Friday, November 27, 2009

Brethren, we’re uncles!

Congratulations to Bro. Oliver and his wife Yvonne on the birth of Marie yesterday! She is the younger sister of Tim.

(Oliver, your e-mail inbox is full! Please accept my congratulations and warmest wishes via the Magpie.)

Such a wonderful blessing... and on the same day as our Thanksgiving holiday in America.

The announcement:

Hallo ihr Lieben,

das Warten ist vorüber - es ist ein Mädchen. Wir sind dankbar, heute unser zweites Kind bekommen zu haben. Die Mutter und die Tochter sind gesund und erschöpft - aber es geht ihnen gut :)

Name: Marie
Geboren: 26.11.2009 um 10:36
Gewicht: 3160g
Size: 49cm

Denn bei dir ist die lebendige Quelle, und in deinem Licht sehen wir das Licht.
Psalm 36,9

Wir sind überglücklich!

beste Grüße,
Yvonne & Oliver, Tim & Marie


Dear all,

The wait is over – it’s a girl. We have been blessed with receiving our second child today. Mother and daughter are healthy, exhausted - but in excellent condition :)

Name: Marie
Born: 2009-11-26 at 4:36 AM EST
Weight: 6.97 pounds
Size: 1'7.3"

For with thee [is] the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.
Psalm 36:9

We are soooo happy!

best regards from Germany,
Yvonne & Oliver, Tim & Marie

Monday, November 23, 2009

Masonic Week 2010

Brotherens, I know it is only November, but now is a good time to make your plans for Masonic Week 2010.

For those who do not know, Masonic Week was initiated in the late 1930s in anticipation of the founding of The Masonic Society, which would come some 70 years later. How the brethren knew that is one of the truly amazing stories of Freemasonry. Buy me a Guinness at the hotel bar, and maybe I’ll tell you all about it.

I think there may be a Magpie Mason smoking lounge this year. I always book a smoking room. The generous Hilton staff thoughtfully sticks us cigar aficionados and those degenerate pet owners inside “The Annex,” a fitting name if there ever was one – county jails have annexes too – which is pretty far from the action, and requires rambling strolls through numerous corridors to get back and forth. (You’ve seen Goodfellas, so you remember that amazing master shot following Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco through The Copacabana backdoor, across the kitchen, throughout the winding hallways, up to the main floor, and out to their just delivered front row table? Well that is “from a point to a line” compared to the walkabout from our meeting rooms and banquet halls in the Hilton proper to our exile in the Annex. During one such late night adventure from the Tower to the Annex in 2008, I actually found myself inside the hotel kitchen! Had I known the words to “Pretend You Don’t See Her,” I’d have broken out in song.) Anyway, after learning my lesson from this year’s late night frozen cigarfest on Lindez’s balcony, I think I’ll have to welcome the Friars of the Briar and the Masters of the Leaf over for smokey treats. But it’ll have to wait until Saturday night because I ain’t living in an ashtray for four days!

So that’s it fellas. What can I tell ya? I expect a strong showing of New Jersey Masons this year, thanks in no small measure to the four AMD councils set to labor in the past couple of months here. Also, make yourselves available on the evening of Wednesday, the 10th of February, when the Rose Circle Research Foundation and Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 and Toye, Kenning and Spencer Ltd. will have a stunningly amazing event for you at the George Washington Masonic Memorial. Actually it’ll be more than just the evening; we’ll get started in the afternoon. Details to come! Just mark the date and make sure you’re in Alexandria.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

‘Masonry, religion, and Pike’

It comes up so often, The Magpie Mason had to address it eventually. In fact, it came up in conversation today on Masonic Light, and it figured into the discussion at the meeting of American Lodge of Research a few weeks ago.

“It” is the confusion of whether Freemasonry is a religion, but more specifically why so many claim that it is a religion because of what they think they’ve understood in the book “Morals and Dogma” by Albert Pike.

Albert Pike. Talk about confusion.

One need understand only that Albert Pike did not, does not, and cannot speak for all of Freemasonry – nobody can – but his role in particular was that of Sovereign Grand Commander (presiding officer) of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (a distinct minority within Masonry in the United States) during the latter half of the 19th century. True, his book “Morals and Dogma” was an official text of the A&ASR, whose initiates received copies of it for about a century, but did they read it? I suspect 99 percent of them did not.

It is 861 pages of very dense material authored in Victorian prose that explores subjects that were not as well understood in 1871 as they are today, such as Egyptology, and the studies of other ancient cultures. The book is so complicated that it has been revisited a number of times by other authors. One of Pike’s successors as Sovereign Grand Commander, Ill. Henry C. Clausen, who served during the 1970s, wrote “Commentaries on Morals and Dogma” to make Pike’s ideas approachable for the modern reader.

