Saturday, September 19, 2009

‘Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!’

By the way, have you heard Dan Brown has a new novel out? The Lost Symbol is setting sales records and, naturally, has the Masonic world wondering what its impact on the fraternity will be. Early concerns remembered the treatment Opus Dei received in Brown’s previous mega-seller, The DaVinci Code, which portrayed the Roman Catholic lay organization as practically a murder cult, and wondered if Freemasonry was in for a similar ride.

Truly, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the problem posed by The Lost Symbol is that Freemasonry is presented with too much idealism. Dan Brown’s Freemasonry consists of the most powerful men in Washington – the Senate Majority Leader, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Secretary of Homeland Security, et al. – not united in a conspiracy to oppress and exploit, but banded together to preserve ancient wisdom until the time is right to reintroduce humanity to these mysteries.

Establishing parallels between, to borrow a title, the Secret Teachings of All Ages and noetic science, which in the story is explored by a lone scientist toiling inside a secret lab on the campus of the Smithsonian Institution, our author echoes a stirring message imparted by none other than Robert Davis and Jim Tresner, two of the leading educators of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Incidentally (or maybe not merely incidentally), the Scottish Rite is the specific form of Freemasonry the novel explores.

At the 2004 session of New Jersey Council of Deliberation, Bob and Jim were flown in from Oklahoma to speak on the potential Scottish Rite Masonry has to stir within its brethren the desire to help mankind recognize a new phase of collective awakening. The talk was so well received that Ill. Davis was brought back in 2006, when he presented his paper titled “The Purpose of the Scottish Rite and the Spiritual Awakening of the New Millennium: an Unworldly Partnership.”


My Brethren, in the history of the world, there have been two periods when a spiritual awakening has taken place across every culture at the same time; where a striking transformation of consciousness occurred in unison across every major population group – all independently of one another – and which resulted in a re-definition of religion and a global awakening of man’s understanding of things spiritual and religious. These have been called Axial Periods because they gave birth to everything which, since then, man has been able to be. It was during these periods that we meet with the most deepcut spiritual dividing lines in history.

The first, and most profound period, occurred in a 500-year span from 800 B.C. to 300 B.C. It was during this time that China saw its two great teachers, Confucious and Lao-tze, from whose wisdom emerged the schools of Chinese philosophy. In India, the Hinduism of the Vedas was transformed by the Upanishads, which changed Hinduism from a polytheistic to a monotheistic religion; where Buddha, the “Awakened One” and Mahavira ushered in two new religious traditions – Buddhism and Janism. The concept of individual enlightenment came from this tradition. In the eastern Mediterranean region, the transformative prophets – Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, called forth from their people a new moral awareness which took Judaism to a higher level based on individual moral responsibility and where the idea of a messiah came into being. In Greece, Western philosophy was born. From Phales and Socrates to Plato and Aristotle, a new rational explanation of the universe was conceived; where moral consciousness was awakened and new metaphysical systems were born. “Know Thyself” became the watchword.

It was an extraordinary global transformation. Although the leaders who effected this change were philosophers and religious teachers, the change was so radical that it affected all aspects of culture because it transformed consciousness itself. It was, in fact, within the horizons of this form of consciousness that the great civilizations of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe developed. It was this form of consciousness that spread to other regions and became dominant worldwide. It was a consciousness that was self-reflective, analytical, and which could be applied to nature in the form of scientific theories, to society in the form of social critique, to knowledge in the form of philosophy; to religion in the form of mapping an individual spiritual journey. To this day, regardless of where we have been born, we live in the structure of consciousness that was shaped in this 500 year period. And it was within this structure that the intellectual and spiritual substance of Freemasonry was born....

Western civilization as we know it today is the product of four great movements that occurred over another 400-year period, all tied to the structure of consciousness which came out of the first Axial Period. These four movements were the Renaissance, the Reformation, the French Revolution, and the Industrial/Social Revolution....

It is time that we create an identity for the Scottish Rite that is uniquely ours in the family of Freemasonry – one which focuses on this original intent of our enlightened society of men....

