Friday, October 31, 2008
RW Thomas Savini, director of the Grand Lodge of New York’s Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, displays the painstakingly replicated facsimile of the famous Chinon Parchment to interested brethren of American Lodge of Research Wednesday evening.
What better setting than the French Ionic Room could there be to display the documents of the Avignon Pope’s trial of the French monastic order we call the Knights Templar?
There we were at the Regular Communication of American Lodge of Research Wednesday night in the Grand Lodge of New York building to view these spectacular reproductions of historic documents. I have heard of the quality of Vatican publications, but I was unprepared for the lavish packaging and the exacting detail created by the publisher in the production of “Processus Contra Templarios.”
It isn’t only a book. In addition to the oversize multi-lingual tome there are multiple facsimile copies, published on a realistic synthetic fabric that retains the look and feel of medieval parchment, of many ancillary documents – including one text that happens to record Pope Clement’s absolution of the Templar Order of the most serious charges against them. This item, dubbed the “Chinon Parchment,” was discovered in the Vatican Secret Archives in 2001 by a researching scholar, who found it and recognized its significance. It simply had been misfiled all these centuries, obscuring a giant historical fact.
The reproduction of the Chinon Parchment.
This stunning package of historical documents was purchased by the Grand Lodge of New York’s Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, disbursing $8,600 from a fund bequeathed to the library for the purpose of acquiring singular research materials that otherwise would elude the brethren. But what has the fate of a crusading order of knights to do with Freemasonry, and why would one of the most important Masonic research libraries in the world acquire these archival reproductions?
RW Bro. Thomas Savini, director of the library, explained, saying part of the library’s mission is to “provide resources for the experiential side of Masonry – the intangibles that drove us all to become Freemasons – for our discussion, and study, and growth.” (The only other known Masonic organization in the United States to have acquired a copy is the House of the Temple, headquarters of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in Washington. The November-December issue of “Scottish Rite Journal” features a cover story on Ill. Hoyt Samples and his wife Mitzi who lavished that donated copy of “Processus.”)
Savini and RW Bill Thomas, who was acting Master of the lodge for the evening, continued the talk with a history of the medieval Knights Templar, from its founding to its dissolution, a story popular enough among Masons that it need not be related here, except for one interesting point Savini noted about the relationship between the French king and the Catholic pope. Explaining how Philip IV exerted control, “flexing his muscles,” Savini placed this political situation into the context of the Age of Reason. We see “a secular authority can hold more power than the pope,” he added, and in fact the king ordered the Church Inquisition to arrest the Templars. To make a long legal story short, the Order had been charged with the capital crime of heresy, plus a variety of lesser crimes, like sacrilege and sodomy, and were absolved by the pope of the former, but convicted of the latter.
I guess by today’s standards, the knights would be fit to serve in Congress.
RW Bill Thomas, a Trustee of the Livingston Library, noted the similarity of the Templar organization structure to Freemasonry, and how that affected the Inquisition’s prosecution, explaining how junior members of the Order were arrested, but were unable to answer the Inquisition’s most serious questions due to their lack of seniority.
But about these wonderful documents and their value to historian and hobbyist alike.
They provide “a real tactile experience,” Savini said, explaining how the synthetic material employed in the construction of the “parchments” and the deliberately placed folds, and even the replica mold stains all combine to recreate the originals. Having these facsimiles grants great freedom to scholars. “Here’s something you’d never see me do, and that would give me a heart attack if I saw anyone else doing,” he said, holding aloft one parchment measuring more than six feet in length, demonstrating how these can be handled, studied, and admired, while sparing the originals the wear and tear.
And the reproduction process involved much more than photographic copying. Because of the advanced age of the documents and the manner they were folded and stored, it was necessary for restorers to employ a Wood’s lamp to project ultraviolet light onto the original parchments to reveal handwritten content otherwise misunderstood or unintelligible.
In addition to the massive book itself, and the Chinon Parchment, and that six-footer, the package includes smaller parchments containing interrogation notes, summary documents, and executive findings, some of which show Pope Clement’s handwritten notes and signature.
Other attractions appeal to a broader scope of researchers. The original documents’ authenticity and authority were attested by the wax seals of the three Papal commissioners who examined the Templars. And sure enough, viewers of the replica collection are indeed greeted by three intricately molded replica wax seals, which brought students of that art to view the collection during its seven-stop tour of the state this month in the care of Thomas and Savini. The calligraphy also lured mavens of that craft.
“This is fascinating,” said ALR Secretary Harvey Eysman, at right. “I have a facsimile of Anderson’s Constitutions. It’s one thing to see the imperfections on those pages, but those are just copies. This is history!”
This copy of “Processus” is on hand at the Livingston Masonic Library. Library hours are:
Mondays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Tuesdays, from noon to 8 p.m.
Wednesdays through Fridays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The library, located on the 14th floor of the Grand Lodge building, is open to the public.
The showing of “Processus” was not the only highlight of the lodge’s meeting. ALR also elected its officers for the ensuing year. Bill Thomas, at left, is the Master-elect, and after about a decade of service at the Treasurer’s desk, RW Ron Goldwyn was honored with unanimous election as Treasurer Emeritus. Plus a bunch of others were elected to Corresponding Membership. Congratulations brethren! The Installation of Officers will take place Monday, December 29. The 2009 meetings of American Lodge of Research are scheduled for Monday, March 30 and Thursday, October 29.
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Whenever reporting from the Grand Lodge of New York, it is necessary to try to relay the marvelous architecture and design. In addition to viewing these photos, do take the virtual tour of the French Ionic Room.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Issue No. 1 began arriving in our members’ mailboxes about a month ago, providing a much needed service and filling an obvious void in the Freemasonry of North America: a literary and informative magazine. There was a time, early in the last century, when such magazines flourished. Freemasonry had a more literate membership back then that supported publications like The Builder and The Master Mason, among others. These were nationally distributed magazines that delivered contemporary scholarship and current events to their readers, and were supported by revenues from both subscribers and advertisers. Only the devastation of the Great Depression could stop the presses.
TMS President Roger VanGorden summarized the mission of The Journal best: that it be the Time magazine of Freemasonry.
A mix of research papers, news coverage, informed opinion, creative fiction, colorful illustrations and other editorial elements recalling that golden age of Masonic publishing are compiled from writers from all over the world. Contents of Issue No. 1 include:
“The Ceremonies of St. John the Baptist and the Circle of Swords Contained Within the Entered Apprentice Degree” by James Hogg of Florida.
“Initiation in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite” by Leon Zeldis of Israel.
“The Story of the Lost Word and the Power of Myth” by John L. Cooper III of California.
“Lodged in the Canon” by Quatuor Coronati Worshipful Master Brent Morris.
“Ethiopia in Freemasonry” by Timothy Hogan of Colorado.
Its introductory editorial explains:
The goal of The Masonic Society is not just to look backward at the history of Freemasonry, but to foster the intellectual, spiritual and social growth of the modern Masonic fraternity.