In more recent years, Ill. Rex Hutchens authored “A Glossary to Morals and Dogma,” which attempts to define the terms and references Pike used. More recent still is the purported rewriting of “Morals and Dogma” by four Masons in Texas. And, as you read this, Ill. Arturo de Hoyos is laboring on a new publication that will offer an annotated version of Pike’s book, that I suppose will document his sources of information.

(As an aside, do yourself a favor and watch video of Clausen here and here.)

Nevertheless it is Pike’s “Morals and Dogma” that is cited by the confrontational, confused, and curious alike. The confrontational are not above jerking a phrase out of context to vindicate their “believing is seeing” approach to learning. The confused are vexed by “M&D” because its innumerable mentions of ancient gods, philosophers, and texts serve to complicate the truly simple concepts of Freemasonry. And the curious are trusting and happy to read from “M&D,” to use its 218-page index for reference, and to try to make the best of what Pike was saying.

So, what did he say about Freemasonry being a religion anyway? (This is a great example of why that massive index, added to the text in 1909 by T.W. Hugo, is crucial to approaching this book.)

On Pages 212-13, in the lecture of the 13°, Royal Arch of Solomon:

“Books, to be of religious tendency in the Masonic sense, need not be books of sermons, of pious exercises, or of prayers. Whatever inculcates pure, noble, and patriotic sentiments, or touches the heart with the beauty of virtue, and the excellence of an upright life, accords with the religion of Masonry, and is the Gospel of literature and art.”

From Page 219, in the lecture on the 14°, Perfect Elu:

“[Freemasonry] is the universal, eternal, immutable religion, such as God planted it in the heart of universal humanity. No creed has ever been long-lived that was not built on this foundation. It is the base, and they are the superstructure.”

And, very importantly, from the lecture of the 26°, Prince of Mercy:

“While all these faiths assert their claims to the exclusive possession of the Truth, Masonry inculcates its old doctrine, and no more: That God is ONE; that His THOUGHT uttered in His WORD, created the Universe, and preserves it by those Eternal Laws which are the expression of that Thought: That the Soul of Man, breathed into him by God, is immortal as His Thoughts are; that he is free to do evil or to choose good, responsible for his acts and punishable for his sins – that all evil and wrong and suffering are but temporary, the discords of one great Harmony – and that in His good time they will lead by infinite modulations to the great, harmonic final chord and cadence of Truth, Love, Peace, and Happiness, that will ring forever and ever under the Arches of heaven, among all the Stars and Worlds, and in all souls of men and Angels.”

To me it sounds like he is saying Freemasonry states the primal Truth from which religious denominations start their respective paths, and to which these same denominations inevitably return (if they are honest in their purposes). I can understand why sectarian authorities want to see Masonry as something akin to their own rites because that allows for direct comparison and a claim to one’s allegiance (i.e., one who is a member of lodge cannot also be a member of church), however misguided the thinking behind that is. However, Masonry presented by Pike as fundamental, moral Truth, free from man-made constraints, is too powerful a rival for them.

And they know it.

I also like to consider the etymology of the word religion: originally from the Latin religare, meaning to tie, fasten, bind, etc. What binds Freemasons together? Our obligations, the cabletow, the Mystic Tie....

“How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity....”

Freemasonry, which teaches the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of deity, encompasses Truth, and Truth is greater than sectarian priorities and other artificial innovations. One would be wise to remember this whenever confronted with the anti-Mason or other ignoramus who aims to detract from Freemasonry by arguing it is a mere religion or sect.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Support the (Alchemical) Arts!


Alchemy Journal seeks Patrons

As Magpie readers may know, patronage is a longstanding necessity in the publishing world that serves readers of esoterica and similar literature. Alchemy Journal now seeks patrons to help ensure its excellent quality bi-annual periodical will continue to provide:

• More new alchemical writing, including essays, articles, poetry, interviews, and reviews;

• Outstanding new contributors, including alchemists from North America, Europe, Australasia, and around the world;

• Public conversations and dialogue about alchemical literature, philosophy and lifestyle;

• New publishing projects, including special thematic issues and anthologies; and

• Fresh initiatives and events, including alchemical lectures, workshops and gatherings.

The following is a modified note from the publishers:

Alchemy Journal seeks Patrons in order to continue to publish its high quality periodical which both honors and preserves the alchemical tradition.

We receive no financial support whatsoever from the International Alchemy Guild, and draw no salary or remuneration via our publication of the Journal. We cover only the production costs associated with each issue.

The opportunity remains for you to stand alongside the likes of renowned occultist, author and publisher Stephen Skinner; nature pharmacist Gabriel Quinn Maroney of Arcane Alchemy; Jungian analyst and author Stanton Marlan; and alchemist and magus Rubaphilos Salfluere of Heredom Group – the first four Patrons of Alchemy Journal.

We thank them for their gracious support, and hope you also may wish to support alchemical publishing via Patronage. However small or large, any contribution is welcome.

