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Systematic Encoding of Masonic Ritual to Long-term Memory

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 Systematic Encoding of Masonic Ritual to Long-term Memory

Memory systems have existed for thousands of years - mainly to memorise impressively long lists of random objects, numbers or playing cards. The award of Grand Master of Memory (nothing to do with Freemasonry) was first introduced in 1995 as a three-stage challenge - it was initially given to anyone who successfully memorised all the following challenges:

  • • 1000 randomly generated numbers in 1 hour
  • • running order of 10 decks of playing cards in 1 hour
  • • running order of 1 deck of cards in 2 Minutes


Whilst such feats may seem astonishing they do not necessarily require a high degree of intelligence, but rather a significant ‘brain training’ time investment.

Memorising Masonic Ritual is a semantically founded mission - the Ritualist is effectively providing an educational service to the Candidate whilst invoking reflective contemplation among more experienced Brethren. The core challenge is to command the Candidate’s full attention by presenting our Ritual workings with conviction and confidence. This requires far more brain power than simply memorising a long list of words.

Introducing the ‘5-Minute Ritualist’


The 5-Minute Ritualist is a scientifically founded, flexible, time and labour saving method for memorising Masonic Ritual using short, regular, highly focussed learning sessions. It has been developed as a range of time managed, memorisation and educational tools that can be universally applied to any form of Masonic Ritual.

The 5-MR methodology has been developed to satisfy a long list of needs and conditions, without sacrificing ‘ease of use’ virtues. Whilst the key benefits are the saving of time and effort there are several other beneficial factors to consider. Perhaps the best way of illustrating these is to compare conventional ‘learning straight from the book’ practices with those conferred by the 5-MR working tools based system.

Learning straight out of Ritual book presents our brains with several challenges. There is a need to disregard all the other matter on the page other than the small number of words we are trying to memorise at any one time. This is can be distracting and potentially disheartening, especially when learning a lengthy working, as we are constantly reminded of the mountain yet to be climbed!

Our Working Memory can only hold a small number of words at a time, so as we read across the page we need to mentally chunk the Ritual into memory friendly portions. This is an extra brain job and errors can be made - take in too many words in one go and our Working Memory becomes overloaded. Processing comes to a halt!

We will also frequently look away or close our eyes for a trial recitation of what we have learnt - trying to find our place can easily and frustratingly break our concentration. Yes, we can use a ruler to mark our place, but that is another potentially concentration breaking brain job.

If we happen upon a word, phrase or element we do not know or fully comprehend our mission becomes unnecessarily arduous. It is akin to trying to memorise unfamiliar foreign language content which slams the brakes on the encoding process. Admittedly, this will be more of a challenge for inexperienced Brethren.

There is a tendency to memorise the work as a single block, learning the first line, then another, reciting both together to prove we can recall both. We learn the third line and recite all three lines again, and so on, until we complete our entire learning task. Inevitably, we recite the first lines far more often than the last lines, creating a much deeper memory of the beginning of the work and a relatively weaker end. This practice often results in ‘second half’ memory lapses during presentations which are often misattributed to fatigue.

So how does 5-MR surmount or minimise these challenges? It chunks the Ritual into small blocks displayed in a list format. These blocks are called Encoding Beats and are memorised one E-Beat at a time (many classical actors break their words into Beats). This minimises eye movement helping to maintain focussed attention; breaks a big challenge down into a psychologically pleasing series of small step tasks; spares our brains the task of chunking Ritual on the hoof thereby minimising Working Memory overload events and we can more readily find our place again following a trial rehearsal. To help new Brethren understand the archaic language content every 5-MR Workings Plan has its own glossary, so it also serves as an educational tool.

There is nothing new in list formatting - poets, classical playwrights, lyricists etc. present their work in this way because they want to help people memorise their words.

The system includes an intermediate encoding stage, so the Ritualist recites their target words several times, then drops their eyes to read or recite the Ritual from a heavily edited version of the words, before moving onto the final phase of recalling the words without prompting. This cycle is repeated until the E-Beat content can be confidently and accurately recalled. Working in this way breaks the tedium of just repeatedly reciting the words; provides another confidence building progress checkpoint and opens a Recognition process. Think about examination questions. We look at a question, but simply cannot call the answer to mind. Wait a minute! It is a multiple choice question and scanning the answer options we are instantly drawn to one because we Recognise it as being correct. 5-MR uses a ‘first letter’ prompting system - if we cannot Recall the word we may well Recognise it from the prompt.

However, 5-MR drills down further to other ‘time and effort’ saving levels.

For example, having successfully rehearsed a new Ritual working a couple of times we might naturally incline to think ‘mission accomplished’. This will almost certainly not be the case because the memory processing is still relatively shallow and will start to fade away quite quickly. If we continue to regularly rehearse our work, we will arrive at a ‘deep processing’ destination. We will instinctively know when we have arrived - our recall of the work will feel and appear effortless. This frees up more cerebral capacity we can apply to other presentation dynamics. Once we reach deep processing status, rehearsing the work one or twice a month will keep it alive, so we can recall and recite the work on demand.

5-MR also deploys several other easy to use working tools including an anytime, anyplace, anywhere ‘rehearsal and memory check’ tool that only a Freemason can understand! The latter has multiple functions including serving as a discreet prompt for memory challenged Brethren. There are also structural tools to help memorise the sectional running order of longer workings. All the essentials are housed within in a dedicated 5-MR Workings Plan for each working. Even the psychological impact of colour has been factored in - pale blue is said to foster calmness and high concentration. How apt!

The 5-Minute Ritualist Guide book gives the reader a tour through the Ritual encoding processes and all the system’s component parts; encoding and presentation tips; time, nerves and Local Workings management; three First Degree sample Workings Plans and supply of dedicated 5-MR Practitioner’s Stationery, so readers can set up their own DIY trial for any Masonic Order.

The 5-Minute Ritualist - is this the future in waiting? Only time will tell!

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