Our name intentionally alludes to the Royal Society, the innovative organization of visionary men who were at the forefront of the Age of Enlightenment, many of whom were present at the formation of what became modern, speculative Freemasonry. Likewise, The Masonic Society will be at the forefront of a new age of Freemasonry, and we intend to be a vibrant, active community within the fraternity.
To that end, The Masonic Society extends the hand of assistance and cooperation to individual Masonic research lodges in North America. It is the desire of The Masonic Society to be a partner with these lodges, to give their members the regular opportunity to publish their papers for an international audience, to applaud their achievements, and to publicize their activities.
What’s not to love? (Disclaimer: I am a member, “co-founder” and board member.)
A subscription to this magazine is only one of the benefits of membership in The Masonic Society. We also are working on building a schedule of events for our members’ enjoyment. First and definitely foremost will be our first (and thereafter annual) banquet on the Friday evening of Masonic Week in February.
In addition, members are granted access to the Society’s on-line forum, where hundreds of Masons from around the globe interact every day, helping each other advance in their Masonic knowledge.
And of course it wouldn’t be a Masonic organization without goodies like pins and membership cards, but the Society cranks up the quality of these items, producing elegant symbols of membership that are earning accolades. In addition, each member receives an 11x14 patent, personalized and highly stylized that you’ll want professionally framed. It is a very impressive document, on parchment with a hand-stamped wax seal.
But the true benefit of membership in The Masonic Society is the learning experience. Whether it’s an eye-popping topic in the magazine, or just simple conversation in the forum, there is no end to what a curious Mason can learn from his brethren in this organization. http://themasonicsociety.com/
In addition to President Roger, we’re fortunate to have as our Editor-in-Chief W. Bro. Chris “Freemasons for Dummies” Hodapp. And our Directors, Officers and Founders include many leaders in Masonic education, including authors, publishers, curators, lecturers and more.
Full membership for Master Masons in good standing of a lodge chartered by a grand lodge that is a member of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons of North America, or recognized by a CGMMNA member grand lodge, including PHA jurisdictions duly recognized by their in-state neighbors.
Monday, October 20, 2008
And speaking of Masonic research and education, the Scottish Rite Research Society made available this afternoon its previous volumes of “Heredom,” the annual book of the Society’s transactions. These books have been available for retail sale through the Society’s website at $35 each (and sometimes for higher prices in the second-hand market, like eBay), but because storage space is needed, these books will be sold for only $10 each.
Specifically those for sale in this offer are Volumes 3-10 and Vol. 12. The offer is valid through Dec. 1, but these are limited quantities that I think will sell briskly. It was announced originally in “The Plumbline,” the Society’s newsletter, that sales would be made to SRRS members only (who would have to enter their membership numbers), but that does not appear to be the case at the moment.
And speaking of “Heredom,” Vol. 15 for 2007 was released this month, consisting of a dozen papers that sound very interesting, and the three I’ve read so far are thoughtful and provocative.
Leading the charge is Joshua Gunn, 32°, who is an assistant professor of communications studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of “Modern Occult Rhetoric: Mass Media and the Drama Secrecy in the Twentieth Century,” published in 2005. His paper in “Heredom” is titled “The Two Rhetorics of Freemasonry, or On the Function & Necessity of Masonic Secrecy,” which I take to be a précis of his aforementioned book. He also has written on this subject for the “Scottish Rite Journal.”
His thesis, if I understand correctly, is a negative view of the contortions undertaken by Freemasonry – er, excuse me, by regular Freemasonry – to render itself more marketable to the public, at the expense of the very same secrecy of Masonic ritual and symbol that helps unify the fraternity. Yes, the author is aware that Masonic “secrets” are published, accurately and inaccurately, all over the web and in countless books, but his point concerns “the function of secrecy” in the fraternity. He eschews the denial of secrecy, as in the now popular insistence that Masonry’s ceremonies are “private” but not secret, and goes as far as naming names of those he faults for downplaying the mystery of Freemasonry.
In short, his dichotomy is Why swear a man to secrecy as a means of bonding him to the others in the fraternity (as in “What makes you a Mason?”), and then present the fraternity to the public as just another cute little community service club that undertakes no serious effort to impart any moral, spiritual, psychological, etc. transformation of these men?
I agree with Gunn 100 percent, but for the following reasons methinks he doth protest too much.
Christopher Hodapp and S. Brent Morris are among Gunn’s targets for their authoring, respectively, of the popular sellers “Freemasons for Dummies” and “The Complete Idiots Guide to Freemasonry.” I know for a fact that neither author views his readers as dummies or idiots, and it is regrettable that their critics are oblivious to the self-deprecating point of those publishers’ titles.
I can’t say Gunn’s thesis is wrong. When our grand masters take to their podiums to say “The real secret of Freemasonry is there IS no secret,” I leave the room. I know, as does Gunn, that the key to building membership smartly relies in large part on our ability to entice men with what Lord Northampton calls “the enchantment of Masonry.” My disagreement with Gunn concerns his findings; I believe I recognize in his paper an oversight of certain facts in Masonic history. I’ll explain with a few examples:
The Masonic fraternity we know today took its form – I’m talking about Craft lodges subordinate to a grand lodge, and employing the three-tier system of initiation – around 1730, the very same year Samuel Prichard published his ritual exposure “Masonry Dissected.” So, we have the publication of Masonic “secrets” at the very start of the fraternity’s revival, with many more exposures to follow during the next century. Concurrent to all this, countless other books and pamphlets would be published about Freemasonry; whether these texts were supportive of, combative toward or mocking thereof, they had the effect of enhancing the stature of the Fraternity.
Fast forward a century and a half: “Esoterika” written by Albert Pike in 1888 (and reprinted by the SRRS in 2005) gives another view of how the mysteries of Masonry were communicated, or not. Pike writes:
“My faith in the value of Masonic symbolism had been rudely shaken at the very beginning, by the explanation in the Apprentice’s Degree of the purpose for which I had been subjected to the gross indignity of having a halter knotted round my neck, though it was called by the more euphonious name of ‘cable-tow’ and it seemed to me that I had heard and read all the monitorial explanations, that most of the symbolism was of the nature of that of a bush over the door of a wine shop.
“Of some things that I saw and heard, no one could give me an explanation at all; and indeed, it did not seem ever to have occurred to some of those of whom I asked light that they had any special signification. No one could tell me what the length of a cable-tow was, or the symbolic meaning of the halter round the neck. No one had thought that there was any special meaning in the sacred numbers, in the pass words, in the substitute word, or in certain phrases.
“And no one could resolve my doubts and difficulties. Of course I could learn nothing in the Lodge. No one ever learns anything there, in regard to the meaning of the symbols, after he has received the degrees. If he desires to know more, which most Masons do not, he must seek to find it in books printed to be sold to anyone, Mason or profane, who may wish to purchase; and these I bought and eagerly read, finding here and there among the rubbish of useless writing, a clue now and then, which lead me towards the truth.”
