Monday, September 1, 2014

‘The Masonic Feast of Feasts in NYC’


In traditional Scottish Rite Freemasonry, which adheres to the Jewish calendar, there is a celebration called the Feast of Tishri hosted in a Lodge of Perfection. Inspired by the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot (see Deuteronomy), a harvest thanksgiving, this fraternal Feast of Tishri is, in the words of Ill. Arturo de Hoyos, “the Masonic feast of feasts.”

In The Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide, de Hoyos writes:

“The origins and significances of the Feast of Tishri make it the most Scottish Rite of festivals. Although originally celebrated as a harvest and gathering festival, no other occasion epitomizes the character and purpose of the Rite more wholly than our historic celebration, held in conjunction with the dedication of King Solomon’s Temple (2 Chronicles 7:8-10). To marshal the meanings of the feast is to summarize the principal ideals and traditions of our Fraternity.

“First of all, we observe the Feast of Tishri because it is an age-old custom that now has the power of law. Under the Statutes of the Supreme Council, the feast is considered an obligatory observance, a sharing of our fraternal spirit.

“Secondly, the rich legendry of the Temple’s dedication, held in connection with the Feast of Tishri, is an essential part of the Fourteenth Degree. The symbolic details of the Temple’s position, design, construction, furnishing, and decoration carry special meaning as they apply to the metaphorical temple of Freemasonry built in the heart of every Brother. Through the symbols of the Temple, we learn to recommit ourselves to building Freemasonry in the hearts of men” and among nations….

“The consecration of the Temple must also be observed at the Feast of Tishri because it teaches the equality and unity of all members of the Rite. The people of Israel, unified under Solomon, were equal in their devotion to the Lord and equal in their sovereignty to all other nations. In the Feast of Tishri, all Perfect Elus and those of higher Degrees can join at the banquet table and share the bond of fraternal unity.

“Yet another reason to keep the Feast of Tishri is that such observance fosters the spirit of fellowship. We meet at a common table, express our mutual esteem, and so promote that essential bond of cordiality and respect which lightens and shares the weight of our Masonic endeavors. Such social amenities open us to each other in an atmosphere elevated beyond the sphere of normal, day-to-day communication. Within the context of the Feast of Tishri, we realize more deeply than ever before the value of our fellow men, without which the individual is lost in a self-imposed prison of human isolation.

“Finally, the law, legendry, peace, equality, unity, and fellowship of the Feast of Tishri combine to make this the Masonic feast of feasts. At the reflection table, all men—Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and others—join in a common voice of thanksgiving where every man can share his gratitude and express his sincere thanks to Him Who made all things. The Deity has given us life, the strength to live it fully, and the joy of sharing the beauty and goodness of His creation with our fellow men. Most of all, He has given us freedom. The Feast of Tishri celebrates this freedom the Israelites won with the guidance of Providence, despite the shackles of Egypt and the armies of the Philistines.

“This ancient victory celebrated in the dedication of Solomon’s Temple is kept forever fresh through our keeping of the Feast of Tishri. It promises to all men that the burdens of tyranny are temporary, that the darkness will yield to light, that knowledge will conquer ignorance, and that the Creator intended all men to be free. The message of Tishri comes to us strongly and clearly from across the ages because it has been so preserved in the symbolism and allegory of the Scottish Rite. Through our observance of this great feast of thanksgiving, we, as heirs of Solomon, perpetuate his magnificent Temple of freedom in our lives, our communities, our country and, most of all, in our beloved Rite.”

The Feast of Tishri is among the constitutional celebrations of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite-Southern Jurisdiction, and is unknown in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (where the Feast of the Paschal Lamb is hosted in proximity to Passover and Easter), but the brethren in New York City will host their Feast of Tishri nonetheless on the eve of Sukkot. The Scottish Rite Valley of New York City meets at Masonic Hall, located at 71 West 23rd Street in Manhattan.

‘Traubenfest 2014’

Revelers at a past Traubenfest at German Masonic Park in Tappan, NY.

The Noble Ninth Manhattan District, home to a number of exotic Masonic lodges in New York, will host its approximately annual (long story) Traubenfest next month!

Traubenfest 2014
Sunday, October 5
1 to 5 p.m.

German Masonic Park
120 Western Highway
Tappan, New York

German foods, beers, music, and more. Always a good time.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

‘Have a Rose Croix cigar’

Don’t ask me where one might buy a Rose Croix cigar, but evidently a limited number of the sticks were released late last year by Singularé. Made in Estelí, Nicaragua, it is a Nicaraguan puro measuring seven inches with a 46 ring. Basically a Churchill shape.

MSRP on single sticks is $12.85, and a box of 15 costs $192.75.