We are moving into a new Axial Period.... We are on the cutting edge of something bigger than we know and, like the first Axial Period, the new one will redefine traditional paths of spirituality and shape the horizon of consciousness for future centuries. It too will have a great significance for world religions; and it will be driven by both an individual consciousness and a global one. And since this development will be global and connected with new forms of technology, religious futurists are suggesting that we can expect to see a convergence of cultures and religions this time, rather than a division as occurred in the first Axial Period. This has enormous implications for the Scottish Rite.

Seekers of Truth will search each other out and meet in conditions and atmospheres of mutual trust and understanding, with an eagerness to alter misconceptions about each other and prepared to appreciate the values of the other. Dr. Ewert Cousins, Professor of Religious Studies at Fordham University, forecasts that “the partners of this new conscious-raising enterprise will be mutually enriched by passing over into the consciousness of the other and discovering the synthesis of the greater and higher goal of their collective awakening.” In Masonry, we have long defined this as the search for the Lost Word....

I would love to give you all 4,262 words, but you get the idea. (To read more about Robert’s talk, click here, scroll down to the August 2006 issue of The Northern Light magazine, open the PDF, and turn to page 7.) For his part, Dan Brown crafts his protagonists as like-minded strategic thinkers. Brown, the optimist – maybe even the gnostic – wants his readers to view humanity as a brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of god, a global family poised to receive the wisdom of the ages, cleansed of obfuscatory dogma and stunting superstition. The message is delivered obliquely by the mystics of Masonry (not revealing too much to the uninitiated), but bluntly by the scientist. From page 504:

Katherine propped herself on her elbow. “And I promise, if we as humans can honestly grasp this one simple truth, the world will change overnight. I should preface this,” she said, “by reminding you of the Masonic mantras to ‘gather what is scattered,’ to bring ‘order from chaos,’ to find ‘at-one-ment.’ We have scientifically proven that the power of human thought grows exponentially with the number of minds that share that thought.”

Langdon remain silent, wondering where she was going with this idea.

“What I’m saying is this. Two heads are better than one, and yet two heads are not twice better, they are many, many times better. Multiple minds working in unison magnify a thought’s effect exponentially. This is the inherent power of prayer groups, healing circles, singing in unison, and worshipping en masse. The idea of universal consciousness is no ethereal New Age concept. It’s a hard-core scientific reality, and harnessing it has the potential to transform our world. This is the underlying discovery of Noetic Science. What’s more, it’s happening right now. You can feel it all around you. Technology is linking us in ways we never imagined possible: Twitter, Google, Wikipedia, The Magpie Mason, and others all blend to create a web of interconnected minds.” She laughed. “And I guarantee you, as soon as I publish my work, the Twitterati will all be sending tweets that say ‘learning about Noetics,’ and interest in this science will explode exponentially.”
Okay, I added the Magpie part.

...Langdon shut his eyes. In the darkness of his mind, he found himself thinking about universal consciousness, about Plato’s writings on “the mind of the world” and “gathering God,” [and] Jung’s “collective unconscious.” The notion was as simple as it was startling.

God is found in the collection of Many, rather than in the One....

Langdon’s thoughts were spiraling now – dreams, memories, hopes, fears, revelations – all swirling above him in the Rotunda dome. As his eyes began to close again, he found himself staring at three words in Latin, painted with the Apotheosis.

E pluribus unum.

“Out of many, one,” he thought, slipping off into sleep.

The Lost Symbol is divided into 133 chapters, which I do not think is arbitrary, because it ought to remind us of Psalm 133, the timeless verse of Scripture that begins: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” This has been a narration of Western initiatic ceremonies for at least 1,500 years, when St. Benedict wrote it into his Rule for monastic life.

Knowing that many of you intend to read this novel, I won’t reveal plot twists and specific devices that concern Freemasonry, nor will I decode the puzzle above. However, I must say that what Ill. Bro. Davis says above about the Lost Word is heard in this story. Mr. Brown beat the copyright infringement suit brought against him in Britain by the co-authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, but I do suspect he owes Bob Davis a mention on the acknowledgments page of The Lost Symbol, at the very least.