So we have a problem if we are to blame modern interpretations of Masonry for the fraternity’s blandness and the ignorance of its members. If anything, Prichard’s exposure (and the many subsequent exposures, except I suppose, Morgan’s) had the positive effect of providing the brethren a book to study, through which to gain an understanding of these peculiar ceremonies. Masonry didn’t lose its significance as a result; in fact, it flourished and spread around the world.
In more recent times, I can attest as an eyewitness that one night last December scores of Masons, many of whom I would not know to be voracious readers, if you know what I mean, lined up and patiently waited for more than an hour for the chance to purchase Chris Hodapp’s “Dummies” book. I saw the same thing occur two months later in Virginia at Masonic Week, except Chris was kept busy for several days.
Not to be a wise guy, but I’ll point out that Prichard begins his exposure of Craft ritual with a statement to his readers: an “Oath that the Copy hereunto annexed is a True and Genuine Copy in every Particular.” In closing, I say I’m appreciative of Bro. Gunn’s paper. In the on-line forum of The Masonic Society, it stirred quite a buzz, and I think that’s a good thing because some brainy debate among peers is one of the activities absent from the Masonic scene, so, again, Bro. Gunn is correct in observing an absence of critical thinking in this organization.
In addition to “Heredom” and “The Plumbline,” members of the SRRS receive an annual bonus book, often a reprint of a rare title from long ago. The hardcover book, weighing in at more than 800 pages, being delivered by (none too happy) postal workers right now is “Light on Masonry: The History and Rituals of America’s Most Important Masonic Exposé.”
So we return to published exposures and their effects on the fraternity. If you’re not familiar with this title, it is a masterpiece of anti-Masonic propaganda. The inside dust jacket explains:
“In 1826 William Morgan, who claimed to be a member of the society of Freemasons, boasted of his intention to publish the fraternity’s secret initiatory rituals. Soon thereafter he disappeared from his New York hometown and was never seen again. The public soon asserted that he was ‘murdered by the Masons’ to prevent the exposure. In spite of this, Morgan’s book was published and his disappearance and presumed murder resulted in an intense period of anti-Masonry which swept America from 1826-42. While many Masons quietly quit the fraternity, some found quick money by exposing and ridiculing the society’s ceremonies. In an effort to reveal all of Masonry’s ‘secrets,’ David Bernard, an ex-Mason from New York, gathered together all the rituals he could obtain from other ‘seceding Masons,’ and published ‘Light on Masonry’ (1829), the single most important exposé of American Masonry ever published. In addition to printing the rituals, Bernard included anti-Masonic committee reports, sermons, and letters.”
From left: Postmaster General William T. Barr, Secretary of the Navy Levi Woodbury, Secretary of War Lewis Cass, Secretary of State Edward Livingston, and President Andrew Jackson, originally published in “No. 4. New England Anti-Masonic Almanac” in 1832, and reproduced in the SRRS’ publication of “Light on Masonry.”
Once again it is A&ASR Grand Historian and Grand Archivist Arturo de Hoyos who compiles, edits and submits to you a massive work. He is careful to point out that this book “is not a study of present-day Masonic ritual. The rituals included represent pre-1831 Freemasonry.”
I quickly mentioned “The Plumbline” newsletter. Let me close with a description of the current issue. There seems to be a theme indeed. Pete Normand writes an editorial many of us can relate to. Lamenting how major changes are undertaken in Masonry for no better reason than the limited vocabulary of today’s Masons, he explains how the “culture of the Scottish Rite” is gradually erased.
“Tishri, Kadosh, Almoner, Elu, Zerubbabel, Chancellor, Beauseant, Rose Croix, Consistory, Noachite, Turcopilier, Tetractys, Heredom, and many others.... If we, as Scottish Rite Masons, don’t know what these words mean, then who does? If we don’t keep Scottish Rite culture alive, then who will? And if the fraternal culture of the Scottish Rite that has existed since our earliest beginnings does not pass the meaning of these words on through the annual process of educating our present members, and practicing, conferring and observing the ancient ceremonies, degrees and feasts of the Order, then how will they be passed down to our sons and grandsons?”
“The challenge before us,” he continues, “is to educate our leadership and membership in the rich and complex culture of the Rite…. If we don’t take the initiative to emphasize education, and support the great programs that have been offered to us, then many of our Scottish Rite leaders, rather than pick up a book and learn about the Rite, will be tempted to take the easy road and simply remake the Scottish Rite into a giant Rotary Club whose only culture is that of family nights, service projects, leadership programs, open houses, etc., all of which are fine in their own right, but those casual outreach programs threaten to become the heart and soul of a new Scottish Rite – while the history, symbolism, traditions, philosophies, lessons, and culture of the Scottish Rite get tossed out.”
Anti-Masonry is well explained by Gary Leazer, who publishes here his important paper “Anti-Masonry: The Present Scene,” explaining the reality of the Southern Baptist Convention’s view of the fraternity. This is the paper Gary presented to the Consistory of the Society of Blue Friars in February.
Rounding out the newsletter is Pete Normand’s review of “Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism, 1717-1927.”
“In this well-researched book, Harland-Jacobs argues that British Freemasonry began accepting the indigenous colonials primarily for the purpose of strengthening the empire. What the fraternity could not foresee was the transformation that the empire would have on Freemasonry. The author does a masterful job of demonstrating how the fraternity and empire came to define and transform each other.”
If you’ve read this far, you should join the Scottish Rite Research Society.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Peter Currie and Brent Morris at La Petite Auberge in New York City, December 10, 2007.
And speaking of new Masters at lodges of research, we are near that time of year when Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076 in London elects and installs its new officers.
It seems like only yesterday when W. Bro. S. Brent Morris was installed in the East of QC2076, becoming the first American to attain that station, but it’s been almost a year. On Thursday, November 13, the Master Elect, W. Bro. Peter Currie, will be installed in the Solomonic Chair of the world’s first lodge of Masonic research. If you’ll be in town, the meeting will open at 5 p.m. precisely at Freemasons’ Hall on Great Queen Street. Dress is morning dress or dark suit, undress regalia and white gloves.
This communication also will be the annual Festival of the Four Crowned Martyrs, a belated observance of the November 8 feast day honoring the namesakes of this lodge.
The Inaugural Paper of the Worshipful Master concerns Stability Ritual, which was devised in 1817 by the Stability Lodge of Instruction and has since spread around the globe. W. Bro. Currie served as secretary to the Stability Ritual Association for 14 years, and edited the Stability Ritual book in 1992, so his explanation and insight into this topic is sure to enlighten, especially if you think Emulation is the only ritual worked in England.
According to the summons for this meeting, W. Bro. Currie is the editor (since 1999) and indexer (since 1993) of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, the annual book of transactions of the lodge. His published papers include “The Growth and Development of Masonic Ritual,” “The H. S., Whence Did It Take Its Rise?” and “Two Masonic Arks,” which won the lodge’s Norman B. Spencer Prize in 1998.