You also may know of other individuals or organizations with an interest to support Alchemy Journal’s Patronage Program, and we encourage you to please share the details of this program with others. Patronage of Alchemy Journal can be of an individual or organizational nature, and starts from as little as $250 (the Patronage Level of the majority of our Patrons to date). Patrons will be acknowledged prominently within Alchemy Journal and on its website, for their gracious financial support.

Please do let us know if you are interested in becoming a Patron of Alchemy Journal, and we can discuss options further. (We are flexible!)

We thank you for considering Patronage of Alchemy Journal, and look forward to your response.

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To become a Patron of Alchemy Journal send an e-mail to

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

‘Passing the baton’

Magpie file photo
Mike Lakat and Bud York, both Past Grand Commanders,
greet SK Thurman Pace.

For 43 years, Thurman C. Pace, Jr. has presided in the East of Trinity Commandery when conferring the Order of the Temple, but last night was his swansong. (Actually there was one exception last November when Grand Master Billy Koon paid an Official Visit to confer the Order.) He has been retiring, gradually, from various Masonic duties in recent years, and while he certainly remains very active, he believes it is best to “pass the baton” – or sword, as the case may be – to a new generation.

Thurman is a Past Commander of Trinity Commandery No. 17 in Westfield, New Jersey; a Past Northeast Department Commander; and an Honorary Past Grand Master of Grand Encampment. And he is a past grand or past supreme of almost everything else in Masonry in the United States. I am not able to list every capacity in which he has served the Craft, but I cannot resist pointing out how there are Rosicrucian colleges in France and Portugal named in his honor.

Naturally, it was he who knighted me when I received the Order of the Temple in 2000. “It’s great to see another Rose Croix man!” he said, greeting me upon being knighted. One of the few truly indelible memories in my Masonic life.

The Magpie Mason was unable to attend the ceremony last night, so these are file photos from the Magpie Archives.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Heather Calloway

‘Vivat!’The wait staff at Bloomfield Steak and Seafood House didn’t know what to make of this party of 25 and its seven ritualistic toasts, but the food kept coming: platters of stuffed mushrooms, pasta, calamari, clams, mussels; bowls of salad; plates of steak, salmon, chicken; pitchers of Sam Adams Winter Lager; bottles of wine; trays of desserts; pots of coffee.... We’ll get used to them, if they get used to us.

Another Worshipful Master in New Jersey who is exiting office on a high note is W. Bro. Franklin Suco at Nutley Lodge No. 25. Franklin is a Mason who works hard to broaden the horizons of his brethren by shedding light on ritual and symbol to communicate the meaning of Masonry. And he isn’t afraid of borrowing from other Masonic rites to enhance these lessons. His year in the East included about ten lecturers, the last of whom was Heather K. Calloway, Director of Special Programs for the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, at the House of the Temple in Washington.

Heather, with laptop and projector at hand, screened her Powerpoint presentation titled “The Masonic Traveler,” taking us on a busy tour of significant Masonic sites and sights from Britain to Bluefield, West Virginia. (With good humor, her first photo showed... Nutley Lodge. This dinner-lecture was a fundraiser for the lodge’s building fund.) These unique locations vary in their reasons for importance – architecture, history, collections of artifacts and archives, je ne sais quoi, etc. – yet are equals, like dots just waiting to be connected in the travelogue of... well, a Masonic traveler. And travel broadens one’s horizons, ergo her presence.

Our tour included a pint or three at Freemason’s Arms, coincidentally located across the street from the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England in Covent Garden. I wonder if the brethren go there.

Some of the brethren are still bending their elbows at the restaurant as this late night edition of The Magpie Mason goes to press, but your correspondent is dutifully at the keyboard, not even meekly curious about the Two Large he invested this afternoon in Miguel Cotto’s unstoppable career!

It was a great night. Calloway took us to the grand lodges of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York, since these three are the first logical destinations of Masons in this area. But we soon found ourselves in New Mexico (her native state) at the grand lodge, and also in Taos for a quick tour of Bent Lodge No. 42. This lodge room has a beautiful Southwestern décor, making the room simultaneously look otherworldly but still as instantly recognizable as any lodge appointed in a federal style. This was Kit Carson’s lodge, and a sizable collection of Carson memorabilia is on hand here.

Heather’s Masonic journey began during her childhood in New Mexico. Her grandfather was a Mason, and her dad was Grand Master in 1991 and serves as Grand Secretary now, instilling an interest in the Masonic Order that she brought to college, adding the study of Freemasonry to her theology course load. And conversely, her various university degrees, including a Master’s in Library Science, make her ideally suited for her career at the House of the Temple where, in true non-profit fashion, she fills multiple roles that have nothing in common except that somebody has to do them. (Exactly the kind of opportunity The Magpie Mason covets, except I know they’d never let me smoke in there.)

We’re still in New Mexico, now at the Scottish Rite Valley of Santa Fe (Sean Graystone’s Valley), where Heather’s wedding was held. Pretty cool. Next, it’s the Valley of Denver, then on to Guthrie, Oklahoma where she once abandoned her father during a visit, so enthralled was she by the endless sights to see at the Valley famous for conferring 29 A&ASR degrees in exhausting four-day marathons.