The reason for the cigar’s name is unknown. There’s hardly any publicity on the product, except for quick announcements in January about its release. With a name that lends itself to rich and historic symbolic illustration, one would think the packaging would display some pizzazz but, again, the brand is mute. Reviewing the cigar, says:

At first appearance, the Illusione Singularé 2013 Rose Croix doesn’t offer any over the top embellishments or visual traits that make it standout, but that is in fact what makes it such an appealing cigar. It is a gorgeous shade of brown: what I would describe as between a colorado rosado and colorado maduro, with a good bit of sheen and some toothiness. The veins are prominent and the roll isn’t perfectly smooth, allowing for a bit of give when squeezed while also showing the occasional firm spot. The band is the same one that has been used on previous Singularé releases, white and silver with a black EL on the backside indicating that it is a limited edition. The pre-light aroma coming off the foot is slightly sweet, with notes of cherry and a touch of cinnamon stick at first impression, with a bit of leather in the background. The cold draw on two of the cigars is much too easy and shows hardly any resistance, while the other two are much more dialed in. Both deliver notes of chocolate with just the slightest hint of pepper, and even a touch of mint was found.

The first puffs are smooth with a pinch of white pepper and allow for an easing into the Illusione Singularé 2013 Rose Croix, but it only takes a few more and both some sweetness and more pronounced pepper notes start developing and the cigar begins to show itself. The first retrohale has plenty of pepper but manages to remain enjoyable, though in measured amounts. The burn line starts to go a bit askew in the first inch, while smoke production is average at its lowest levels and picks up from there. Notes of leather and wood are subtle but present on the palate while the pepper notes tend to grab most of the attention—particularly in the nose—yet are far from overpowering, earning this cigar a mild-plus or medium-minus rating as far as strength in the early going. It is very clean and balanced, almost to the point of being refined beyond what most tobacco tends to deliver. The intensity of the flavors begins to back off in preparation for the second third, remaining present but subdued and drawing the senses into them as opposed to reaching out for them.

The Illusione Singularé 2013 Rose Croix mellows out quite noticeable at the beginning of the second third, which allows for a resting and clearing of the taste buds and olfactory receptors. The nose is the first thing reengaged by the cigar, with a fairly light note of warm wood wafting off the cigar as it rests, followed by a touch of sweetness on the tongue and an increasing creaminess. It’s just a bit doughy at first before returning with a more pronounced wood note and very gentle pepper, giving it a mild-medium body and strength. Past the midway point, there is an increased amount of pepper on the retrohale and is now much tougher to retrohale just the smallest amount of smoke. The smoke seems to add just a touch of thickness as it moves into the second half, while the burn line has gotten itself corrected and is burning much straighter and evenly.


The final third proved to be the one with the most differing results. Among all four cigars, a very distinct but mild leather note starts to come out in the cigar’s aroma at the beginning of the final third, which starts to slowly morph into a chewy, chalky note that takes the burn line to the band. However, when it’s time to take the band of the Illusione Singularé 2013 Rose Croix off, things finish in a number of different directions. On the first cigar, a new note comes along that combines just the slightest bit of toasted wood with a thick, cherry sweetness that shows off a completely new side of the cigar. On another, it was just a touch sour and didn’t have any sweetness. Two cigars presented a much more vibrant wood note, almost sharp on the tongue that again hadn’t been found previously. The final third will either seal the deal that this cigar is a winner or leave you questioning its final approach, an unfortunate and unpredictable way end to what had been a fantastic cigar otherwise.

Friday, August 22, 2014

‘Masonic Tour of Central Park’

Magpie file photo
The Tenth Manhattan District will conduct a free guided walking tour of Central Park tomorrow morning, visiting points of interest including: statues of José de San Martin, José Martí, and Simón Bolivar; the Pulitzer Fountain and Lombard Lamp; Grand Army Plaza and The Mall; Bethesda Terrace and Fountain; Shakespeare Garden; Greyshot Arch; and more.

Family and friends are welcome. The group will assemble at 10 a.m. at 59th Street and Sixth Avenue. Those interested also can meet for a barbecue lunch after the tour on 72nd Street.


The Rosicrucian Order has a TV Page on Google, and plans to broadcast discussions and other events for distance learning with a modern flair.

Dubbed “Hangouts on the Air,” these sessions will begin Sunday with a talk on “Tarot: A Rosicrucian Perspective” led by Steven Armstrong. Having attended such a meeting Wednesday night at the Rosicrucian Cultural Center in Manhattan, when I realized that each of the weeknight sessions this week is unique and that I cannot possibly attend more than one, I think I love this idea.

The Order also is exploring the feasibility of broadcasting (webcasting?) a Hangout on the Air during its upcoming visit to Egypt, and that is something I definitely would want to see.

The Tarot show can be viewed here.

Mystics for Moderns will be available August 31 at 1 p.m. New York time here.

The RosicrucianTV Page is here.

And the Rosicrucian YouTube Channel is here.

It is not necessary to view these events live. Recordings will be available.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

‘Prestonian Lecture 2015’

The United Grand Lodge of England has announced the Prestonian Lecture for 2015, titled “Wherever Dispersed: The Traveling Mason,” to be presented by Bro. Roger Burt of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, among other Masonic affiliations.