His work on the archives of this lodge will prove priceless. Currie and W. Bro. David Peabody, a Past Master of QC2076, have digitized every volume of AQC in searchable PDF format. That’s the entire library of lodge transactions from 1886 through today. When a complete set of books becomes available somewhere, it fetches several thousand dollars. I don’t know how the lodge or its Correspondence Circle plans to distribute the CDs, but Masonic scholars, libraries and research lodges all over the world will be lining up to purchase these discs. This modernization of media represents more than just a new format for old texts; this venerable lodge is weighing other options as it investigates the best ways to remain an indispensable leader in Masonic education and a peerless conservator of Masonic heritage.
Bro. Currie also has edited, typeset and designed several books in recent years, including “Tracing Boards: Their Development and Their Designers” and “Royal Arch Masons and Knights Templar at Redruth, Cornwall, 1791-1828.”
In the works currently are his updated versions of Knoop, Jones and Hamer’s three seminal books on Craft history: “Early Masonic Catechisms,” “Early Masonic Pamphlets” and “The Genesis of Freemasonry.” Also, he is revising and compiling “The Masonic Yearbook Historical Supplement,” a Who’s Who of England’s grand lodge officers from 1717 to date, which also will appear in PDF format. And on top of all that, Bro. Currie is QC2076’s webmaster.
Currie was initiated into Hundred of Axstane Lodge, No. 7722 in the Province of West Kent, where he served as Master in 1991-92. He also is a Past Master of Queens College Taunton Lodge, No. 6988 in Somerset, and is a Past Zerubbabel of Royal Naval and Military Chapter, No. 2404 of Royal Arch Masons in East Kent, to name only a few of his Masonic affiliations.
The QC2076 meeting schedule for 2009 is:
Thursday, February 19
Thursday, May 14
Thursday, June 25
Thursday, September 10
Thursday, November 12
The paper at the February meeting will be “Miners, Mariners and Masonic Mobility: The Membership of West Cornwall Masonic Lodges During the Victorian Period” by W. Bro. Roger Burt.
According to the summons for this meeting: “This paper focuses on ten Craft lodges to the west of Truro, analyzing the social and economic backgrounds of their membership during the second half of the nineteenth century. It notices that the inland lodges were dominated by mining men, while those on the coast included very large numbers of master mariners and other maritime related activities. While this is to be expected in lodges that represented local communities, closer investigation strongly suggests that many were joining to facilitate migration and travel, at home and abroad. Consideration will be given to the role of Freemasonry as an international fraternity and the importance of ‘migratory Masons’ in maintaining close bonds between emerging national grand lodges worldwide. In brief, what did Masonry offer to highly mobile occupational groups, and what did migratory Masons offer to Freemasonry?”
Front: Trevor Stewart and Roger Burt. Rear: John Acaster and Peter Currie. At Alpha Lodge No. 116 in East Orange, New Jersey, December 12, 2007.
W. Bro. Burt, again according to the meeting summons, “spent an academic career at the University of Exeter, teaching and researching the influences that shaped the evolution of modern industrial and post-industrial society. In that context, he now uses his own experience of Masonry to shape and inform a longstanding program of research into the socio-economic structure of Masonic lodges at home and overseas during the Victorian period. With most of his previous publications in the field of mining history, he has chosen to place these enquiries largely within the context of the mining regions and mining communities which he knows well. Bro. Burt has now retired and is an Emeritus Professor of the University of Exeter and an Honorary Professor in the Center for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield. Bro. Burt is a Past Master of Vectis Lodge, No. 3075 and a member of Royal Arch.”
Friday, October 17, 2008
The Senior Warden needs no introduction, but I have to write something! RW Bill Thomas is one of the friendly faces encountered wherever something educational is afoot in New York Masonry. Magpie readers know all about "Our Dinner with Trevor" (see below) and he is involved in the upcoming second annual dinner-lecture of the Livingston Library.
In addition to the election, this meeting will feature the display of the rare Vatican Secret Archive publication titled "Processus Contra Templarios." This limited edition (799 copies published at $8,000 each) contains hyperquality reproductions of medieval manuscripts recording the Vatican's trial of the Knights Templar, including the Chinon Parchment, unearthed seven years ago by a researching scholar. This documents Pope Clement V's absolution of the Order on the heresy charges brought against it.
I have it on good authority that there are notable typos in the book but, to be fair, they didn't let me edit it.
While there is zero evidence connecting the medieval Knights Templar to Freemasonry, the popular legend of Masonry descending from the monastic military order persists and even seems to gain momentum with every goofy exploitative book and television program that appears, recycling the same opinions and myths.
Nevertheless, I am glad there is room in Freemasonry for lavish oddities like this. The other Masonic research library that owns a copy is the House of the Temple in Washington. Otherwise, aside from private collections, there are only three universities (Cornell, Stanford and Lambuth in Tennessee) where this historical treasure can be found in the United States.
Have a look at Bro. Brian Kannard's blog, "Grail Seekers," to view the display of Lambuth's copy.
Monday, October 13, 2008
It was a talk inspired, in part, by the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction himself. Ill. Bill McNaughton had written in a recent issue of “The Northern Light” magazine that he viewed the making of a Mason as a process, something involving much more than conferring the degrees. Trevor also was prompted to compose his thoughts on this subject by an experience in Washington four years ago, when he met a group of government employees – not all of them Masons – who asked him a number of intelligent questions about what Freemasonry is and does.
As he does so well, Trevor delves into the history of the fraternity and its rituals to determine what the past can teach us today.
Beginning with the Edinburgh Register House Manuscript (1696), the earliest piece of Masonic literature that can be recognized as a working ritual, Trevor sketched the evolution of the Craft’s initiatory rites.
“This is the first clue of what we do. It is a primitive ritual,” he said. There are questions and answers, and the oath and obligation “before God himself.” There are no penalties, just the candidate “swearing as a simple Christian soul” that he would keep the secrets imparted to him.
Trevor then told of the Squaremen, “a leftover from way back” that treated its initiates pretty roughly. “A series of humiliating things is not a bad thing,” he added. “It brings about the abnegation of the self.”
Leading to what Freemasonry should be doing now, Trevor told of J.S.M. Ward, one of the more accomplished scholars in what Trevor calls the Comparative Approach, for the way it examines other cultures to identify parallels to Freemasonry. “This is to prove that Masonic initiation does not come from the mists of time,” he said. “Nor is our ritual an invention, but it evolved in the early 18th century.”
“It is a ceremonial ritual that is highly stylized,” he added, “it is not normal in everyday life.” Masonic initiation is designed to have a quickening effect on the initiate. “We’ve got to really perfect it and do it with some drama” because we are taking him out of the profane world. “Without drama, you are wasting his time. You have not done what should be done. You have to change his life. If you don’t achieve that, you’ve wasted his time.”
Initiation is a process that possibly never ends, Trevor continued, it is “a process toward eventual enlightenment.”
