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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

 

(The Cast of Characters)

 

 OF

 

THE ORDER OF THE SECRET MONITOR

 

The idea underlying my paper today is one which is equally applicable to any Masonic Ritual, in fact the title could be "How to get added interest from our printed rituals without having to worry about where any degree originally came from or what was the real origin of  Freemasonry, etc. etc. etc."

 

And the Order of the Secret Monitor is just taken as a typical example.

There are many ways in which you can take an interest in Freemasonry apart from regular attendances at our meetings.

 

Most of us no doubt start by attempting to study the history and origin of Freemasonry and, undeterred by the hundreds of books on the shelves of the Grand Library, we buy (or borrow) books and start our studies.

 

We soon find, however, that we are in a realm of controversies and flatly contradictory statements and some utterly fantastic ideas, if we discuss it with “learned” brethren, some we find are confident that they have the “real” solution which they will tell us about "some other time" - and we probably never see them again.

 

As a result there is a tendency for some to become despondent and disillusioned and wonder if it is all a "fake** and that they will never discover the "truth**.

 When this stage is reached, it is definitely time to call a halt, for this type of “truth” has nothing whatsoever to do with the real Truth, the real Quest which we as Freemasons endeavour to pursue.

 

Surely, Freemasonry, whatever its origins, is (and I trust always will be) as we have it now, printed rituals, private or official, bad grammar and all!

 

My own idea is that we should start with what we have got and see how much (or how little) we know about it, and then if we feel like it, start working backwards.

 

To me, the Masonic Rituals are something like historical novels or plays where some of the characters are real and historical. Some of the things they do or say may be fact or fiction or legendary.

 

Some of the characters are legendary or complete fiction. To me it is very interesting to find out all I can about these characters, whether they existed or not, what other famous personalities they came in contact with etc., and something of the period in which they lived.

The story in this way becomes much more vivid and alive than the bare printed words portray. But all this takes a considerable time and requires a somewhat extensive library.

 

And so with all our Masonic Rituals, most of the characters are real and historical and a few legendary. What the real characters do and say is often historical fact, often Masonic legend. And if the best known of our Masonic legends namely that of HAB has no factual evidence of its truth, it in no way detracts from its value.

 

For we must remember that in Masonic "stories** much of it is allegory, and the stories do not set out always to state facts but rather to illustrate some moral principle or virtue.

Now in studying most of these Masonic stories, no extensive library is required, just one book, namely the VOSL and as we are frequently advised to study it, here is an excuse for so doing - if an excuse is necessary.

 

The Order of The Secret Monitor (which we are going to take as an example) is very suitable for this kind of study. Unlike some other degrees, much is told of the principal characters although very little of others, and one may possibly be surprised at the omission of some other famous names which one would expect to hear about as they are so intimately connected with those mentioned in the OSM story.

 

There is a very convenient lecture at the end of the 2° (Princes) degree which covers a period of several hundred years. Such a lecture, however written, must contain many large gaps. So all we have to do (in our spare time) is to run through the lecture story, filling in some of the gaps and finding out something of the chief characters which appear and also of others who are intimately connected with them.

 

Such knowledge must surely make the whole story so much more alive and interesting and "names" become "characters", i.e. people one can visualize.

 

Now to make my point, let us suppose there was a kind of "school examination" on the OSM ritual and let us imagine that the candidate is an ordinary Supreme Ruler, if you will forgive the expression. I mean someone who has passed through the various offices and finally reached the chair where he conducts his ceremonies with reasonable word perfection. No doubt he would expect to obtain high marks.

 

Now I should set an examination something like this:-

 

1.  Give in full the obligations in the two degrees.

2.  Where did David and Jonathan meet for the last time?

     On these and similar questions he ought to score full marks. But   

     how about these?

3.  Give the names of two of the twelve spies whom Moses sent out  

     to survey the "Promised Land" and give a brief account of one of

     them.

4.  What was Doeg's occupation?

5.  What physical deformity did Mephibosheth suffer from and how  

     did it happen?

6.      Give the names of Abishai's mother and two brothers and how  they were related to David.

 

If the candidate failed in the last four questions he might say that he could not possibly be expected to know them as they are "not in the ritual" (familiar phrase) and anyhow they would not help him to perform the ceremony any better.

 

An element of truth in this perhaps, but at any rate all the "names" appear in the ritual. On the other hand he might decide to "look it up" for next time, which in fact is what I did as soon as I had been admitted to the 2*.

 

And now for our story. It begins with Moses leading the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage, through the Red Sea to the Sinai Peninsula. (The story of Moses of course is too well known to need repetition). The conventional date of the "Exodus" is put at 1491 BC. They passed down the west side of the peninsula and then across to Mount Sinai (or Horeb) in the south, where the two tablets of the Law were received and the Tabernacle set up in the Sinai Desert.