I will say that I remain doubtful of Mr. Brown’s abilities as a novelist. The Lost Symbol is meant to be a thriller, yet it is notably unthrilling. Its plot takes place in a 24-hour period during which the heroes suffer unspeakable physical and psychological punishments, but carry on with a stoicism that would make the Black Knight look like a pansy. There are other problems, but you’ll discover them yourselves.

Read it if you must, but would someone please tell me where to find the big parking lot that Brown claims is behind the House of the Temple?

Friday, September 18, 2009

‘The Peoples’ Temple’


One of Allyn Cox’s interpretations of the cornerstone laying ceremony of the U.S. Capitol. It is found inside the George Washington Memorial Banquet Hall in the House of the Temple Cox is best known for his murals inside the House wing of the Capitol.

On this date in 1793, Bro. George Washington led the Masonic ceremony in laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. Believe it or not, the building as it stands now, was not completed until 1993, when restorations of the west front and renovations of courtyards were completed.

In a letter to Bro. Benjamin Latrobe, a key architect of the Capitol, in 1812, Thomas Jefferson calls the Capitol the “first temple dedicated to the sovereignty of the people.” It truly is a monument to human progress through individual liberty.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

‘Prestonian pleasure’

Three Prestonian Lecturers walk into a bar. . .

The Big Event finally arrived last night, and by all accounts the Prestonian Gala Banquet was an unforgettable affair and a successful fundraiser for our charity.

Complete coverage will be available in Issue No. 6 of The Journal of the Masonic Society, which will arrive in members’ mailboxes in a few weeks. To become a member of the Society, or to subscribe to the Journal only, click here.

In the meantime, perhaps the brethren might enjoy a look around. The Magpie Mason shot more than 150 photos during the evening, and I share some favorites here. My Facebook friends can see more.

The Prestonians and the Mario Brothers.

Masonic Mirth: David, Trevor, and Aaron have a laugh.

Brethren from Atlas-Pythagoras Lodge No. 10 in Westfield.

Trevor Stewart and Mohamad. (Like I said, I shot 155 photos, and I swear Mohamad managed to get into about half of them.)

Thurman Pace, Rob, Trevor Stewart, and Grand Master Berman. No kidding: Without Rob, this event simply would not have taken place. He planned, executed and followed through until after everyone had gone home. A hundred Masonic affairs in New Jersey and Washington over the years would have suffered if not for this underappreciated and overworked brother.

Officers of Nutley Lodge No. 25: Senior Deacon José, Worshipful Master Franklin, and Junior Warden Dave.

Peninsula Lodge Masons, with Sam from Enterprise Lodge. From left: Gerry, Robert, Sam, and Nick. Gerry is the Freemason’s Freemason.

The Prestonian Lecturer’s jewel of office. The United Grand Lodge of England chooses one luminary in the field of Masonic education each year to travel throughout the jurisdiction and deliver his lecture. Sometimes they travel abroad. This photo is an extreme close-up of Gordon Davie’s jewel.

MW William H. Berman, Grand Master of New Jersey, at left, presents the proclamations announcing that John Wade, Trevor Stewart, and Gordon Davie are now Honorary Grand Lecturers in the jurisdiction of New Jersey. (Note Trevor’s reaction.)

Trevor Stewart, Prestonian Lecturer for 2004, expresses his fondest sentiments to Thurman Pace. This whole extravaganza was hatched last spring when Trevor suggested the idea to Thurman, who then set about assembling a planning committee.

From left: Gordon Davie, Prestonian Lecturer for 2005; John Wade, Prestonian Lecturer for 2009; and Trevor Stewart, Prestonian Lecturer for 2004. They appeared last night at Pantagis Renaissance, not as the Three Tenors, but as the Three Prestonians. It was the first time that three Prestonian Lecturers shared a podium, and it was for the noble purpose of raising thousands of dollars for the 32° Masonic Learning Center for Children in Scotch Plains. The Learning Centers are special education schools that teach children with dyslexia how to overcome the symptoms of the neurological disorder.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

‘Magpie on the Move: the Fall Calendar’

(All events are subject to change.)