“When the candidate is making his way from the First Degree to the Second Degree, he is interrogated, and one of the significant first questions he’s asked is ‘What is Freemasonry?’ The answer in English and Scottish Masonry is very revealing indeed: ‘A peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.’ ”
(Many, if not most jurisdictions in the United States use similar language, but substitute “beautiful” for “peculiar.” The word “peculiar,” in addition to the familiar adjectival usage, is a noun originating in the late 16th century that means “something exempt from ordinary jurisdiction, especially a church or parish exempt from the jurisdiction of the ordinary in whose territory it lies.” So beside “unusual,” this word, in a relatively new context in the age when Masonic ritual took the form we know today, has definite sectarian or even spiritual implications.)
A peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. This single sentence of initiatic ceremony holds the key to Trevor’s thesis, and he spent considerable time during his hour-plus lecture “unpacking” it.
“A ‘peculiar system’ is something special, something not of this world,” he said. “The candidate is being exposed to something previously unknown in his life, making him peculiar to the ordinary concerns of his life. He becomes a Freemason, and peculiar in that sense.”
“ ‘System’ is more difficult to unpack. We need to go back to the 18th century,” he said, explaining how the influence of Isaac Newton on the times (as in calculus, gravity, astronomy, minting, etc.) brought his entire nation to appreciate the notion that, like ashlars themselves, “each part is necessary for the harmony of the whole enterprise.”
There is a process throughout the First, Second and Third Degrees, he explained, starting with proper preparation. “Where were you first prepared? My heart. Where next? In a convenient room adjoining the lodge.” The spiritual comes before the physical; preparation is made in the heart first, at the lodge second. The candidate must be of lawful age, be male, believe in God and trust in Him in difficulty and danger, and come of his own free will and accord. Not only must he not be influenced by unworthy motives, but “his real reason is a desire for knowledge, to become a better person. So it was written on our hearts that we were properly prepared.”
“ ‘Morality’ is that part of Freemasonry concerned with the inculcation of ethical principles,” he added. The candidate will “hopefully become the perfect ashlar and build the wall of the Temple not made with hands.” The process requires enthusiasm and harmony. “A person admitted to reception must be of age, of good morals and judgment.”
“ ‘Veiled in allegory’ means that Truth is contained. It is embedded and secret,” Trevor also said. “The candidate must come to an understanding that satisfies him.”
“ ‘Symbol’ is very important,” he continued. “A rough ashlar is strong and dependable and durable, but if you build a wall it will fall down. But there is potential there.”
“The Working Tools, as symbols, have meanings that are deeper than what the brother explaining them has told. Labor is the wont of man. And for the true Freemason, intellectual ascent is not enough; he must assimilate these allegories into his daily life. This is very difficult.”
Masonic knowledge is not imparted all at once, he reminded his audience, it is veiled and understanding it takes some time. “If you look at the art of the 18th century you see allegorical paintings” but art today does not have that kind of symbolism, and people today are not educated in reading such codes. He told of the Royal Order of Scotland, which cites the Nine Muses in its ceremonies and symbols, to make the point that educated men of the 18th century needed no introduction to the Nine Muses, but that educated men today are not familiar with the Greek goddesses of arts and sciences.
“The chief allegory in Freemasonry, as I understand it, is temple-building,” Trevor continued. “Each Mason is concerned with one particular stone: his own personality. It needs the hand of an expert worker to carve the stone so it may subject itself to the erection of the Temple.”
Symbols are all around us, he said. “A red light means stop. A green light means go. These are very simple symbols that we ignore at our own peril. But ours is esoteric. They are applied to one’s own life, and are a matter of experience.”
And there is no single definitive answer, he added. “A young guy who’s been a Mason for three or four weeks, and a guy who has been a Mason for 50 or 60 years are seeing things very differently” when watching the same degree.
The EA Degree imparts ethical standards. “There is moral truth.” The FC Degree stimulates the mind. “There is intellectual truth.” The MM Degree tells of the “ultimate human destiny and triumph. There is spiritual truth. A union with deity.”
By “triumph,” Trevor refers to the new Master Mason’s rectified psyche. Hiram was not raised from the dead, he explained. “The dead body was exhumed and reinterred in a magnificent tomb.” Our new Master Mason however does return to the ordinary life outside, but with a new outlook. He has departed the mundane world, traversed the world of morality, and then through the world of intellect – benefiting and gaining qualifications – before arriving at the world of spirit.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
The Academy meets twice a year in the Masonic Cultural Center at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s Elizabethtown campus. Saturday’s program was a different format from the Academy’s usual, in which two lectures are presented by scholars of national or even international reputation. Recent speakers include W. Kirk MacNulty, Miss Pauline Chakmakjian and… Trevor Stewart!
The Academy serves a purpose even greater than hosting great educational meetings. It’s legacy, I believe, will be its Certification Program, a kind of correspondence course in which interested brethren gradually learn about Freemasonry, and then demonstrate what they’ve internalized in the form of various kinds of papers. Personally, I think this is how lodges ought to discern the worthiness of candidates for advancement, but....
It is an extremely valuable system of Masonic education, one that its governors are willing to share with other grand lodges that are looking to create something, but don’t know how to structure one. Pennsylvania’s has been operational for nine years, and is not slowing down at all. There were approximately 250 Master Masons – about half of whom were raised in the past two years – in attendance Saturday, preferring to spend one of the most gorgeous days of the year sitting inside an auditorium to hear nine speakers expound on various subjects geared for the new Mason.
The day’s agenda was titled “Lessons in Freemasonry” and consisted of:
“What, Where, When and Why” by Bro. Thomas W. Jackson, shown above
“Historic Leaders of Pennsylvania” by Bro. Paul D. Fisher
“The Symbols and Tools of Freemasonry” by Bro. James L. Sieber
“Myths and Misconceptions” by Bro. William R. Rininger
“Famous Freemasons” by Bro. John W. Postlewait
“What Can We Discuss About Freemasonry” by Bro. Charles S. Canning
“Purpose of Freemasonry and Masonic Etiquette” by Bro. Merrill R. Shaffer
“Masonic Conduct Outside the Lodge” by Bro. C. DeForest Trexler
“The Meanings of the Oaths and Obligations” by Bro. S. Eugene Herritt
Before anyone of grand rank mutters to himself about the absence of titles from these names, let me make clear that this is how the brethren identify themselves in their Academy literature. I’m certain they all are Right Worshipfuls, but what we find in educational circles are serious men, each content to be called Brother. There is a lesson in there for those who have ears.
The chairman of the committee that operates the Academy is Tom Jackson. I wouldn’t know where to begin in composing a Masonic CV for him. He served 19 years as Pennsylvania’s Grand Secretary, reviews books for “The Northern Light” magazine, and is a Founding Fellow of The Masonic Society, just to list a few things off the top of my head. Tom is known around the globe for his intellect, his unabashed insistence that Freemasonry uphold standards of greatness – from the West Gate to the Grand East – and his indefatigable action. (While laid up after a medical procedure earlier this year, he began writing a book.)