Roger Burt, Ph.D. enjoyed a lengthy academic career at the University of Exeter, where he is an Emeritus Professor, studying and teaching the effects of the Industrial Revolution on society. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a Fellow of the Geological Society, and a Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. In Freemasonry, Burt is a Past Master of Vectis Lodge No. 3075 in West Kent; a Past Master of Quatuor Coronati; a Royal Arch Mason; and an Honorary Professor in what was the Center for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield.

Magpie file photo
Front: Trevor Stewart and Roger Burt. Rear: John Acaster and Peter Currie
at Alpha Lodge No. 116, December 12, 2007.

A Prestonian Lecturer is appointed annually by UGLE to promote education among the brethren in the jurisdiction. By tradition, the lecturer travels about England presenting his work, and raising funds for a charity of his choice. In more recent years, it has become common for Prestonian Lecturers to travel abroad, with a number of them accepting speaking engagements in New Jersey and elsewhere in America. I shot this photo of Bro. Trevor Stewart (Prestonian Lecturer 2004) and Bro. Burt December 12, 2007 at Alpha Lodge No. 116 in East Orange.

Additionally, the Norman Spencer Prize for 2014 has been awarded to Bro Michael Karn of Temple of Athene Lodge No. 9541 in Middlesex, England for his paper “English Freemasonry During the Great War,” which presented the effects of the First World War on English Masonic lodges. The Spencer Prize is QC2076’s only honor named for a person; Norman Spencer served as Master of the lodge in 1959-60. In 1970, two years after Spencer’s death, the lodge instituted this tradition of honoring scholarly achievement in this way. He was a veteran of the First World War, having served in Egypt and France, making this year’s prize-winning paper an apt choice.

My thanks to The Canberra Curmudgeon, Bro. Neil Wynes Morse, for this news from England.

In closing, let us pray and send healing energies to Bro. Trevor Stewart, who is facing a daunting health challenge at this time. My brother, you are in my thoughts often, and I wish there were something I could do to spare you this trial. I hope to sit in lodge with you again soon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

‘MRF headed to Philly’

Details will come eventually, but note the location of the Masonic Restoration Foundation’s 2015 symposium will be the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s Masonic Temple in Philadelphia, August 21-23.

I’ll have some news and photos from this weekend’s events in Cincinnati shortly. I just arrived home, having driven 700 miles, and am bushed.

This is a photo I shot in 2007 of the East of Norman Hall in the Philadelphia temple.

Magpie file photo


Friday, August 15, 2014

‘A sacred retreat’

Honestly, it feels like it was ten years ago, but it was only in 2012 when I was guest speaker at Grand Master’s Day at DeWint House in Tappan, New York. It is an annual celebration that I enjoy attending for a variety of reasons. Earlier this week, I accidentally found the text of my remarks from that day, from which the following is excerpted for today’s Flashback Friday. When the arrangements were made originally, I was told to prepare for ten minutes; on the day of, I was told by Head Honcho Norman Moon that the schedule was tight, and I now had four minutes. Norman!

Grand Master’s Day 2014 will take place next weekend, on the 24th, and RW Norman Moon will be the much deserving honoree. I am looking forward to it. But now, a look back at two years ago, with apologies to William Wordsworth.

Temples Lie Open unto the Fields

Presented to DeWint House
On Grand Masters Day
Sunday, October 7, 2012

Most Worshipful Grand Master, Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master, Right Worshipful District Deputy Grand Master, Trustees of the Masonic Hall and Home, distinguished brethren, friends of Freemasonry, and supporters of the DeWint House all:

Thank you for the honor of being able to speak at this place today. 2012 is the eightieth anniversary of Grand Lodge’s acquisition of the DeWint House, and is the 260th anniversary of Bro. George Washington’s initiation into Freemasonry, and is the 280th anniversary of Washington’s birth. So I was hoping the stars would align, and keep the rain away.

I have come to praise the DeWint House. I’m a New Jersey Mason, so I’m kind of looking at things from the outside, but maybe that is a better vantage point – that of a visitor – to gain added perspective. I see the DeWint House as more than a historic site, and even as more than a Masonic treasure made accessible to the public. Having attended Grand Masters Day and other events here for several years, I recognize this special place as nothing less than a temple dedicated to the heroes and ideals that made the creation of our nation possible. Perhaps you don’t hear it often enough, but these buildings and grounds you maintain so carefully serve to inform the American citizen of so many lessons that must be understood and appreciated in order for the meaning of America to be handed down to posterity.

This land is alive. The exotic trees and beautiful plants that please our eyes are much more than decoration. They tell the visitor to the DeWint House that Freemasonry and Americanism possess a vitality that feeds on new sensory experiences. This is not a
historic site frozen in time, despite its lovingly preserved structures and artifacts. This is a place to walk. Yes, it is remembered for who and what happened here way back when, but it also is a place that looks to its tomorrows. The landscape is so enticing, I wouldn’t be surprised if newly married couples came here with their photographers for wedding pictures, making their own histories. This cannot be taken for granted.