 

It was here about, after the Exodus, that Moses received a visit from his father-in-law Jethro, a shepherd priest of Midian, a country east of the peninsula and on the east coast of the Gulf of Aqaba.

 

There is some confusion as to his name which appears also as Reuel or Hobab. But it was as Jethro that he appears at Sinai. He brought with him Moses' wife and two children who had stayed in Midian during Moses’s sojourn in Egypt.

 

By his advice Moses was persuaded to leave some of the government of the people to others by instituting a system of magistrates for the lesser cases.

 

The journey continued northward to the wilderness of Paran where Jethro returned to his own country. Here the twelve spies were sent out and ten of them returned with such unfavourable reports that the people refused to go forward and threatened to appoint a new leader to take them back to Egypt.

 

The other two spies, Caleb of the tribe of Judah and Joshua of Ephraim risked their lives in trying to persuade them to go forward but all to no avail. For this, the Israelites were condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years and of that generation, only Joshua and Caleb survived to enter the Promised Land, this being their reward for their constant loyalty to Moses.

 

By this time, Joshua, the man chosen to be leader when Moses should die, had established his reputation as a brilliant general and had organised a very efficient army, judging by the crushing defeats he inflicted on many enemies during the final advance into Palestine – and referred to in the FC Degree as "the time when Joshua fought the battles of the Lord**.

 

In the final advance the Israelites went eastwards to the south of the Dead Sea between the boundaries of Edom and Moab where Aaron, the brother of Moses died, and where we have the well known story of Balak, King of Moab, and Balaam, the hireling prophet, who was told to put a curse on the Israelites.

 

Then northward on the east side of the Dead Sea and Jordan until they arrived opposite Jericho where Moses died at the age of 120 in sight of the "Promised Land" but never permitted to set foot there.

 

Under Joshua's leadership they crossed the river and entered the "Promised Land" forty years after their exodus from Egypt, a period full of incident which has only been briefly touched upon here.

 

Joshua governed for about eight years and died at the age of 110. After this the Israelites were ruled for a period of about 300 years by numerous "Judges" (of whom Jephthah of the 2"* TB was one).

 

This was a period of anarchy and confusion with little progress made towards consolidating their kingdom. Under Samuel there was much improvement and progress, especially against the Philistines. But the people clamoured for a king so as to be like the other nations and that the king might lead them to great victories in battle and make them a mighty nation.

 

And although Samuel warned them that their king would probably prove himself to be a harsh dictator and that they would be little more than slaves, the people still demanded it. (All of which appears to be depressingly modern!).

 

So Samuel chose Saul for them and anointed him the first King of Israel.

 

Saul appeared in every way to be a suitable choice. He was of Kish - a 'mighty man" of Benjamin (i.e. wealthy). He is described as "a choice young man and goodly". Also "from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of his people" and he was of a deeply religions nature. He started very well with victories against the Philistines. But he quarrelled with Samuel and things began to go badly and he began to suffer from fits of depression and violent anger, it was then that David first appeared on the scene.

 

Samuel in a vision, was told to go secretly to Bethlehem in Judah to anoint David the youngest son of Jesse as future king of Israel, although David did not realise the significance of this at the time. David first met Saul when he was sent to play his harp before him and this helped to cure Saul when he was in one of his "black" moods. David became famous by killing the Philistine giant Goliath and his brilliant victories over the Philistines made him a popular idol and he became the king's son-in-law by marrying Saul's daughter Michal.

 

However, when the people began to sing slogans such as "Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands" Saul's friendship turned to bitter hatred and David had to fly for his life.

 

His escape was made possible by Jonathan, Saul's son, who risked his own life in doing so, on more than one occasion. He was in fact ordered by Saul to kill him. Jonathan first met David when he was brought before Saul after the slaying of Goliath and their great friendship started from that moment Jonathan appears to have been very popular with the people generally and with the army on account of his successful campaigns against the Philistines and no doubt would have been acclaimed king on the death of Saul.

 

But both Saul and Jonathan realized that with the ever increasing popularity of David, the people were beginning to look towards David as their future ruler: - "Thou shalt be king over Israel and I shall be the next under thee and that also Saul my father knoweth".

 

Their reactions were very different; Saul in his mad desire to destroy David led an army of two to three thousand men against him and pursued him for some six years throughput the whole of Judah and even took with him his cousin Abner who was C in C of the Israelitish

army.

 

Jonathan on the other hand repeatedly warned David of his father's intentions and helped him to escape. He even found his way to David's hiding place in the wilderness of Ziph to encourage him not to lose heart and to assure him that his father would not find him.