Discussing the “What, Where, When and Why” of Freemasonry, Tom restrained himself, mindful that the day was devoted largely to brethren who were new to the fraternity. He covered the basics of St. John’s Day, 1717, but stipulating there are records in Scotland of 16th century lodge activity.
“Essentially, we don’t know our origins, but Freemasonry attracted some of the greatest men of the last 300 years,” he said, “Did Freemasonry make men great, or did great men make Freemasonry? I say it is both. Voltaire, Mozart, Haydn, Franklin and Washington were men we wanted to be associated with. That is our deficit today in North America. Where are the Mozarts of today? My role is to preserve Freemasonry in case great men come later.”
And speaking of greatness, Bro. Paul D. Fisher continued the program with his “Historic Leaders of Pennsylvania” talk. He covered four or five biographies in a “Profiles in Courage” type format. These were notable men in both Masonic history and U.S. history, including:
William Smith, a congressman once challenged to a duel by Henry Clay (but declined), he is credited with authoring a part of Pennsylvania’s Master Mason Lecture. He also published the first version of “Ahiman Rezon” in the United States. A good friend of Washington and Franklin, he was reputed to have been “the best public speaker of all the colonies.” He was provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and founded Washington College, which is now the University of Maryland. Smith served as Grand Secretary, and then Grand Master of Pennsylvania, and unusually later became a Grand Chaplain in New York, when his son was Grand Master.
James Buchanan, the only Pennsylvanian to become president of the United States, was prominent in Masonry as a leader of what is termed in this state as "the revolt of the country lodges." His success is felt to this day, as the District Deputy system is still in place (it was thought that DDGMs should represent the interests of lodges to the Grand Lodge) and the standardization of ritual, which also continues to this day, and is still unwritten.
George Mifflin Dallas, the namesake of Dallas, Texas, for his work in bringing that republic into the Union. He served as vice president under James K. Polk, and was a courageous advocate for Freemasonry during the scariest days of the anti-Masonic movement, during which his mother lodge forfeited its warrant. Pennsylvania General Assembly Representative Thaddeus Stevens, who won election on the anti-Masonic ticket, introduced The Act to Suppress Secret Societies, and subpoenaed 25 leading Masons to testify. All appeared, but none would testify under oath. Dallas argued that Masonry was a private organization that acted lawfully, and he invoked the memory of George Washington to shame these politicians. He served as Grand Master in 1835.
Next, “The Symbols and Tools of Freemasonry” was explained by Bro. James Sieber, who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics. He provided a hand-drawn visual aid depicting about two dozen Working Tools and other symbols, which he explained to the brethren, occasionally detouring into other jurisdictions’ symbols. He urged everyone to travel outside of Pennsylvania to experience more Masonic teachings.
Bro. Bill Rininger took us through “Myths and Misconceptions” to prepare new Masons for the idiotic questions and challenges we all eventually face. “Times haven’t changed much,” he explained. “Except that many of our critics have discovered the power of mass media, and they make their money by telling falsehoods.”
A video, titled “Tools of the Craft,” was screened. This featured several Pennsylvania Masons, including a rabbi and a minister, and MSANA Executive Secretary Dick Fletcher who foiled the most common libels hurled against the fraternity (e.g. it is not a religion, cult, nefarious society, etc.).
Next came a fun presentation on “Famous Masons” delivered by Bro. John Postlewait. He told of a Communication of Celestial Lodge, where dozens of well known brethren assembled in lodge. (The Tiler was J. Edgar Hoover.)
Bro. Chuck Canning, at left, explained “What Can We Discuss About Freemasonry,” in which he told the brethren that their obligations to Masonic secrecy do not proscribe them from learning as much as possible about the Craft. He urged everyone to get acquainted with the various lodges and societies of Masonic research, and to familiarize themselves with the many topics covered in rituals other than Pennsylvania’s, like the Four Cardinal Virtues, various Working Tools, etc.
“Masonic Etiquette” by Bro. Merrill Shaffer proved provocative. He covered important basics that too often go unsaid (punctuality, attire, welcoming visitors, etc.) and also touched on confusing matters that are not necessarily addressed by ritual, like crossing in front of the East. (A no-no, by the way.) Our speaker quoted Preston, Pike, Pound and Coil to illustrate his point that Freemasonry’s role is to show good men how to improve themselves through ethics, morals and knowledge.
This talk carried into the Q&A period later in the afternoon, when the conversation expanded into legal matters. By coincidence, Grand Lodge will host a daylong seminar on the 18th devoted entirely to the jurisdiction’s jurisprudence.
“Masonic Conduct Outside the Lodge” was Bro. C. DeForest Trexler’s call to the brethren to remember their duties to God, their neighbors and themselves. “Whether we trace Freemasonry to ancient antiquity or orders of knighthood or stone guilds, it is a product of 18th century Enlightenment,” he said. “We show exemplary public behavior for Masonry’s public reputation,” avoid intemperance and excess, and are consistent with “good citizenship and Judeo-Christian morality.”
Perhaps the best way to phase it, he concluded, was Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes.
Introduced by the moderator as “the capstone of the edifice we are trying to construct for you,” the final talk, “The Meaning of the Oaths and Obligations” was given by Bro. S. Eugene Herritt, shown below, and very effectively I must say.
Obviously I can’t disclose the details, but he very wisely explained the three sets of oaths and obligations as progressively demanding circumstances that both challenge us to grow and simultaneously reflect our growth thus far.
The Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge will meet in 2009 on March 14 and October 24 at the same location.
There also is a lodge room housed within the Cultural Center. A very modern design with dominant diagonal lines surrounding its theme of triangles and rectangles. The high, vaulted ceiling gives it a cathedral feel, but the omnipresent woods say something else. Despite the ubiquitous blonde wood and all that glass, it does not have a cold look. In fact, those surfaces and colors, with the trapezoidal altar and quirky officer chairs, inspire a friendly curiosity.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Host Bill Thomas and guest speaker Trevor Stewart at Les Sans Culottes, New York City, October 6, 2008.
So this Scotsman walks into a French restaurant and starts talking about a novella set in Italy.
No, this isn’t the set-up to a punchline. It is essentially what happened Monday night in New York City. It’s the details that count.
So there we were: Fifteen luminaries in the field of Masonic education (and me) gathered – or maybe “huddled” – inside the intimate upstairs dining room at Les Sans Culottes on Second Avenue to hear W. Bro. Trevor Stewart discourse on “St. Irvyne or the Rosicrucian” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a work of short fiction in the Gothic genre written when the author was still a college student.
Our teacher, in the middle of a whirlwind speaking tour of the U.S., was none other than the very same Trevor Stewart of Quatuor Coronati fame; Past (2004) Prestonian Lecturer; Past Master of Inverness Lodge No. 6; the Deputy Master of Robert Moray Lodge of Research in Scotland; &c., &c.
