Back in 2017, I wrote The Chamber of Refraction, which briefly details several of the issues that can be seen in anterooms all across the United States. It’s a short read, so if you haven’t looked at it before then I’d encourage you to do so before continuing as this article is going to be written based off of the assumption that you’re dissatisfied with the current state of your anteroom and are looking for advice.
July 2019 Update: I have been informed that, at least in Texas, any furniture or objects within the anteroom which are not listed in the monitor are not legal per GM recommendation #2 of 2013. I will not share my opinions on this here but I recommend contacting a representative of the Committee on Work about your plans before entering into any massive undertakings.
I’ll start off by stating that I’m a big fan of the Chamber of Reflection concept but I also recognize introducing them into the Blue Lodge would be somewhat of an innovation in most jurisdictions. It’s not an innovation that I’d be opposed to, but once that word starts getting thrown around it’s hard to convince anyone that something is a good idea. Finally, here in Texas, the Grand Master’s 2nd resolution in 2013 made some changes to our law book that puts “traditional” Chambers of Reflection in a legally grey area as per Article 127.
Fortunately here in Texas, anything not specifically stated as illegal in our law book is legal and there are ways we can upgrade on our anterooms and raise the bar on the initiatic experience our lodges provide in such a way that will still have the desired effect on candidates and brothers without ruffling any feathers (or at least not most feathers, maybe). I say this because I believe that it is possible to emulate the spirit and purpose of the Chamber of Reflection within the limits set by jurisdictional law. I believe W.B. Andrew Hammer stated the spirit and purpose of the Chamber best in his article “To Await A Time With Patience: Explaining The Chamber of Reflection”:
“This kind of ceremony—of preparation for initiation by means of a period of isolation—has been with us since the beginning of recorded history, in any number of basic initiaticrites. It is not anything strange or alien to the human experience. It is, however, incredibly transformative in the sense that it allows the candidate to put away the everyday world he left behind when he entered the temple, and focus his mind properly for what he is about to experience. That is what we ask of the postulant in any case.
We ask him to reflect on what he is about to do and why, so that he knows he does it of his own free will and accord, and therefore the Lodge can know that as well. Truly, in a world where so many people do things senselessly, without thinking, we need reflection and contemplation before our actions.”
As I said before, I believe it is possible to achieve this inward reflection within the anteroom without creating a full-blown Chamber. You could argue that I’m wrong (and maybe I am!) but it’s hard to argue (although I’m sure some Past Masters will try) that upgrading our anterooms and improving any facet of the Masonic experience our lodges provide is a bad thing, so let’s proceed.
Out With The Old…
First thing’s first: we need to remove anything from our anteroom that does not contribute to our goal of creating a reflective atmosphere. Remember that the anteroom is an extension of the lodge room and, as such, it needs to enhance the initiatic experience. Therefore, anything that does not help create the desired atmosphere in the room will actually take away from it.
This can be hard because Masons love to hoard things even if they have no sentimental value or because a brother donated it to the lodge in the 1960’s. Brothers, if it’s a museum that you really want then create one, otherwise be ready and willing to part with anything that your lodge doesn’t use or need.
In With The New
Depending on what your lodge already has available then your situation may be different but for the purpose of this paper, we will move forward as though we have a completely empty anteroom at this point.
The first items for consideration need to be the floor and walls of the room itself. Are the floor tiles cracked or broken? If you have carpet, is it presentable? Would the walls benefit from a new coat of paint? If you answer in the affirmative to any of these then these need to be addressed before you go any further. My recommendation would be to use dark tones that will enhance the tone of the room when it is dimly lit (which I will talk about in the next section) but if you intend to use candles for lighting then keep in mind that carpet would be a fire hazard. Consider using stained concrete if that’s an option.
Once you are satisfied with the floor and walls of the room then it’s time to move things into the room. Remember that simple is best. Here are some suggestions:
- Simple clothing hooks
- A wooden chair
- A wooden table
- An hourglass
- Various sayings
- Masonic pictures
- A mirror
I specified wooden furniture for a reason: in a world where everything is cheaply made and mass produced, Freemasonry is none of these things. A room with a wooden chair and table gives off a very different vibe than one with plastic/metal furniture. Find some high-quality furniture instead and invest in your candidates.
The hourglass is completely optional however you may see the value in providing it to the candidate as he reflects before receiving a certain degree.
The various sayings are my favorite part of the whole concept and they allow you to create an atmosphere is serious consideration without changing the ritual or introducing anything illegal in Texas. These sayings would be placed on the walls of the room and the candidate/brother can observe them and reflect on their meanings before receiving his degree. Here are some sayings that I have been able to find which have been used elsewhere:
- If you think we will find out your defects, you will feel uncomfortable among us.
- If curiosity spurred you towards us, go away.
- If you are capable of deception, tremble, you will be found out.
- If you take notice of human differences, leave, we do not know them here.
- If your soul is fearful, do not proceed!
- If you persevere, you will be purified, you will overcome darkness, you will be enlightened.
- Know thyself (this is typically above the door entering the lodge)
- If you are afraid, leave!
- If you are not certain, withdraw!
These sayings cause men to re-evaluate their intentions for joining, which I believe is a good thing. Some brothers may fear sayings like this may run potential members off but if a lodge is doing their due diligence in investigating candidates then this is unlikely. In fact, I believe that reflection on these sayings will cause those within to test their resolve and encourage them to push forward with a new appreciation for the work they are about to engage in.
Pictures may or may not contribute to the ambiance of the room as there are many factors to consider when dealing with imagery. Consider using artwork portraying various aspects of the degrees or famous Freemasons. If a lodge chooses to go this route in their anteroom then I’d caution them not to go overboard with pictures and to avoid brightly colored images.
Implementing Your New Anteroom
There are two things that I want to address because these changes to a anteroom necessitate a new approach to its use if you want to maximize its influence on the candidate. Fortunately, these changes are not drastic, they are just different.
- Have the candidate/brother sit in the anteroom about 30 minutes before its time to get ready for his degree. A room intended to facilitate reflection simply won’t work as intended if a man is not given enough time alone to do so. If you’ve put this much effort into creating the desired environment but don’t allow the candidate to spent very much time in the room then reflection is unlikely to take place. Also, have him turn in his cell phone before entering. He definitely won’t be giving the room much consideration while scrolling down his Facebook feed.
- Turn down the lights. The room should be dark enough to feel solemn and mysterious but not so dark that the surrounding area cannot be observed. Avoid artificial lighting if possible for the same reasons that plastic and metal furniture is undesirable.
Finally, remember to continuously review your practices and consider new ways you can improve them.
It’s possible to create an anteroom that facilitates the thoughtful self-reflection of candidates and brothers without creating a full-blown Chamber of Reflection which may be prohibited in your jurisdiction or just completely misunderstood and unwanted by the brothers of your lodge.
Keep in mind that the suggestions in this article are not meant to be taken as all-or-nothing. Every lodge is unique and therefore will have different needs and be more accepting to some ideas than others. You know your lodges better than I do but I firmly believe that any number or combination of the suggestions that I’ve offered will improve your anteroom and thus create a better Masonic experience at your lodge.