 

From this we could assume that the two had always remained secretly in touch with one another. And he did all this for a man who he knew would one day usurp his place on the throne of Israel.

 

I think further comment is unnecessary except perhaps to say that he was a man in whom there was no trace of resentment or jealousy - a very rare quality.

 

David first fled to Ramah in Benjamin then back secretly to Jonathan to find out what Saul's intentions were and where we have the incident of the three arrows. Thence to Nob where Ahimelch the priest gave him some hallowed bread and the sword of Goliath.

 

This was seen by Doeg, the result of which we know. Doeg was an Edomite – a foreigner in fact whose country had not been conquered by Israel and he had no particular reverence for the Hebrew priesthood. He was one of Saul's chief servants and in charge of his herds.

 

It was in the caves of Adullam that David first gathered together the nucleus of an army of some 400 men and among them no doubt were to be found some of those who afterwards became his "Mighty Men". At any rate when David heard that Keilah, a few miles away, was being attacked by the Philistines he took a small band of men and inflicted a crushing defeat on the enemy and saved the town.

 

It was here that Abiathar joined him after the slaughter of his family by Doeg. The inhabitants rewarded David for their deliverance by betraying his presence to Saul and David again fled, this time to the wilderness of Ziph where Jonathan, who obviously knew where he was, visited him for the last time.

 

From there he fled to En-gedi near the west shore of the Dead Sea where he and his men hid among "the rocks of the wild goats" and where David could have killed Saul but spared his life.

 

Finally, David, fearing that he could never make peace with Saul, left the country and took refuge with the Philistines who gave him the town of ZikIag for him and his men.

 

His army by then had increased to 600 and among them was a considerable number of his "mighty men" who helped to establish him finally on the throne of Israel.

 

The "three" who were considered the greatest of them all were Adino, Eleazar and Shammah. Their claim to greatness was based on the number of Philistines they had killed single-handed.

 

There was also Abishai who was captain of a band of thirty warriors. The three who broke through the Philistine lines to get water from the well at Bethlehem were either Adino, Eleazar and Shammah or possibly three from Abishai's men. This incident probably took place shortly after the death of Saul when David had been proclaimed king of Judah.

 

Abishai was David's constant companion while hiding from Saul and was with him when they found Saul asleep with his army and would have killed him but for David's command not to raise his hand against "the Lord's anointed".

 

And wherever Abishai was, it is reasonable to suppose that there also were his two brothers Asahel and Joab* Asahel the youngest was renowned for his "fleetness of foot" while Joab the eldest ultimately became David's C in C and by his skilful generalship and ruthless methods did more than any other man to establish David firmly on the throne of Israel, a kingdom extending from Beersheba to Dan.

 

Their mother was Zeruiah, David's half-sister. Not only were they unswervingly loyal to David and his cause but also to each other - rather like the Three Musketeers.

 

If any of them displeased David (as Joab did frequently) he never referred to him individually but always collectively as the "Sons of Zeruiah" as for example "What have I to do with you ye sons of Zeruiah?" or "These men, the sons of Zeruiah, be too hard for me".

 

While David and his men were at Ziklag, the Philistines launched an attack against the Israelites who were routed in the Mountains of Gilboa some fifty miles north of the borders of Judah and Saul and three of his sons including Jonathan were killed after a reign of about forty years.

 

Jonathan's son Mephibosheth was five years old at the time and on hearing of the disaster his nurse carried him for safety over the Jordan, but during the flight he fell from her arms and was crippled for life.

 

The people of Judah proclaimed David king at Hebron. All the other tribes supported Saul's family and Abner, Saul's cousin and C in C proclaimed Saul's son Ishbosheth king of Israel.

 

And so the first civil war began and from then onwards the northern tribes were known as Israel and the south as Judah. Joab and Abishai led the armies for David and Judah. In the first engagement the Israelites were defeated but Asahej (Joab's young brother) pursuing after Abner, was killed by him. The war lingered on for some six to seven year's when Abner quarreled with Ishbosheth and made overtures to David to come over to his side with his army, and David readily agreed.

 

Joab to whom disloyalty to David was unforgivable, and remembering that Abner had killed his brother, stabbed the unsuspecting Abner to death, much to David's grief; while Ishbosheth was assassinated shortly afterwards.

 

David was then anointed again at Hebron, this time over all Israel.

 

Led by Joab and Abishai, who always seemed to work in complete harmony, the army gradually subdued all the hostile tribes of the Amalekites, Moabites, Syrians, etc.

