One of the things that often causes brethren concern is the need to memorize various parts of the ritual. Many brethren have exclaimed, "But I just can't memorize things and I get so nervous when I try to recite them." You are not the first to have this concern and you will not be the last. There are many methods that you can use to memorizing and the article below is one approach.
Brother To Brother Nuggets - How to Memorize Ritual
Memorization techniques are not a gift. Knowing the ritual well comes from many hours learning it. Memory is a fickle thing. We need to try to understand it. We often compare our brains to a computer. Although we understand more than ever how a human brain works we really only know a tiny fraction. We are beginning to realize however that it is entirely different from, and much superior to, an artificial computer. The study of memory is one example of that.
We do NOT have a tape recorder in our brain! Our thoughts and ideas are stored in particular areas. Different concepts are stored in different places. We know this from experience with people with damaged brains (from injury or disease such as a stroke). They have widely disparate and often bizarre patterns of memory change.
In simple terms we can divide memory into short–term and long–term storage. In reality there are probably more subdivisions than this but two will suffice for the purpose of this paper.
If you tell me the directions to your house in a new location, I"ll probably remember it if I"m already on my way there. If I return in a few days, I may have some difficulty but will probably get there with a few wrong turnings. If I go there every day for 3 months, I will never again forget where you live as long as my brain remains healthy.
Ritual is like this. I could learn a short piece of ritual, or even several parts of a long piece, and repeat it tomorrow. All the time Iâ€™m repeating it however I will be furiously trying to remember the next word, the next sentence or the next phrase. There will be frequent pauses and probably a lot of prompts. If I repeat it enough times however I will eventually be able to speak the whole piece without pausing.
That phrase, or set of phrases, however is still only in my short term memory and, with time, it will fade. Next week I will again be pausing: next month pausing (much) more and, next year, I'll have to start learning the whole thing over again.
If I repeat the piece over and over again however it will become part of long term memory and will stay in my memory for ever. Most of us remember the words to "O Canada": we have repeated them thousands of times.
Actors and musicians call this "embodiment". It seems as if it no longer is in our heads but in our bodies. We do not have to use brain to remember the words; they just seem to come out. We can then use our brain to think of other things. Things such as emphasis, breathing, volume, speed, pauses. In other words, we can add meaning to the words we speak through body language. We can also receive feedback from our audience and integrate it into our delivery.
Here is a recipe then for learning ritual.
First. Read through the whole piece. If you can, read it aloud several times. Better yet have someone else read it to you over and over again (Make sure he's a Mason though!) This is important. What the Brain HEARS is remembered better if you are not using another part of the brain for speaking. I use this a lot when I am learning the melody of a song. Playing the notes over & over on the piano but NOT singing them "fixes" them in your brain more quickly.
Second, begin with the first sentence and repeat it over and over until you can do so without reading the text. Go to the next sentence and do the same. THEN say aloud the first and second and repeat them until you no longer have need of the text. Now go to the third and repeat the process.
There are some who start with the LAST paragraph but I have never tried this for ritual. It does work however with a song
When you reach the end of that paragraph you will be able to recite the whole of it from memory. Do this at least 10 times before you start the next paragraph.
If you think this is going to take a lot of time you are right! However, it is going to take more. A lot more!
By now however you are going to be feeling more confident. Also, there will be many more opportunities to repeat aloud what you have already learned, as now you will be working on things you have in your head and not be reliant on reading. For example, I repeat longer charges while driving alone.
Third, comes the easiest but also the longest part. Once you have memorized the whole piece (and now you think you "know" it) you must repeat it a MINIMUM OF 200 TIMES before performing it in public. (There's no need to count however – 199 times will probably be more than enough!)
After your first public performance keep repeating it for a day or two integrating any feedback you had from your audience.
This is a LOT of work. However, if you start learning the ritual when you are first appointed as an officer, you have years in which to learn the ritual. As you progress through each office you should learn AT LEAST the work of the next one. On the night you are installed as Master you will be able to perform perfectly every word in the book, except perhaps the IPM charges. Better however to have learned those as well as you journey through the chairs.
Adapted from a lecture by R.W. Bro. John Forster PDDGM Ottawa 2