His presentation is titled “Enlightenment in the Alps: Shelley’s Forgotten ‘Rosicrucian’ Novelette, ‘St. Irvyne’ ” Since this is what Trevor did for a living, no one was surprised by his dexterous delivery of biographical fact, plot summary (which actually was more compelling than the story itself) and esoteric context, which, naturally, is what brought us together that evening.
“Shelley’s “St. Irvyne: or, The Rosicrucian” was one of his youthful excursions into literary creativity,” Trevor began. “It was written even while he was in his final year at Eton.” His ambition to author a three-part novel did not materialize, so what remained of the story was published in 1811 pseudonymously by “A Gentleman of the University of Oxford.” The young author may have hoped that the Oxford pedigree would have lended it credibility and boosted sales – not that he needed the money – as the market for Gothic tales was burgeoning at that time.
“The language of the opening paragraph gives readers some idea of the events to expect later,” Trevor explained, reading:
Red thunder-clouds, borne on the wings of the midnight whirlwind, floated, at fits and starts, athwart the crimson orbit of the moon; the rising fierceness of the blast sighed through the stunted shrubs, which, bending before its violence, inclined toward the rocks whereon they grew; over the blackened expanse of heaven, at intervals was spread the blue lightning’s flash; it played upon the granite heights and, with momentary brilliancy, disclosed the terrific scenery of the Alps, whose gigantic and misshapen summits, reddened by the transitory moon-beam, were crossed by the black fleeting fragments of the tempest-clouds … In this scene, then, at this horrible and tempestuous hour, stood Wolfstein.
I have to confess a few things. When it comes to English literature, I am, always have been, and likely always will be, an Elizabethan guy, and not a Romantic. And I’ve always had a bias against Shelley in particular, mostly for the way he lived his life. (An atheist. Can you imagine?!) And as I began to read this novelette during the summer, I forgot to read it for pleasure, and instead tried to decode every sentence, looking for the keys to Rosicrucianism. And I thought I’d found a treasure in that opening paragraph. Actually just that first sentence. That’s the longest run-on sentence I’ve read in some time. This guy could have written Masonic ritual! Anyway, I had thought I’d found the Four Elements packed into that lengthy introduction, but Trevor reminded us that this style of writing is the hallmark of the Gothic genre.
But there is more to this opening scene that perhaps the initiated eye may see without reading too much into it. Trevor did not read this aloud, probably in the interest of time, but that ellipsis in the excerpt above represents, in part, this description of our hero Wolfstein: “without one existent earthly being whom he might claim as friend, without one resource to which he might fly as an asylum from the horrors of neglect and poverty.” Hey, we’ve all been there.
And it is at this time, with thoughts of death about to overwhelm him, when Wolfstein is spared a desperate suicide upon being discovered by a band of monks passing by. The monks in turn find themselves surrounded by number of mountain bandits who, for reasons not defined at that point, take in Wolfstein and welcome him, penniless, friendless and hopeless, as one of their own (after robbing and dispatching the monks).
The “banditti troop” retires to its cavern lair. “Over the walls of the lengthened passages putrefaction had spread a bluish clamminess.” Putrefaction!
Shortly the bandits assail other mountain travelers, taking captive the beautiful Megalena, a femme fatale who beguiles both bandit leader Cavigni and newcomer Wolfstein alike. Fearing losing Megalena to Cavigni, Wolfstein murders his leader with poison. The deed is witnessed by Ginotti, a mysterious and respected member of the bandit group.
For reasons not revealed at the time, Ginotti spares Wolfstein the retributive death duly earned, and abets his and Megalena’s escape. The couple flees to Genoa.
Ginotti follows the couple. An expert in disguise, he is able to appear suddenly and unexpectedly to Wolfstein’s repeated shock. Ginotti “manages to extort from the young man a promise that, at some future date, he will accept a solemn duty which he, Ginotti will place on him,” Trevor related. It is at this time when we realize Ginotti is our story’s eponymous Rosicrucian, a Magus in search of an apprentice: Wolfstein.
Ginotti: think alchemical sun (giorno/day) and moon (notte/night).
And here’s why it’s great to have your English literature professor double as a IX° Masonic Rosicrucian.
“The image of the Magus has spread far and has lasted long in most literatures and legends,” said Fratre Trevor, just getting warmed up. “There has scarcely been a people who have not cherished the idea that certain very select men, who after profound and prolonged study undertaken in self-imposed isolation, have become thereby custodians of secret wisdom and wielders of mysterious powers.”
“Interestingly, one of the best accounts, by Francis Barrett, titled simply ‘The Magus: or, The Celestial Intelligencer,’ appeared in 1801, merely nine years before Shelley began his novel,” he continued. “More recently, Professor Elizabeth Butler of Cambridge wrote the standard modern ‘expose’ titled ‘The Myth of the Magus’ (1948) in which she identifies 10 principle features of the Magus figure throughout the centuries.”
Those 10 are:
He usually has a mysterious origin he cannot disclose to anyone. (Certainly the case with Ginotti.)
His birth is marked by celestial portents. (I’m reminded of the Nazarene.)
His infancy is menaced by enemies who seek his death. (Ibid.)
He undergoes a kind of initiation into ancient mysteries. (Luke Skywalker.)
In pursuit of further knowledge, he travels far and wide.
Usually he’ll undergo a contest that tests his abilities.
He endures a trial and persecution at the hands of the ignorant and/or the authorities.
There would be a sacrificial farewell, involving a confession or repentance to others.
He meets a violent or mysterious death.
Ultimately, he experiences resurrection and/or ascension into heaven, achieving divine justification.
So, how did the young Shelley know all of this?
“He was an omnivorous reader and must have been acquainted with the Faust legend, especially with Goethe’s famous version,” Trevor said. “He may have been aware of the careers and writings of well-known British Magi, like Dr. John Dee, Robert Fludd, Simon Forman, Thomas Jones, Edward Kelly and Robert Turner.
“From extensive European alchemical literature, he may have known about the many engravings of Magi at work in their ‘laboratories.’ We have only to recall the example of one of Jan Diricks von Campen’s plates in Heinrich Khunrath’s ‘Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae’ (1602) which shows a solitary sage kneeling in adoration and ecstasy before a tented sanctuary surrounded by all of the paraphernalia of an alchemical workshop.”
More importantly, there were men in recent memory who had well documented international fame, “or as some would say, ‘infamy,’ in Masonic or quasi-Masonic circles,” Trevor explained. “There was Count Cagliostro, who traveled Europe and founded a mysterious type of initiatic rite called ‘Egyptian Masonry’ that enjoyed enormous but brief fashion, for such was the spirit of the age.
“His contemporary was the Count de St. Germain, who was a genuine nobleman, but equally eccentric. His reputation among the salons rested upon his ‘mesmeric’ powers, and his equally mysterious ability to appear simultaneously in at least three places, far distant from each other.” (A joke was inserted here about grand officers desiring that secret ability.)