Friday, September 11
Scott Chapter No. 4, Royal Arch Masons, North Brunswick, New Jersey
Past High Priest Night.

Saturday, September 12
Prestonian Gala Banquet at Scotch Plains, New Jersey
Prestonian Lecturer John Wade and two past Prestonian Lecturers to speak at Black Tie banquet to benefit 32° Masonic Learning Center for Children.

Sunday, September 13
Maryland Masonic Research Society, Hobbit’s Glen Golf Club – Coho Grill
Columbia, Maryland at noon.

Bro. John Wade to give the UGLE’s Prestonian Lecture for 2009.

Monday, September 14
Maimonides-Marshall Lodge No. 739 in New York City (10th floor at 23rd Street.)
Past Prestonian Lecturers Trevor Stewart and Gordon Davie to speak.

Tuesday, September 15
Loyalty Lodge No. 33 in Union, New Jersey
Bro. Mohamad Yatim to speak on “V.I.T.R.I.O.L. and the Chamber of Reflection.”

Tuesday, September 15
Fairless Hills Lodge No. 776 in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania
W. Bro. Ben Hoff, Master of NJ Lodge of Masonic Research and Education to speak.

Wednesday, September 16
St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, New York City
Bro. John Wade to give the UGLE’s Prestonian Lecture for 2009.

Monday, September 21
Nutley Lodge No. 25 in Nutley, New Jersey
RW Bill Thomas, Master of American Lodge of Research, to speak on “The Mystery of the Blue Slipper.”

Thursday, September 24
Peninsula Lodge No. 99, Bayonne, New Jersey
Entered Apprentice Degree and Festive Board using Ancients ritual c.1760.
(An exemplification of the First Degree, not a conferral.)

Thursday, October 1
Aurora Grata Lodge of Perfection, AASR, Rockville Centre, Long Island, NY
201st anniversary celebration: Feast of Tishri, with Sovereign Grand Commander.

Friday, October 9
Garibaldi Lodge No. 542, New York City (Grand Lodge Room at 23rd Street.)
The Entered Apprentice Degree of the French Rite, as worked in Italian by this unique lodge. Lodge opens at 8 p.m.

Sunday, October 11
Grand Master’s Day at Tappan, New York
MW Edward Gilbert to welcome the brethren to DeWint House, the historic site that was George Washington’s headquarters during the trial of Major John André. 2 p.m.

Wednesday, October 14
Alpha Lodge No. 116 in East Orange, New Jersey
Piers A. Vaughan, world renowned expert on the Rectified Scottish Rite, to speak on “Willermozism.”

Saturday, October 17
Re-dedication of J.J.J. Gourgas gravesite memorial
By the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Jersey City, New Jersey.

Monday, October 19
Union Lodge No. 19 in North Brunswick, New Jersey
Bro. Mohamad Yatim to speak on “V.I.T.R.I.O.L. and the Chamber of Reflection.”

Saturday, October 24
Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge
Masonic Cultural Center at Grand Lodge’s Elizabethtown campus, 9 a.m.
MW Glen A. Cook, Past Grand Master of Utah, to speak.

October 24-25
The Masonic Society’s inaugural Semi-Annual First Circle meeting
(With separate Board meeting) at Indiana Freemasons’ Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Wednesday, October 28
Alpha Lodge No. 116 in East Orange, New Jersey
W. Bob Gilbert, Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, to speak on A.E. Waite’s mystical approach to Freemasonry.

Thursday, October 29
American Lodge of Research
French Ionic Room at GL of NY (71 W. 23rd St., NYC.) Opens at 7:30 p.m.
The Annual Meeting with election of officers, followed by W. Gilbert Ferrer’s presentation titled “The Anti Mason’s Toolbox: Abusing Logic to Attack the Craft.”