We face a crisis in American culture in which the creators of modern memorials to America’s great heroes and remembrances seem to not know what they are doing, while simultaneously those who visit these new places appear unable to dedicate their hearts and minds, even for a moment, to the purpose of the monuments.

Just an hour’s drive to the south, at the National September 11th Memorial where the World Trade Center once stood, many visitors – apparently detached from the loss of life there – regard that place not as hallowed ground, but as another tourist spectacle on the doubledecker bus route. The September 2 edition of the New York Post puts it this way:

They’re treating it like a national playground. At the National September 11th Memorial, tourists balance coffee cups and soda bottles on the parapets bearing the names of the dead.

Parents hoist their children to sit on the bronze plaques, while other visitors splash water from the two waterfalls onto their faces to cool themselves on a hot summer day.

It hasn’t even taken one generation to reach this point. It’s been eleven years.

Last October, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was unveiled in Washington, DC. Known for his inspiring oratory, the monument actually manages to misquote King, putting words into his mouth that he didn’t actually say. I guess fact-checkers weren’t available. Worse still, in terms of symbolism, is the fact that the sculptor hired to create the statue comes from Communist China, where any fledgling Doctor King, and many a Christian in general, would find himself at the mercy of the police state. Furthermore, in a typical Chinese insult to America, the sculptor worked only in granite imported from China. I suppose quarries in the United States are fresh out of granite.

Also in the Federal City, but still in the planning stages, is the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, which will be built near the base of Capitol Hill, and in proximity to Carter-era bureaucracies the planners say were in some way inspired by Eisenhower’s
presidency. But what really catches the critical eye is a depiction of Eisenhower himself. There is to be a sculpture of Eisenhower shown as a country boy. This is to symbolize the humble beginnings and great potential of so many Americans, and of America itself, but is it proper to show the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force that liberated Europe, and that introduced the Pax Americana that interrupted a thousand years of war in Europe as a kid from Kansas? It gravely misses the point of it all. And seemingly deliberately, as the likeness of a child can hardly communicate the immense importance of what Ike accomplished in humanity’s most existential crisis.

I think what these projects need is a Masonic cornerstone-laying, or some other employment of the steady hand of Freemasonry. We aren’t afraid to champion grand ideas or to celebrate the greats of our history. They are key to our education as thinking, sentient, people.

Yes, George Washington slept here. And ate here. And commanded here. His personal staff flag flies here today because it has meaning that cannot be shelved like a book, or filed like a document. What New York Freemasonry gives to its fellow citizens by providing this special place cannot even be measured in a tangible way. It is something spiritual and educational. If properly understood, the DeWint House is a living testament to the virtues and morals that are the foundations of any free society, but especially ours.

You know the story of General Benedict Arnold’s treason and Major John Andre’s espionage, and how they came to involve this historic town and this very land where we meet today. But always remember what endures beyond the historical facts of those events in September and October of 1780. (Tuesday was the 232nd anniversary of Andre’s execution.) America has elected civilian leadership of her armed forces, so that no general in pursuit of greater personal glory can be positioned to destroy the nation. Appreciate how loyalty, truth, and honor are the supports of all square dealings among citizens. No social, economic, or political life can exist without these virtues being upheld by the people. No future worth having is possible without these fundamental ethics being visible in the actions of the government and the governed.

There can be no brotherly love among peoples who are bereft of loyalty, truth, and honor. To me, everything we see here stands for something. The graves of the slaves can remind us that slavery in the civilized world is dead. The exotic trees from so many distant places almost seem to teach us that if unity is achieved from diversity, greatness will follow. And of course the many representations of George Washington speak to his principled leadership as an underdog military commander who could not have achieved his immortality without his steadfast virtue.

Arnold is remembered as a traitor, his name is even synonymous with betrayal, while Major Andre was mourned as an officer killed in the service of his country – much as Nathan Hale is remembered. His statue stands in City Hall Park in Manhattan – so there are different perspectives. And it was not entirely preordained that Andre would hang. He could have been returned to the British lines in an exchange of prisoners. Congress would have stayed the execution. But when it was time to issue the death warrant, it fell to George Washington to administer the deadly lesson in what awaits those who would betray the new nation.

Here at the DeWint House we stand upon the shoulders of giants, which allows us to benefit from the successes of America’s past, while looking ahead into the future.

I thank you for your time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

‘What Is a Spiritual Practice?’

That is the inviting topic of conversation planned for a gathering August 30 at Bryant Park in Manhattan. Actually this is a Conversation Day event. Read about Conversations New York here.

The Carl Jung and Transpersonal Reading and Discussion Group and the New York City Joseph Campbell Mythology Roundtable will get together, but there’s no reason why others cannot join in the gathering. We’ll meet near the fountain, close to the 41st Street entrance, from 3 to 5 p.m.

From the publicity:

Question for the afternoon:
What is a spiritual practice?

