Build Wisely, Build Strongly, Build Beautifully
By Most Illustrious Companion John D. Barnes
Past Most Illustrious Grand Master and Grand Treasurer, Grand Council of New Jersey

King Solomon's Temple
King Solomon's Temple
(Photo Credit:


'When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.'
-John Muir

My Companion:

I recently saw a video about how the return of wolves to Yellowstone Nation Park changed the rivers within the park. The video referred to something called a ”trophic cascade”, which Wikipedia defines as “when predators in a food web suppress the abundance and/or alter traits (e.g., behavior) of their prey, thereby releasing the next lower trophic level from predation (or herbivory if the intermediate trophic level is an herbivore). … A Top Down Cascade is a trophic cascade where the food chain or food web is disrupted by the removal of a top predator,…a bottom up cascade occurs when a primary producer or primary consumer is removed, and there is a diminishment of population size through the community. “The wolves chased the large grazing animals, who had eaten too much ground cover, leaving better vegetation to hold soil, which made for better river banks, and so on down the line. Removing or adding something in the chain changes the dynamics of the whole system.

In architecture, if you add too many stones to the top of a wall, it will topple. If you take away too many stones from the foundation of a wall, it will topple. If you take too many stones out of the middle, the wall will topple. As Speculative Masons, we are taught to erect our buildings on the square, making them plumb and level. As Capitular Masons, we are taught to make them complete, whole, and beautiful. And as Cryptic masons, we are taught to adorn them with the work of skilled artisans. From our first Degrees in Masonry, we have been taught that a building is more than the sum of its parts, and that its part musts work in harmony if the building is to be pleasing to the eye and to the heart.

It’s the same within our Councils. Too many Past Thrice Illustrious Masters leads to too many leaders, and a failed Council. Not enough members, especially members who actually attend the Assemblies, leads to an empty room, and a failed Council. And not having enough new Companions, to replace those lost to the ravages of time, leads to overburdened attendees, and a failed Council.

Unlike in nature, where each species’ place in the food chain is fixed, your place in Masonry is what you make it. You were first a Symbolic Mason, then you grew in Light and Knowledge, and became a Capitular Mason. You’ve learned and grown some more, and are now a Cryptic Mason. At one time you were “The New Guy”, then you became a regular attendee. You volunteered to be an Officer, and to help confer Degrees. You may have even become a Thrice Illustrious Master, and then a Right Illustrious, and perhaps even a Most Illustrious. You built yourself up, using all the Working Tools of your profession, to be the best you can be.

Build wisely. Build strongly. Build beautifully.