Junior Warden Dave, left, and Senior Warden Dalton debate the architectural style of the pillars lining the Valley of Guthrie. ‘They’re Ironic, I tells ya.’ ‘No, you murgatroyd, dey’re Adoric!’

Then we’re in El Paso, followed by the Grand Lodge of California in San Francisco. Suddenly we’re on Great Queen Street in London before heading north to Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Turns out there’s a little Masonic lodge just down the road from the Sinclairs’ famous enigma. Then, it’s on to Hibbing, Minnesota; and New Orleans; and Coos Bay, Oregon. Before we could even think of unpacking, we had arrived at the House of the Temple, John Russell Pope’s recreation of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

A Past Most Wise Master myself, I had to shoot a photo of this Rose Croix apron Heather showed us from the House of the Temple collections. Below: an apron from the 1790s, one of the oldest on hand at H.O.T. (That’s Thurman in the foreground.)

The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite is undertaking a $70 million fundraising campaign to finance massive renovations and modernizations to the House of the Temple. Individuals, lodges, valleys, foundations – everyone – can make gifts in support of this urgent effort to ensure this priceless landmark and national treasure will be inherited by generations yet to be born. Bequests are great, but the funds are needed now so please make a timely impact.

Pythagoras taught that standing to drink and sitting to eat allowed for proper digestion, a practice adopted at Nutley Lodge...

...although I am at a loss to explain why Tiler Clarence is standing on his chair.

Right: Past Master Anthony demonstrates correct chair usage, sometimes called ‘The Secrets of the Chair.’

‘Why, I oughtta...’Heather fields another question from Dave.

Utterly ignoring The Magpie Mason’s staff photographer, Franklin presents Heather a recognition award in thanks for her hard work tonight.

Franklin, congratulations on a wonderful year! Heather it was great seeing you in New Jersey and having a chance to chat. Cannot wait for Masonic Week!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Alpha hosts MW Hughes

Worshipful Master David Lindez, left, introduces MW Thomas R. Hughes, Sr., Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New Jersey at Alpha Lodge last night. The Grand Master was the ‘closing act’ on a very busy 2009 calendar of lectures and educational programs at Alpha.

The Regular Communication last night of historic Alpha Lodge No. 116 made for a superbly fitting crescendo to the ever heightening excitement and purpose that have been felt all year long. It was the final meeting of Alpha with W. Bro. David Lindez in the East; his remaining responsibility is to have his duly elected successor properly installed – and without putting too fine a point on it, he’s got that under control! (It’s been a pretty busy year for David, with a Master’s Degree completed and a new job begun.)

David’s capstone took the form of a big showing of brethren from the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New Jersey – and I mean about 45 guys! – accompanying their Grand Master, MW Thomas R. Hughes, Sr., the guest speaker for the evening.

“How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity....” Well they come from all over the world to dwell at Alpha, but there is a special friendship between the Masons of Alpha 116 and the Masons of Prince Hall New Jersey. Visitations of Prince Hall brethren to Alpha is not at all unusual, and official visits of entire PHA grand lines seem to have become an annual occurrence there. It is impossible not to appreciate these visits because dozens of Masons arrive, and the fraternal bonding ensues en masse, and what I notice particularly is how Masons who never even met before start chatting like they’re picking up a conversation that left off 20 years ago. I suppose it’s like a family reunion for a very large family.

Grand Master Hughes’ topic of discussion was the role of Freemasonry in the African-American community, and he gave us a frank talk that covered truths of both spiritual and historical natures. A less talented speaker could have resorted to an informative, but not truly effective, speech on treasured PHA Masons who contributed mightily to their fellow men – “The Famous Masons Speech” – and MW Bro. Hughes did touch on that, but he had a greater philosophical point to make: Where will the Freemasons of the next generation come from? His is not necessarily a grim forecast, but he is not unrealistic about the direction undertaken by society at large as regards the value placed on family, education, and morality.

Alternating between commiseration and humor, Hughes lamented how men “who look just like us” live in a world of crime and degradation; how counterproductive “No Child Left Behind” legislation sometimes needs to be replaced with a “Child Left With No Behind” policy; and how having a president “who looks just like us” does not mean there is no more work to be done in the home, in the schools, and in the streets. It was a rousing speech dotted with personal asides, like the wry tale of how he managed to lose both his 33° ring and his wedding band(!); and a joyful reunion with a former college classmate who happens to be a Past Master at Alpha; and even the startling revelation that Hughes is a descendant of Daniel Tompkins, the first Sovereign Grand Commander of the AASR, Governor of New York, and Vice President of the United States. (Coincidentally, New York Freemasonry had taken part in the rededication of Tompkins’ gravesite on Monday morning.)