Recently, I was reading the Fall 2014 issue of Parabola magazine. Its focus is on “spiritual practices,” hence the above question and my curiosity. Let’s explore the elements that may compose a “spiritual practice.” A few related questions (bring more of your own):

  • Why are some people drawn to a spiritual practice and others are not?
  • What composes a spiritual practice?
  • Do you have a spiritual practice?
  • Is there value with a practice?
  • Does one need to be religious in a traditional/orthodox sort of way?
  • Does one require a guide or a guru/teacher?
  • How does one pray? Is prayer an aspect of a practice?
  • Is devotion an aspect of a practice?
  • Does a practice address the riddle of death?
  • Can a spiritual practice be a personal experience or must one practice with others?
  • Is meditation an aspect of a spiritual practice?
  • Is a space and a time relevant for a practice and, if so, how?
  • Must one be an “adult,” or may a child practice it?
  • Is “interfaith” a dimension and/or a consideration for the practice?
  • Are there historical figures we can refer to (personally or socially)? How can they fit in a practice?
  • And more.

A great way to prepare oneself for the transition from summer refreshment to the September return of our Rosicrucian, Masonic, et al. activities. Should be a great opportunity.

Monday, August 11, 2014

‘BOTA’s Application of Tarot’

Builders of the Adytum has released news of its 2014 Northeast Conference, scheduled for October 17 through 19 at New Lebanon, New York. Its focus will be Magical Application of Tarot.

From the publicity:

You are cordially invited to join your BOTA fratres and sorores at Abode of the Message, nestled on a wooded hillside in the Berkshire Mountains. Abode of the Message is a residential spiritual community, conference and retreat center with Shaker-style buildings set in scenic grounds.

Among the weekend activities: Vibratory Attunement, a guided group meditation that utilizes chanting and visualization; Recorded Ann Davies Meditation, an active, guided meditation utilizing qabalistic chants, preceded by an introduction to the meaning and practice of chanting techniques; Workshop, a lively, interactive discussion and presentation led by fellow fraters and sorores; and the Qabalistic Service on Sunday morning, led by a BOTA minister.

In other news, BOTA has new books available and not-so-new books now in digital media. From the publicity:

A Concordance of The Book of Tokens has been written to help students using The Book of Tokens to do two things. The obvious purpose is for finding passages that one has remembered or heard but is having difficulty locating in the text or quoting accurately.
The deeper purpose is to aid meditation. If a student wishes to contemplate the occult significance of a word or concept, they can find the Tarot Keys, Hebrew letters, and phrases with which it is associated. Furthermore, the concordance reveals patterns of repetition and connection between the ideas represented by the keys and the letters that would not otherwise be obvious to a reader. It can be instructive to choose a word, and follow its appearance throughout meditations. The concordance is bound as a spiral workbook to provide easy and repetitive use.

The Book of Tokens, Tarot Meditations by Dr. Paul Foster Case, is one of the most important tools that have been left to students of the Western Mysteries.
The 22 major Tarot cards are called “keys,” keys to understanding. By giving us meditations on these keys, and the 22 Hebrew letters assigned to them, The Book of Tokens offers guidance for using the keys to open the self to wider worlds; it is, as it were, a peep through the keyhole.

The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order is Paul Foster Case’s thorough and lucid explanation of the Rosicrucian allegories Fama Fraternitatis and the Confessio Fraternitatis. It is now available as an eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. Dr. Case’s book expands these classic esoteric texts into an entire system of spiritual unfoldment.”

The Sun: Key 19

When the conscious and subconscious phases of mentality are regenerated, or born anew, a human personality becomes a radiant center through which the Life Power manifests itself. The Ipsissimus knows that circumstances are the projections of his interpretations of Reality. He has made this knowledge deep-rooted and permanent. Therefore, his mode of life is incomprehensible to the merely natural man. He is a free channel for the expression of Omnipotent Spirit.
(Chapter XXI, p. 307)

The One Identity is the Sun of life and light, the spiritual Sun of which our daystar is the external manifestation and symbol. He who would know will understand eventually that his personality has no existence apart from the shining of the spiritual Sun.
(Chapter XVII, p. 248)

The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order
Paul Foster Case

In a delightful development, BOTA now offers a download of the 22 Major Arcana (TIFF files in BOTA black and white) for printing and coloring, or even just for portable viewing on your smartphone. Click here.

In closing, BOTA also has its regularly scheduled Saturday morning session at Masonic Hall in New York City. That’s August 23 at 10 a.m. in the Chapter Room on the 12th floor. Very interesting group. The more I learn, the more I am intrigued.

Friday, August 8, 2014

‘Book review: Brothers of a Vow’

Through the kind offices of Bro. Cory Sigler, editor and publisher of The Working Tools magazine, my review of Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch’s Brothers of a Vow appears in the August issue and here too. It took me four years to get this done (long story) and into print, so I offer it here for Flashback Friday.

Brothers of a Vow: Secret Fraternal Orders and the Transformation of White Male Culture in Antebellum Virginia
By Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch
The University of Georgia Press, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0-8203-3227-7
181 pp.