Monday, November 2
Nutley Lodge No. 25 in Nutley, New Jersey
Bro. Mohamad Yatim to speak on “V.I.T.R.I.O.L. and the Chamber of Reflection.”

November 4-8
Masonic Library and Museum Association’s annual meeting
To be hosted by the Henry Wilson Coil Library & Museum of Freemasonry in San Francisco, California.

Monday, November 9
Re-dedication of Daniel D. Tompkins gravesite
AASR-NMJ to assist United States Daughters of 1812 in restoration, and unveiling of the first Sovereign Grand Commander’s gravesite monument. 131 East 10th St., New York City.

Wednesday, November 11
Alpha Lodge No. 116 in East Orange, New Jersey
Thomas R. Hughes, Grand Master of the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New Jersey, to speak on Freemasonry’s historic importance to African-Americans.

Saturday, November 14
Scottish Rite Day, AASR-Northern Masonic Jurisdiction
31° and 32° to be conferred at Valley of Southern Jersey by ritualists from across New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Saturday, November 14
Nutley Lodge No. 25 in Nutley, New Jersey
Heather Calloway, Director of Special Programs, Supreme Council of the A&ASR-SJ, to speak on “Significant Masonic Buildings in the United States.”

Sunday, November 29
Fairless Hills Lodge No. 776 in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania
Annual Lodge Banquet with keynote speakers Thomas Jackson and S. Brent Morris.

Saturday, December 12
New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786
Meets at 100 Barrack St. in Trenton at 10 a.m. All Master Masons welcome.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

‘A grave concern’

The committee charged with restoring the J.J.J. Gourgas gravesite memorial met today at the site to finalize the plans for the re-dedication ceremony to take place Saturday, October 17.

The progress achieved toward the re-dedication next month of the John James Joseph Gourgas gravesite memorial has been phenomenal. In less than a year, the final resting place of “the Conservator” of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite has been transformed from a forgotten, neglected thatch of weeds to its present state of restored dignity and quietude. And there is more work to come.

Gourgas died in 1865 in New York City, and because of a lack of burial space in the city, he was laid to rest in what now is called Bayview New York Bay Cemetary in Jersey City, New Jersey. The view from this gravesite at that time must have been very pleasing, as it faces New York Harbor and downtown Manhattan. In 1865 the spires of St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church would have been the tallest visible structures; the Statue of Liberty was decades away from being assembled.

In 1938, the Supreme Council dedicated the current gravesite memorial. On October 17, 2009, after all the restoration has been completed, it will be re-dedicated. Supreme Council will open at Peninsula Lodge 99 in Bayonne that morning, and then we’ll take the short ride to the cemetery for the ceremony.

As above: The Gourgas gravesite memorial as it looks today.
So below: The site on August 5, 1938, when the memorial was dedicated.

Needless to say, The Magpie Mason will provide full coverage of the event, but in the meantime, all this restoration work must be underwritten. Pardon the brazen solicitation, but this is an expensive undertaking. If anyone cares to support this effort, please consider contributing a donation in any amount. Checks can be made payable to New Jersey Council of Deliberation, and mailed to:

Valley of Southern New Jersey
315 White Horse Pike
West Collingswood, NJ 08107
attn: David Herman

We welcome the financial assistance of not only individuals, but also lodges, grand lodges, Scottish Rite valleys, Councils of Deliberation, historical foundations and societies, and all like-minded conservators of American heritage and Masonic history.

A close-up of the memorial.

It is impossible to count all the Masonic headstones in this cemetary. Brethren from New York and New Jersey are interred here in great numbers, including past grand masters, Supreme Council active members, commanders-in-chief, and other dignitaries.

One of the more attractive headstones
sporting the Square and Compasses
(and the Odd Fellows links).

James W. McCarthy was Scottish Rite Deputy for New Jersey in the early 20th century. He was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey before becoming the U.S. District Court Judge for New Jersey. For many years, the Museum of Masonic Culture at the Valley of Northern New Jersey displayed a slightly larger-than-life bronze bust of this man, whose identity was lost to us until only a few years ago.