I cannot emphasize enough the appropriateness – and I mean the tailoring for a perfect fit – of this particular address on this specific evening. Longtime Magpie readers have been following the events at Alpha of 2009, a full schedule of lectures that took the brethren on an intellectual and spiritual grand tour: Tim Wallace-Murphy visited to tell us how the unresolved mysteries of Rosslyn Chapel can be understood as the gnostic missing links connecting the Knights Templar to Freemasonry. Bro. Oliver taught us that some Masonic degrees in the world are treasured inviolable paths toward a communion with God. Alpha brethren themselves took turns exchanging their personal speculations of ritual and symbol, achieving poignant insights that were developed even further during the electrifying post-lecture discussions. And that ain’t the half of it. And in conclusion, last night, MW Hughes brought us full circle – a return to operative roots, if you will – with plain talk about the real world and the need for Freemasonry to take up its tools and starting building anew.

‘Under your present escort’ – Alpha Lodge receives Grand Master Hughes. Do not adjust your monitor. The air was thick with incense in Alpha Lodge last night.

I told the Worshipful Master today that from my seat in the west of the lodge room, where I could hear the brethren’s softly spoken replies to many of Hughes’ points, that it felt like a Sunday morning at St. Matthew AME in Orange. (No, you may not ask me why I’ve spent Sunday mornings listening to Reggie Jackson.)

Both Hughes and RW Charles Brown, Senior Grand Warden, received honorific parchments from W. Lindez. Then the lodge was closed with the bang of a gavel wielded by Hughes, Lindez, and RW Al Wright, PDDGM. The brethren headed downstairs for a feast and further fellowship.

David, you made it!

As above: Bro. Taoman, W. David, and Bro. Carlos.
As below: The brethren at the agape feast.


Monday, November 9, 2009

‘Compass and Compassion’

For 28 years, a barrier made of cheap concrete mixed with rocks stood as a dividing line between West and East. You see, while nobody wanted to travel from West to East, everybody wanted to travel from East to West. But traveling, whether to receive wages or anything else, was not to be where stood the Berlin Wall.

All I really want to say on this 20th anniversary of the breaching of that prison fence is 1) Thank God! and 2) Let Freemasons everywhere consider the Compasses as a symbol.

The national emblem of the German Democratic Republic includes the hammer and compass, a variation of the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle. Germany was a much more advanced society than backward Russia, so the compass of science made more sense as a national symbol than the obsolete agricultural hand tool.

Of course Freemasonry has Compasses too. Ritually they remind us to circumscribe our passions and to practice secrecy; the Senior Deacon conveys this message to the aspirant, getting to the point right away. One employs the Compasses to draw the circle wherein one stands at its center, never to materially err. As one of the Three Great Lights of Masonry, the Compasses join the Square and the VSL to illumine our world. The legs of the Compasses are elevated with each progressively heightened state of consciousness from First Degree to Third. And so, in the hands of Masonic man, the Compasses embody freedom of thought, freedom of association, morality, and our God-centered psychology with its Light to which we draw nearer.

The Short Talk Bulletin of May 1924 says:

How to use the Compasses is one of the finest of all arts, asking for the highest skill of a Master Mason. If he is properly instructed, he will rest one point in the innermost center of his being, and with the other draw a circle beyond which he will not go, until he is ready and able to go farther. Against the littleness of his knowledge he will set the depth of his desire to know, against the brevity of his earthly life the reach of his spiritual hope. Within a wise limit he will live and labor and grow, and when he reaches the outer rim of the circle he will draw another, and attain to a full-orbed life, balance, beautiful, and finely poised. No wise man dare forget the maxim “In nothing too much,” for there are situations where a word too much, a step too far, means disaster. If he has a quick tongue, a hot temper, a dark mood, he will apply the Compasses, shut his weakness within the circle of his strength, and control it.

In the hands of the communists of East Germany however, the compass represented authoritarian control, the forceful contorting of the human will to gratify the tyrant’s designs for society.

In the hands of the totalitarian commissars of East Berlin, the compass was a tool to brutally crush freedom, brotherhood, equality, truth, science, philosophy, and humanity in the name of constructing a world devoid of Faith and Hope and Charity.

In the hands of the East German Communists, the only masonry possible with their compass was that ghostly, ghastly gray concrete wall that divided Berlin.

Light shines from the West.

It was twenty years ago today that Light breached that wall. As we say in the Chapter of Rose Croix: “May we commit ourselves anew to the high task of building a nobler world of freedom and justice for God and humanity. ‘As you would that men should do unto you, do you even so unto them.’ So may the Light that never fails, the Love that never forgets, and the Life that never ends, illumine our world.”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

‘Another Feast Day’

Mustn’t let the day end without noting how the eighth of November is the Feast Day of the Four Crowned Martyrs.

The feast days celebrated in Freemasonry are those dedicated to St. John the Baptist (June 24) and St. John the Evangelist (December 27), but there are others that have a historical significance to the Masonic Order, even if rarely acknowledged or understood.