In a concise history of only 123 pages (with another 56 for Appendix, Endnotes, and Bibliography) researcher Dr. Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch, History Department Chair of University of Michigan-Flint, focuses on a specific, but hugely revealing aspect of fraternal life in America. She illustrates what it meant to be a member of an exclusive fraternal order in Virginia during the decades leading to the U.S. Civil War, a period of great socio-economic and political change that recast white masculine identity in the South’s largest slave-based economy. By delving into membership records of Freemasonry, Odd Fellows, and Sons of Temperance, as well as historical archives and news accounts of the Old Dominion in the early nineteenth century, the author shows how fraternal life within the lodge and daily life without dramatically influenced each other, giving rise to a civil society striving for modernity. Brothers of a Vow is presented in three parts. First comes the context of white male society in antebellum Virginia. It’s not what you may think. Economic opportunity, civil rights, and advantageous social status were enjoyed nearly exclusively by the propertied, wealthy elites. Secondly, she assesses the force that fraternities there exerted in society by imparting their values and conferring measures of status on their members. The secret societies created a reality wherein one’s character and conduct could win him a better life, infusing momentum into the parchment promises of all men being equal. In the third act, Pflugrad-Jackisch reconciles those two dynamics to show the emergence in the 1850s of a new Virginia driven by increased prosperity and liberalized civil rights, and a return to the public square of fraternal orders’ proud brethren. The significance of her findings is impressive, especially since the reader knows of the disaster looming in the ensuing decade.

Antebellum Virginia’s socio-economic transition is key to the story. Fraternity members today tend not to think how the world outside impacts their lodges, except in extreme upheavals like the Morgan Affair and economic collapse, but changes in civil society affect secret societies. An Indiana Freemason may grumble about the fraternity’s prohibition of alcohol, without realizing the Grand Lodge enacted the rule at a time in the late nineteenth century when the temperance movement swayed millions to shun liquor. Your lodge may opt for electric tapers about the altar not from aesthetic ineptitude, but because the fire marshal or the insurance agent says so. Your lodge’s tax status is the result of the Internal Revenue Code of the United States, not your treasurer. So too in pre-Civil War Virginia, forces beyond any man’s or group’s control decided the futures of Freemasonry, Odd Fellowship, and the Sons of Temperance.

“If Virginia had remained a primarily agrarian society throughout the antebellum era,” the author postulates, “perhaps the herrenvolk democracy [government by ethnic/racial majority] that proslavery advocates envisioned would have fostered harmony among white men. During the 1840s, however, the state underwent a series of important social, economic, and political transformations that altered the nature of its society, hastened its transition to a market economy, and engendered the growth of towns and cities.” During the 1830s, about 80 percent of white, male Virginians were employed in agriculture, but change, driven by construction of roads, canals, railways, and other infrastructure, created a new economy. Virginia’s cities became interconnected, and trade with Washington, Philadelphia, and Baltimore became common for merchants. Communications with cities further north was inevitable. Upward mobility allowed some artisans and mechanics to quickly improve their standings by becoming shopkeepers and factory owners. The middle class. “Between 1830 and 1850, urban centers across the state expanded, and the free white populations of Richmond and Petersburg doubled as young white male cabinetmakers, carriage makers, blacksmiths, hatters, and other artisans moved to cities in order to fulfill the growing needs of middle-class consumers. Work for skilled tradesmen abounded in urban areas as new warehouses, marketplaces, and other physical structures had to be constructed to keep pace with the new market economy in Virginia. Skilled white laborers also found work in small factories, flour mills, and iron foundries, and as overseers in tobacco factories, while a new class of merchants, shopkeepers, agents, clerks, and other businessmen grew up around the state’s expanding commercial sector.” Those who did not prosper in the new market economy included many white men who were relegated to unskilled labor and to competing with slaves who were hired out by their owners to fill specialized labor tasks. Whichever fate one faced, what was inevitable was the closing window of opportunity to become a property owner through farming and slave-owning. The new Virginia white male depended less on prestigious family name and title to land, and more on his own wits, industry, and moral fiber.

In this social and economic revolution, with thousands of men leaving their hometowns for the promise of better days in cities, these rootless strangers were compelled to make their own identities in ways as virtuous as possible. A man’s word was his bond in personal and commercial matters, making his cultivation of reputation essential for success anywhere. The lodge, Masonic or other, was a force for ensuring the quality of men. The process for joining a Masonic lodge then was much as it is today, although with tougher scrutiny of who eventually would be initiated. “Investigations and those who vouched for the character of applicants were asked to consider whether or not they would feel comfortable lending the applicant large sums of money, if they could trust him to protect and ‘intermingle’ with their families in times of crisis (particularly their wives and daughters), and if, upon their death, they would trust the applicant to visit their bedside or oversee their funeral arrangements.”

