. When speaking of the Senior Warden I practiced looking at the Senior Warden and gesturing towards him. In order to do this I imagined the room in which I was standing to practice to be the temple and imagined each person in their place including non-officer brethren seated along the sides of the room. I found that with this technique I could visualize the temple in its entirety as I practiced.
I found good results by practicing the Posting Lecture early in the day when my mind was fresh, and by silently reading it moments before I fell asleep so that my subconscious mind could work upon it as I rested.
Our minds are capable of truly amazing feats of intellect. I believe that we probably have the Posting Lecture memorized, in some deep part of our brains after we have read it a time or two. The difficulty is not memorization; it is recall of our memories. I think that this difficulty is caused because we think about too much while we recite. We think about our 'stage fright' being the focus of so many people. We think about our desire to not mess up. We think about not disappointing the people who have helped us. We think about how embarrassed we will feel if we totally flub it up. We have lots of other thoughts as well while standing up there, practicing, or in open Lodge. Alas, too many thoughts to mention.
These stray thoughts and fears are what hold us back from achieving that perfect recall we seek. That is why visualization is so important. If when we practice we truly develop the ability to imagine the temple, imagine its furnishings, and imagine each brother and officer in his place watching us, we will have already, in our minds, recited the lecture in that room, in front of those people, many times, long before we ever do it in actuality.
This practice through visualization allows those stray and negative thoughts to pass from our minds with time and allows us to recite the Posting Lecture in open Lodge with an unconcerned, focused, 'blank' mind, when the time actually comes for us to do so. This allows us to recite the Posting Lecture without fear of error and that lack of fear allows us to succeed at that goal, whereas concern for our success leads us to error.
This same visualization technique is used by great athletes everywhere, by those giants of the gridiron who visualize reaching out and catching the pigskin before actually doing so. Adapting it to our Posting Lecture assures us similar success at our dissimilar goal.
By memorizing and reciting the Posting Lecture well, by performing that ritual to the best of our abilities we invest it with meaning for ourselves and for our brothers who are watching. We are fulfilling our duty to the craft.
The Posting Lecture is long, its vocabulary is strange to our modern ear, and it is not written in a language that we were taught to understand. The memorization of it, and the recital of it to the best of our abilities is an impressive accomplishment of which we should be duly proud. Consistent effort is required, but that effort will result in the success we seek.