What connects the Four Crowned Martyrs to Freemasonry is the first of what are called the Old Charges, a corpus of about 130 manuscripts that state Masonic principles or other defining characteristics, like ritual elements, and that date between c.1390 and c.1710. That first manuscript goes by two names: the Regius Poem (or Regius Manuscript) and the Halliwell Manuscript. It is believed to be the work of two monastic scribes, and is said to date to anywhere between 1390 and 1450. Its two names derive from the fortuitous circumstance of its discovery, which I’ll describe below.

But first, what makes this document unique among Old Charges is that it is written in verse, and that it is written in a form of English known from the 1400s.

To that I would add only that the word “mote,” as in “so mote it be,” which Masons say in affirmation of prayer, is found at the end of this poem in a rhyming pair of octameter lines:

“Amen! Amen! So mote it be!
So say we all for charity.”

The entire poem of 794 lines, in its original language and in modern English, can be read here.

This “poem of moral duties” was unknown for centuries, being included among the many documents in the library of noted collector Charles Theyer. This library became owned by King George II, who turned it over to the British Museum in the mid 18th century where it became part of the King’s Library (ergo the name Regius Poem/Manuscript). It was discovered, studied, and, in 1840, published by James Halliwell (ergo the name Halliwell MS), who, although not a Freemason, recognized its significance to the Masonic Order.

A remarkable turn of events.

But who were the Four Crowned Martyrs?

Like so much in Freemasonry that frustrates the seeker of knowledge, there is no single definitive answer to that question. Instead there are two legends that differ in details but speak essentially a similar story. The Catholic Encyclopedia says:

The old guidebooks to the tombs of the Roman martyrs make mention... of the Four Crowned Martyrs (Quatuor Coronati), at whose grave the pilgrims were wont to worship. One of these itineraries, the “Epitome libri de locis sanctorum martyrum,” adds the names of the four martyrs (in reality five): “IV Coronati, id est Claudius, Nicostratus, Simpronianus, Castorius, Simplicitus.”

These are the names of five martyrs, sculptors in the quarries of Pannonia (now a part of Austria-Hungary, south-west of the Danube), who gave up their lives for their faith [during] the reign of Diocletian. The acts of these martyrs, written by a revenue officer named Porphyrius, probably in the fourth century, relates of the five sculptors that, although they raised no objections to executing such profane images as Victoria, Cupid, and the Chariot of the Sun, they refused to make a statue of Æsculapius for a heathen temple. For this they were condemned to death as Christians. They were put into leaden caskets and drowned in the River Save. This happened towards the end of 305.

The foregoing account of the martyrdom of the five sculptors of Pannonia is substantially authentic; but later on a legend sprang up at Rome concerning the Quatuor Coronati, according to which four Christian soldiers suffered martyrdom at Rome during the reign of Diocletian, two years after the death of the five sculptors. Their offence consisted in refusing to offer sacrifice to the image of Æsculapius. The bodies of the martyrs were interred at St. Sebastian and Pope Melchiades at the third milestone on the Via Labicana, in a sandpit where rested the remains of others who had perished for the faith.

Since the names of the four martyred soldiers could not be authentically established, Pope Melchiades commanded that, the date of their death (8 November) being the same as that of the Pannonian sculptors, their anniversary should be celebrated on that day, under the names of Sts. Claudius, Nicostratus, Symphorianus, Castor, and Simplicius....

On a closing note, on this date in 1884, the United Grand Lodge of England organized the first lodge of Masonic research and education in the world. The creation of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 coincided with the birth of the science of history – that is, the regard for factual accuracy determined by scholarly research that is reviewed by peers.

And the rest is history.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Alexandria at labor

MV Thurman Pace, with the fancy apron, is surrounded by the charter members of Alexandria Council No. 478 of Allied Masonic Degrees, which was set to labor Friday night. It is the third AMD council in New Jersey to receive a warrant from Grand Council this year!

That it shares the name of the city in Egypt that was home to the ancient world’s largest depository of knowledge, and the city in Virginia where the Grand Council of Allied Masonic Degrees meets is fortuitous, as Alexandria Council No. 478 of the AMD was set to labor Friday night!

M.V. Thurman C. Pace, Jr., Past Sovereign Grand Master of the AMD, convened an emergent communication of Grand Council, appointing Bro. Moises as Marshal, to constitute this new council. With that legality achieved, it was time to install the council’s officers, which V. Franklin did himself. For the most part, Alexandria’s members are Master Masons at Nutley Lodge No. 25.

Left: the warrant of Alexandria Council No. 478.

Right: V. Suco reads the document aloud for the edification of the brethren.

The ritual formalities accomplished, it was time for dinner. Our appetites had been primed by a round of – well, not exactly aperitifs, but suitable beverages. (You can rely on us to get that right!) Appetizers of lobster and clam bisques, the best calamari I’ve ever tasted, and the house salad with a nice vinaigrette might have been enough to sustain us, but we weren’t about to take any chances with an occasion so auspicious, and we forged ahead to truly wonderful entrées of beef, fish, and pasta.