 

Against the Edomites, Abishai appears to have been in sole command. Jerusalem was captured from the Jebusites and became the capital and there the ark was placed in the care of Abiathar and Zadok who were appointed High Priests.

 

One of David's first acts on becoming king was to enquire if there was anyone left of the house of Saul to whom he might show kindness for Jonathan's sake.

 

It was then that Mephibosheth was brought before him and he certainly had nothing to fear from David. Indeed anyone killing any of Saul's family were themselves executed by David as with the murderers of Ishbosheth.

 

After about twenty five years there came the revolt of Absalom, David's favourite son, who set himself up as king in Hebron, and David was forced to leave Jerusalem. On the way - Ziba, Mephibosheth's servant - informed David that Mephibosheth had remained in Jerusalem and joined in the revolt, and David allowed Ziba to take all Mephibosheth's property.

 

Back once again in Jerusalem after the failure of the revolt, Mephibosheth came to David and with a gracious spirit, free from any resentment at David's suspicions, stated simply that Ziba had stolen his ass and being a cripple he could not get away and now he was overjoyed that "the king is come again in peace unto his own house**. Surely he was a true son of Jonathan.

 

By a clever stratagem, David's army, in three columns led by Joab, Abishai and lttai easily crushed the revolt and Joab coming upon Absalom, caught in a tree by his hair, stabbed him to death in spite of David's express wish to him "to deal gently for my sake with the young man".

 

David's grief on hearing this was even greater than that for the death of Jonathan as shown by his outburst, **0 my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom, would God I had died for thee, 0 Absalom my son, my son!"

 

For this deed Joab was dismissed from his post which was most surprisingly given to Amasa whom Absalom had chosen as his C in C in the revolt-a half-nephew of David and a cousin of Joab. Joab's reaction to this can easily be imagined.

 

As for Abishai, all we know is that he continued to be associated with David. Soon however another revolt broke out led by Sheba, a Benjamite, to which tribe Saul belonged: it was a revolt of the ten northern tribes who wished to reject David and Judah.

 

This threatened to be more dangerous even than Absalom's revolt. David ordered Amasa to mobilize the army within a certain time, but he failed to do so and David called on Abishai to take charge.

 

Here again we get an interesting insight into the character of Abishai and of the close friendship between the two brothers, because the next thing we hear is that the army is being led out by both Abishai and Joab with the latter taking the leading part.

 

On the way out they met Amasa at the head of his troops and Joab, pretending to greet him in a friendly manner, drew his sword and stabbed him to death and left his body lying in the road.

 

The troops, however, joined in with those of Joab and Abishai and the revolt was soon completely crushed and Joab was reinstated as C in C.

 

One may wonder perhaps why Joab has no place among the "Mighty Men" of the 2* of the Order or even why he does not appear instead of Abishai, possibly because of his violent acts and his final miserable end, or more possibly because Abishai appears to have been so often with David in many "personal" episodes. Apart from those mentioned there was the time, at the start of Absalom's rebellion when Shimei, a member of Saul's family, cursed David and threw stones at him saying that just as David had usurped the throne of Saul's family, so would Absalom do the same to him.

 

Abishai wanted to kill him on the spot but David forbade it as he always did with anyone of Saul's family. And, again, after the revolt, when Shimei came to make amends, Abishai again wished to kill him because he had "cursed the Lord's anointed", which called forth the

reply, "What have I to do with ye sons of Zeruiah, etc". The last we hear of Abishai is during a Philistine raid in which David was present and was about to be struck down by a Philistine giant when his life was spared by Abishai.

 

After this episode, David was persuaded to give up taking any active part on the battlefield.

The story now draws to a close. David, when dying, named Solomon, the son of Bathsheba, as the future king. But Adonijah, David's eldest surviving son, resented this and made an abortive attempt to seize the kingdom on the death of David and he was joined by Joab and Abiathar.

 

Why these two did so is difficult to understand. Possibly, Adonijah, being the elder son, was considered the rightful heir or possibly Joab remembered the part he played in getting Urriah the Hittite killed by David's orders so that David could marry his wife Bathsheba, who became Solomon's mother.

 

The revolt was easily crushed and Joab, now an old man, fled to the tabernacle where he thought he would be secure from attack. But he was killed there by Solomon's orders, holding on to the horns of the Altar. Such was the miserable death of a great man. Adonijah also was ordered to be killed.

 

Abiathar was pardoned but was dismissed from his office as High Priest.

 

So ends our story, covering in a short time a period of about five hundred years, a brief description of some of the characters and of the times in which they lived, starting with Moses and ending with Solomon which perhaps we may  say, is where Craft masonry begins.

 

(Supplied by Most Worthy Brother Ian Wylde  P G S R from various sources.)