“Both of these ‘charlatans’ claimed to enjoy youth that was renewed perpetually by the Elixir of Eternal Life. Both claimed to be able to dispense this to others at need. Both claimed enigmatically to have sources of unlimited wealth. They certainly did not seem to suffer from any shortage of funds. Both claimed to have undergone some form of initiation which had bestowed adeptship.
“And,” Trevor continued, “these trailblazing careers across Europe occurred at the same time as the various sects of ‘enlightened’ ones were making their presence felt in various other quarters.” Pasqually’s Elus Cohens in France, Weishaupt’s Illuminati in Bavaria, and others. “Indeed from the mid 18th century to the beginning of the 19th, the whole of Europe seemed alive with secret initiatory rites, all claiming to possess ‘the true light.’”
And last, but not least, is Dr. James Lind, FRS, who had great influence over his young “disciple” Percy Bysshe Shelley. “Lind was tall, thin, white-haired, and solitary, of serious demeanor, very knowledgeable about obscure sciences and the Far East,” Trevor said. “He was an ideal figure for a Magus for any inquisitive schoolboy such as Shelley” who in turn followed that model. “His hands were always stained with the chemicals that he used in his solitary experiments” at Eton. “There is the well known report of him being discovered alone, surrounded by a circle of flames on the bare wooden floor.”
“He explained that he had been trying to raise the Devil,” Trevor added, “but only managed to raise a very irate master armed with a cane!”
So it is within this historic context that we also see the rise of the Gothic novel.
Defined by our speaker as “hugely popular in the 1790s and early 1800s, especially in England,” it usually featured a medieval building, “a ruined abbey or castle, with labyrinth secret passages underground,” and a villain who “pledged himself to esoteric purposes known only to himself until the end of the tale,” and a persecuted innocent hero. “There were charnel houses, tombs, graveyards, and Nature itself usually conspired to produce effects of gloomy terror at midnight,” Trevor added. “For Shelley, the image of the Magus fitted neatly into this context.”
Simultaneous to all of this is the growing fame of the alchemist. “Until about the late 17th century, alchemy was comprised of two parts: a secret knowledge of the functioning of the universe, and actual work in the laboratory,” said Trevor. “The latter was a prolonged and arduous attempt at a physical transformation of matter that was a mirror image of the simultaneous transformation of the alchemist’s own psyche.” In time, the lab work was supplanted by the inner work of a “spiritual chemistry” that, for literary purposes, could be depicted as a tampering with nature or even a challenge to deity.
St. Irvyne is not a person, but a place, a ruined, cavernous structure of significance to several characters for different reasons where our story climaxes. Early in the plot, Ginotti saves Wolfstein from certain death for his poisoning of the bandit leader Cavigni; aiding in Wolfstein’s escape, Ginotti obligates Wolfstein to agree to a solemn, but unspoken oath. This obligation is made clear at the tale’s end.
“Wolfstein arrives at the darkened vaults of the ruined Abbey of St. Irvyne to meet Ginotti, as per their prior arrangement. Ginotti has disclosed to Wolfstein that he has acquired the secret of eternal life, along with other arcane powers,” Trevor explained. “He is anxious to pass this wisdom to a specially chosen disciple – Wolfstein – so he can die in peace.”
But Wolfstein, at this moment of truth, balks. He will not go along with Ginotti, because doing so would defy nature and deity. “Suddenly, a Devil appears from Hell and drags Ginotti screaming into the eternal fires of his justified damnation,” as Trevor puts it. “Wolfstein, terrified at what he just witnessed in the blackness of the vault, drops dead!”
If you have progressed beyond the Sublime Degree, you know the value of a good vault.
“St. Irvyne” ends quite abruptly.
“Deeper grew the gloom of the cavern. Darkness almost visible seemed to press around them; yet did the scintillations which flashed from Ginotti’s burning gaze, dance on its bosom. Suddenly a flash of lightning hissed through the lengthened vaults. A burst of frightful thunder seemed to convulse the universal fabric of nature; and borne on the pinions of hell’s sulphurous whirlwind, he himself, the frightful prince of terror, stood before them. ‘Yes,’ howled a voice superior to the bursting thunder-peal, ‘yes, thou shalt have eternal life, Ginotti.’ On a sudden Ginotti’s frame mouldered to a gigantic skeleton, yet two pale and ghastly flames glared in his eyeless sockets. Blackened in terrible convulsions, Wolfstein expired. Over him had the power of hell no influence. Yes, endless existence is thine, Ginotti – a dateless and hopeless eternity of horror.”
Shelley concludes with an admonishment: “Let then the memory of these victims to hell and malice live in the remembrance of those who can pity the wanderings of error. Let remorse and repentance expiate the offences which arise from the delusion of the passions, and let endless life be sought from Him who alone can give an eternity of happiness.”
“This connects to Bob Davis’ thoughts on the handing on from father to son of that which we have acquired,” Trevor continued, referring to Bro. Bob’s writings on the importance of responsible men, especially Freemasons, initiating the young into lives of right thinking and right acting. “The tragedy here is the wisdom is lost.”
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The air upstairs at Les Sans Culottes was nearly as alive with electricity as the lightning-sparked skies over St. Irvyne itself. A question and answer period ensued, with great minds like John Mauk Hilliard and Ted Harrison and others trading their impressions of this novelette in the context of Masonic ritual and symbol. For the sake of privacy, I feel enjoined not to write of that.
From left: John Mauk Hilliard, Ted Harrison and Fred Waldron
The Brothers Harrison. From left: Robert, Ted and George.
However I cannot close without praising our host, Bro. Bill Thomas of Shakespeare Lodge No. 750, who arranged all of this. Motivated by a desire to enjoy a relaxed evening of great discussion and dining, Bill brought us all together in this charming – in a friendly staff and unpretentious décor kind of way – eatery. He will be elected WM of American Lodge of Research on Oct. 29 at Grand Lodge’s building on 23rd Street.
Likewise, the restaurant itself cannot be ignored.
The appetizers were really unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Abundant baskets of raw veggies and fruits, crocks of pâté, piles of fresh bread… all of it was eclipsed by the… well, I suppose I’ll call them “sausage trees!” If you use a banana rack at home, then just picture that device, but laden with an impressive variety of cured and smoked sausages and salamis. Specifically, two garlic sausages, one thick and one thin; one paprika salami; and other delicacies. I don’t know who their purveyor is, but I’ve never tasted meats like this. Similarly the pâté was terrific. If you’re a vegetarian or suffer from gout, this ain’t the place for you.
The entrees varied from salmon (with fish knife actually provided) to beef bourguignon, to roasted duck, to two chicken dishes: cordon bleu and tarragon. Dessert was a choice of either flan or the most decadent chocolate mousse… I can’t even describe it other than to say New York’s nanny-mayor would try to ban it if he knew it existed. Near the corner of Second Avenue and 57th, it is pretty much outside of my usual city orbit, but I’ll be back.
Bill, thanks for a terrific evening. And happy birthday Trevor!