This quality control paid dividends, as lodge brothers, without necessarily knowing each other, were confident in one another’s stability and reliability because their fraternal orders were based on equality and merit. Simultaneously, in the fraternities’ interactions with the public, it was made clear that the selective nature of lodge membership meant that lodge members constituted a choice stratum of society. “The fraternities stressed the importance of a man’s integrity rather than his economic status” and served as social levelers, bringing together men who otherwise would not have had chance to know each other. In the new Virginia, it was lodge, not land, that placed value on upwardly mobile white males, and it was an identity many men craved.

Other benefits of fraternal life, of course, included the charity extended to distressed brethren, and shows of fraternal identity in public. “Sick and death benefits were another new feature of antebellum fraternalism,” says Pflugrad-Jackisch, reminding us that what we often take for granted today was not always so. “In the post-Revolutionary era, the Freemasons had provided special money to help brothers in need, raised funds to educate Masonic orphans, and buried deceased brothers. However, it was during the antebellum period that the Masons created a more centralized system for the collection and distribution of charitable funds. The Odd Fellows were the first to combine a centralized mutual benefit system with secret fraternal rituals in the late 1830s, and other newly created antebellum orders quickly followed suit.” These systems of assistance no doubt contributed to the growth of these fraternal orders at a time in history before charitable institutions and, certainly, government agencies became the vehicles for helping the needy we know today. It simply was a huge deal for a respectable, but not particularly wealthy, middle class man to have a large showing of regalia-attired mourners performing his funerary rites in full view of the public at the church graveyard, something once reserved for military figures and other honored citizens.

With this new society on the rise, it would not be possible for public laws to remain as established in the original Virginia of the early American republic and previously. The right to vote was held by those who owned land, called freeholders. Wherever you live, there is a good chance the elected legislators of your county are called freeholders, a title that dates to the time in American society when only property owners could vote and steer the power of government. But, “by creating a network of white neighborhoods, the fraternities constructed a space outside the political arena where white men could envision an alternative definition of white male independence based on men’s moral conduct rather than on the ownership of land or slaves.” The status quo in 1829 denied suffrage to white men universally because men who worked for a living “were comparable to slaves” in that both groups were “subject to the will of others for their own subsistence.” The “peasantry” could not be entrusted with political affairs. It wasn’t only about electing politicians; the right to vote decided how public monies were spent on infrastructure, resulting in the aristocratic east of Virginia benefitting from public works that made life and commerce easier. “By 1849, the calls for a new state constitution had become deafening” and the legislators of Virginia soon elected to extend suffrage to “every white male citizen of the Commonwealth of the age of twenty-one years.” The meritocracy of the lodge, where leaders were elected according to their abilities and virtues (and where discussion of partisan politics was forbidden), had been translated into basic rights for lodge members in their cities and towns.

In closing, it is necessary to explain that this book is not about slavery nor the advent of freed slaves or otherwise free black people; nor is it about the rise of Prince Hall Masonry, but obviously these racial realities figure substantially in the history of Virginia and the fraternal orders that prospered there during this specific period. Prince Hall Masonry is discussed for several pages. It is said to have existed in Virginia as early as 1845 in the form of Universal Lodge No. 1 in Alexandria, although the law clearly prohibited secret societies for black men.

This reviewer has been saying for years that some of the best books investigating Freemasonry have come from the labors of scholars outside the fraternity, and Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch’s very thoughtful analysis of antebellum Virginia is among the best even though Masonry is not its sole focus. The author has lectured for Masonic audiences in recent years, including the Scottish Rite (Northern Masonic Jurisdiction) New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism symposium in 2010 in Massachusetts, and the International Conference on the History of Freemasonry in 2011 in Virginia. I strongly encourage any or all of Virginia’s five lodges of Masonic research—particularly Civil War Lodge of Research No. 1865—to invite this professor to speak.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

‘The Masonic Society begins its seventh year’

Issue No. 24 of The Journal of The Masonic Society is arriving in mailboxes around the world now. Receipt of my copy today reminds me that the Society now is into its seventh year of uniting and educating those who seek further Light in Masonry. Like I’ve said many times before, it’s the best $39 you’ll spend. In addition to the four quarterly issues of The Journal, each member receives a beautiful personalized patent that even the most casual and nonplussed among us have framed for proud display. There also is membership in our on-line forum, a beehive of intelligent conversation. And you get to rub elbows with wonderful people at our various banquets and other happenings. Of course I cannot be unbiased.

Courtesy Nathan Brindle
Another batch of membership patents ready for the mail.
(Cat not included.)

Issue 24 includes five feature articles:

“Facing an Unspoken Issue” by Robert Wolfarth, editor of The Plumbline, calls on us to turn to our roots and core tenets in resolving modern day delicate concerns over who shall be permitted to enter the West Gate.

Dr. David Harrison concludes his two-part piece on “The Last Years of the York Grand Lodge,” actually excerpted from his new book The York Grand Lodge, in which he sheds light onto a lesser known jurisdiction in northern England in the eighteenth century that worked Royal Arch, Mark, and other degrees.

My longtime penpal Joi Grieg, a past president of the Maryland Masonic Research Society, is published again in The Journal with “The Mystic Tie: Tying and Untying with Words.” She examines some Masonic terminology, which may be categorized among “the language of inclusion and exclusion,” and that often obstruct any transcendent Mystic Tie. If you’re a member of ML, you been there, done that, but many do not know.