While dining, the presentation of papers commenced, and it was a full slate worthy of New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education itself! Five of the brethren submitted their research work for peer review, with topics varying from history to biography to symbolism to – what I consider to be – the language of the Great Architect of the Universe Himself.

Junior Warden Dave began with a detailed history of the Allied Masonic Degrees, describing the founding of Grand Council and the assimilation of AMD’s many degrees into the large corpus of Masonic rituals worked in the United States. Thurman took the liberty of supplementing Dave’s talk with information on the origins of the AMD in England.

Next, Bro. Moises, of DaVinci Council, discussed the life and times of Daniel Coxe, who is remembered as the first Provincial Grand Master in North America, having received his deputation from the Duke of Norfolk of the Grand Lodge of England in 1730. He was a member of Lodge No. 8, which met at the Devil’s Tavern in London, and went on to receive extensive land grants in what was called West Jersey.

Senior Warden José discussed elements of Craft lodge symbolism. No need to reveal that on-line.

Junior Deacon Hansel, also of the soon-to-be chartered Daniel Coxe Council, gave us a biography of Thomas Smith Webb, the entrepreneurial ritualist of the 18th and 19th centuries who did much of the work toward establishing what we call the York Rite of Freemasonry, within which the AMD is tucked away. He died in 1819; a ritualist to the very end (and beyond!) his remains were buried no fewer than three times over the years. Thurman was present at the dedication of the most recent gravesite monument, an obelisk, in Providence, Rhode Island.

Last, but certainly not least, the new Sovereign Master gave his inaugural presentation, a PowerPoint production illustrating the many fascinating aspects of what is alternately known in Sacred Geometry as the Golden Ratio, Golden Mean, the Fibonacci Sequence, Phi, Golden Number, Divine Proportion, et al.

This is the ratio of 1:1.618, and it figures into so much of nature – from the shape of human DNA to the shells of snails, and the petals of marigolds – that it is not unreasonable to see this irrational number as a code or language with which God endeavors to communicate with man. When Plato said “God forever geometrizes,” he was talking about this, and it is essential for the thinking Freemason to possess a working understanding of this aspect of geometry. And in the works of man, our art and architecture, this mathematical wonder delivers designs that are the most pleasing to the eye. Whether we realize it or not, when we enjoy the fine arts, and even certain performing arts, we behold the Divine Proportion.

V. Franklin Suco, inaugural Sovereign Master of Alexandria Council, gave a PowerPoint presentation on one of the most important, yet rarely discussed, topics in Freemasonry: the Golden Ratio.

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From left: Don, Mark, José, and John are just about to set upon their entrées. The food at Bloomfield Steak and Seafood is exceptional in quality and abundant in flavor.

The building the restaurant calls home is a historic site dating to 1670. The wall behind the brethren here is a buttress attesting to architecture of that era. Originally a private residence, it is one of the oldest buildings in New Jersey.

Bloomfield Steak and Seafood House is an ideal choice of venue for Masonic meetings, not only because it returns us somewhat to our roots in the taverns, but the story of this particular building is amazing, and even involves some notable Freemasons.

Here is how the Township of Bloomfield describes the site in its literature:

Back in the 1600s, they built for longevity. Take for instance the Joseph Davis House, now the Bloomfield Steak & Seafood House, at 409 Franklin Street. The house was built long before the introduction of cement and yet, “it will likely last 1,000 years,” said Ann Hardy, chairperson of the Historic District Review Board. The main walls are two feet thick at base and the cellar walls measure eight to 10 feet thick.

The Davis house is a monument to the early history of Bloomfield, the oldest of the town’s pre-Revolutionary War homes. It is listed on both the state and national historic registers, which do not dictate uses of listed properties. The home is used as a restaurant and no part of it is open for touring, but, “externally, you can still tell it is a very old house,” said Hardy. “It’s one of many houses in Bloomfield that have become different things over time.”

Built by Thomas Davis in 1670, the house was occupied by his descendants until 1903. It has been associated with many historic events:

• During the Revolution, a tunnel in the cellar ran to the foot of Orange Mountain and was used by women and children to escape the British.

• A wounded English soldier was taken in by the Davis family and nursed back to health. To show his appreciation, the soldier built the well that still remains on the property, and hewed the stone wash basin that sits next to the well.

• General George Washington and General Henry Knox stopped at the homestead for directions to Morristown and were entertained for dinner. (Magpie Note: Both were Freemasons.)

• In the late 1700s, when the home was occupied by Deacon Joseph Davis, worship services were regularly held in the house. Otherwise, the closest churches were in Newark or Orange. In 1796, when the First Presbyterian Church on the green was built, Deacon Davis, a founding member, provided, for the sum of eight pounds, the land on which the church still stands.

