By: Dylan Rettler
The Free Masons, an ancient organization with diverse origins arguably from ancient Egypt to the architectural schools of medieval Europe, continues its outreach to the Grand Rapids Community by way of The Michigan Masonic Museum and Library.
This project demonstrates not only marked differences that the Freemasons appreciate from the past, but also the organization’s continuity of adherence to timeless ideals and traditions. The overwhelming disclosure of Masonic information the library offers speaks to the former, while the latter is reflected by the consistency of rites and conduct expressed through degrees. The diversity contained within the Masonic Library stacks of over 8,000 items has topics with potential relevancy to the general public, the academic community and those with general curiosity. All are the target audience for whom the Masonic Library seeks to enlighten.
The existence of the Michigan Masonic Museum and Library is a testimony to the progress Masonry has made through the decades. Turbulent times in the Brotherhoods history necessitated covertness, resulting from a tendency towards persecution of the organization and its members, sometimes manifesting itself in outright illegality of their existence. Not until 1717 in England did the order officially announce its presence.
Since the official decree of its existence, the brotherhood has made a divulgence of a massive amount of self-referential material, much of which is available within the Michigan Masonic Museum and Library. This release of information, among other things, clearly indicates the Masons have experienced a marked transformation.
Currently, the Masons are not a secret society, but a society that has secrets. Theses secrets are limited to ideas such as means of recognition, i.e. handshakes, body postures and terms designating a true initiate.
While the Museum demonstrates the aformentioned metamorphosis, it also expresses certain fundamentals that are etched upon the continuum of ideals and traditions still appreciated by modern masons. Belief in a supreme deity, the brotherhood of man, and the recognition of an immortal soul are three long-held requirements for membership well documented within the stacks of the library. An additional exemplification of the consistency the order has maintained is illustrated through the symbolism the library shelves reveal.
Two of the most iconic signs are the square and compass. The square represents a standard of interpersonal integrity and honesty a Mason holds himself to while the compass denotes certain introspective boundaries of conduct that are adhered to. This solidarity concerning traditions also manifests itself above the library within the congregational halls of rite. Temple Chambers are still arranged as they were long ago, ubiquitous with symbolism and often a reflection of the Temple of Solomon. The library leaves no doubt that the Masons have preserved among other things much of its primary beliefs, symbols and traditions from ancient times.
The Masonic Library has made significant progress in its mission to inform and educate Grand Rapids and other communities about its organization. The Library, once a far off collection in Alma Michigan, has come now to rest for more than a decade on the foundation floor of 233 Fulton St.
One noteworthy addition is an impressive collection of museum artifacts, some dating back to the 1700s. Another advancement keeping in step with the now, is the Library’s online content found online at the library website, Facebook and YouTube (indexed at Michigan Museum and Library). The collection is now readily available to the Grand Rapids community, and is the largest collection of any Masonic Library in the state.
The library museum continues to speak as the dual dynamic of change and preservation previously illustrated. The library also represents an ongoing invitation, offering more than a glimpse as to who the Freemasons are and what they represent.