Tuesday, January 15, 2008
With the power of my mind........
I recently submitted a derivative of this post as a response to a blog post over at Movable Jewel and then as a response on a facebook Masonic group. After rereading it, I thought that it would make a good general article for the Masonic Renaissance. This is the memorization technique that I widely employ to learn ritual. I hope that it can help others in there oratory skills.
There is a method of rapid memorization known as Ars Memoriae or the art of memory in Latin. This was a technique developed by the ancient Greeks to quickly and accurately retain large orations. This technique was then adopted by the Romans. However, it was relatively lost except as mentalist "tricks" in modern times, because of the lack of need for large memorized speeches. Aristotle himself considered Ars Memoriae to be a critical piece of rhetoric. Therefore, this technique is not only modernly applicable to Freemasonry, but it also forms the foundation for one of the classical liberal arts and sciences that we are taught to revere as Masons.
I learned this technique when I was a Fellowcraft from a mentalist that we invited to lodge for a presentation. Most brothers blew off what he had to say as mumbo-jumbo. This was mainly because he approached it as a mentalist trick and not as a viable technique used in the classical period. I was intrigued with the method, so I did some further research on it and began to employ it to memorize Masonic ritual. By using this technique, I can memorize a set of ritual far faster then the average brother and be much more accurate with my delivery. As an example, we had a brother who normally does our EA charge become sick a day before the degree. I was able to memorize the charge (4 pages in our ritual books) in its entirety and recite it without prompt after only one and a half days of work on it.
The basic idea of this technique is to choose a location you are very familiar with that is filled with items (the lodge room is a perfect example, a museum or your home can also work - This method also works with parts of the body). The location should be fairly static, so that your memory doesn't rearrange a lecture, when the location is rearranged. Create a tour through this place, where you touch upon each item in a specific order. Now break up the lecture into a number of pieces, usually based on sentences, that is less than or equal to the number of items in your location. The next step is to associate each sentence with that item through an action. The action should be extremely memorable, this is the glue that holds the technique together. An example, if you have to remember "free will and accord" at a certain spot that has a chair. Imagine a person chained to the chair, breaking free. Therefore, actuating his "free will and accord." The trick here is that you can reuse your "place" and "items" for different lectures.
I know this sounds strange. But trust me, it works really well. This technique was used by Aristotle, Cicero, Saint Thomas Aquinas and many more men known for their oratory skills.
This technique was also a significant topic in Robert Cooper's book "Cracking the freemason's code." Don't let the title fool you, this is a highly intelligent historical analysis of craft Masonry by the Curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum and Library. Cooper makes the argument that the reason why the middle chamber lecture uses the physical location of King Solomon's temple to convey the lessons of the 2nd degree is because our ancient brethren employed the "method of loci", where ideas are connected to items in a physical location to assist in memory retention. Furthermore, for everyone that has every learned a "steward's lecture" or catechism, you have already employed this technique. These catechisms are based upon Masonic ritual which is both a spacial and temporal location.
For some more information about this technique check out this wikipedia article for an introduction and further references.