Andrew Hammer, who also serves on our Board, is back with an essay “The Observant Mason.” Andrew also confronts specific Masonic language, calling on ritual committees everywhere to consider smoothing over some verbiage that is “poorly framed, inaccurate, and prejudicial” that makes us look “unlearned and ignorant as Masons.” As I’ve said for years, Bro. Hammer shares the name of the tool used to make blunt sudden impacts. Wear a hardhat and safety glasses.

Near the back of the book we find “Freemasonry and Modern Western Esotericism” by C. Douglas Russell, Junior Warden of Southern California Research Lodge, who endeavors to reconcile the viewpoints of those Masonic writers who research factual (historical, biographical, etc.) truths, and those who write of esoteric meanings and spiritual truths. The “binary labeling…tends to divide us,” he cautions. He’s right.

In addition, you’ll find the usual sections of The Journal: messages from President Jim Dillman and Executive Editor Mike Halleran; current news and coming events; book reviews; Masonic Treasures; and more.

There are other Masonic periodicals out there—I write for a few of them—but no other will compel you to think about what you believe real Freemasonry to be. Not the pomp. Not the corporate charities. The practical ideas of the Craft that we hope are influencing your life.

Above, I mentioned The Masonic Society hosts events of various kinds. In recent years I had enjoyed hosting dinner-lectures in New Jersey in celebration of Saint John’s Day and St. Andrew’s Day. I don’t think I can do that any more, but there are other opportunities around the country for Masons to see what TMS does. On Saturday, September 13, we will co-host with the Philalethes Society a symposium at the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago. Great speakers, whose books you may have read, capped off with a banquet for fifty bucks. Click here for the details.

Courtesy Bo Cline
In closing, I’ll only advertise the continued(!) availability of The Masonic Society’s Fifth Anniversary Commemorative Jewel. These were presented to brethren who joined TMS last year, and were sold to the rest of us. Today, the price is marked down. Get one. Wear it to lodge. Let everyone see you know what’s going on in Freemasonry. Okay, enough.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

‘Tisha B’av 5774’

“For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not let you loose or destroy you; neither will He forget the covenant of your fathers, which He swore to them.”

Lamentations 4:31

Courtesy Aish

It must be daylight still somewhere, so we are in the final hours of Tisha B’av of 5774, the Jewish commemoration of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem; the former—King Solomon’s Temple—was sacked by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and the latter destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. It is a sad day of fasting and observance among Jews for obvious reasons.

Within fifteen years of the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem, the Arch of Titus, located near the Forum, was unveiled to the Roman citizens. One of its decorative marble relief panels depicts victorious Romans carrying plunder from the Temple, including its menorah, and possibly the Ark itself. Whether this art is journalistic accuracy or grandiose sycophancy or a little of both remains unknown.


‘August with the Rosicrucians’

These are some of the Rosicrucian Order’s events this month in New York City. The Rosicrucian Cultural Center is located at 2303 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard in Manhattan.

Rosicrucian Mystical Weekend

Saturday, August 9
1 to 5 p.m.
Discuss Spiritual Laws with Dr. Lonnie Edwards,
author of Spiritual Laws that Govern Humanity
and the Universe.

Sunday, August 10
1 to 3 p.m.
Fourth Temple Degree Review Forum
with Julian Johnson.
(Open to members in the Fourth
Temple Degree or beyond.)

3:30 to 4 p.m.
Silent Meditation

4 to 5 p.m.

Tarot: A Rosicrucian Approach

Monday, August 18 through Friday, August 22
Nightly from 6:30 to 7:30

The Tarot is of perennial interest to students of esotericism. Its compact symbolism and connections to other Mystical Paths continue to intrigue us.

In this workshop, we will consider the Major and Minor Arcana of the Tarot from a Rosicrucian perspective, seeing how they connect with Kabbalah, Alchemy and meditation. After having taken a look at the history of Tarot, workshop participants will then have a chance to consider the symbolism of the Trumps and Suits, and to begin to develop a personal numerology, which comes from their own experience, as well as from the Primordial Tradition.

The facilitator of this workshop will be Steven A. Armstrong.

Mystics for Moderns

Monday, August 25 through Friday, August 29
Nightly from 6:30 to 7:30

Mysticism, according to the Rosicrucian approach, is not only for those on mountaintops and in monasteries. It is a real and vibrant practice available to all women and men in the modern world.

This participatory workshop will introduce / re-familiarize participants with some of the greatest mystics and their writings from our Rosicrucian lineage, across time and cultures. A brief historical introduction to each will then be complemented with meditative exercises utilizing their mystical writings and approaches.

Among the goals of the workshop is to assist us in growing in our ability to see the world and our lives as mystics—a holographic view which keeps the reality of “As Above, So Below” in our awareness.

The facilitator of this workshop will be Steven A. Armstrong.