• The charter of Bloomfield was signed in the house’s “beam ceiling room” by General Joseph Bloomfield in 1796. A group of citizens meeting at the home named the town after Bloomfield, who was a New Jersey governor and Revolutionary War officer.

During the past two centuries, the Davis Homestead has been a farmhouse, hospital, church and restaurant. Only a handful of property transfers has occurred since Revolutionary War times, but what a tale the building tells from its early days!

There had been a Masonic lodge in Bloomfield for generations. Bloomfield Lodge No. 48 was chartered on November 9, 1824. It surrendered its charter exactly six years later, a victim no doubt of the Morgan scandal, but was revived in January of 1856 as No. 40. It no longer exists (it is part of the lineage of Essex Lodge No. 7), but it had been located on the corner of Broad and Liberty streets, practically right across the street from this restaurant.

Bro. Joseph Bloomfield of Trenton Lodge No. 5, was among the founders of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey, serving as its fifth Grand Master. During the Revolution, he was a major in the Third New Jersey Regiment. After the war, he served the state as attorney general (1783-92) before resuming military service as a brigadier general of militia. He served as governor of New Jersey for most of the time between 1801 and 1812, but upon the outbreak of war with Britain again, he served as brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

He returned to government service after that war, representing New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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The chartering of Alexandria Council is a wonderful occurrence, but it marks the end of something else that was very special. Since August of 2007, some of these brethren and I met as a private Masonic study group called Quadrivium. Inspired by the mission and the structure of the Dormer Masonic Study Circle in the United Kingdom, our Quadrivium was an invitational group that would meet in different locations every couple of months to hear the members’ research work and enjoy dinner together. Why Masons must meet in near secrecy to do the work they should be doing in lodge is beyond the maw of my ken.

Anyway, part of me had hoped that this group would evolve eventually into a special lodge that would adopt some of the traits of European Concept and/or Traditional Observance lodges. Select membership, excellent ritual, meaningful education in both esoteric and exoteric matters, fine dining, and other aspects that raise the bar to make Masonry a worthy pursuit of serious men.

“It is great to be among friends and brethren in Masonic work,” said V. Suco. “If you don’t know, we have been meeting in private for more than two years. That, plus, Royal Arch, [Cryptic] Council, Commandery, Pennsylvania, Alexandria [Virginia], and New York – we’ve traveled a lot!”

MV Pace echoed that. “It’s great to see a lot of friends here!” he said. “We need a council in this area.”

It was a busy night that exceeded even The Magpie Mason’s endurance, as after the festivities a number of the brethren retired to the bar for drinks. It was a perfect evening of Masonic Light and fellowship and dining. The air was nearly electric with what the brethren at Sons of Liberty call “The Bond,” that hard-to-define essence of group friendship rooted in something that is simultaneously ethereal yet deeply substantial. Or substantially deep.

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s Freemasonry, but you don’t see it everywhere. I do not sense its presence in lodges that might as well trade their aprons for funny hats.

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Magpie readers, I point this out to show what it is that confronts the thinking Mason, and the fundamental reason why the “education Mason” feels the need to retreat from his lodge to have an intelligent conversation with like-minded brethren. (That certainly is not the case at Nutley 25. I am speaking generally.)

The following is a mass e-mail circulated last week.


Have we lost ourselves in the pursuit of historical research and lost touch with our professed love of our neighbor?...

Let us stop looking within our history and concentrate on DOING UNTO OTHERS! Help someone see the LIGHT OF OUR BROTHERLY LOVE and return those feelings threefold! ACT AND GIVE OF OURSELVES to receive the realization of others that we give of ourselves without thinking of a return. EXCEPT maybe a HUG or a joyful handshake.

History, Books, and the internet are inward thinking and will always be with us. The thought of my old music teacher Mrs. Jones who propounded the idea of G D A E B F = Good Deeds are Ever Beaxring Fruit.

Please do not ask me why so many Masons are so afraid of learning, or why this one believes a man is incapable of reading books and helping others during the same lifetime, but I cite the above to illustrate what thinking Masons are up against. There are those who do not want you wasting time learning about the huge ideas and great men that comprise Masonic history and philosophy when you ought to be limiting yourself to upholding the 1960 model of Masonry as cute, bland service club.

The mantra I repeat to all of the new AMD councils in New Jersey is Guard the West Gate!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

American Lodge of Research

The elected officers of American Lodge of Research for 2009.

It was another fine meeting of American Lodge of Research Thursday night, with brethren elected to membership, officers elected to their 2010 stations, and a very useful paper delivered. ALR meets three nights per year, in March, October, and December. It is the oldest lodge of Masonic research and education in the United States, receiving its warrant from the Grand Lodge of New York in 1931.

The secretary’s desk was a busy sight. It was announced that the new book of transactions, with research papers presented in 2007, was published recently, and that copies have been mailed to the members. The next book will cover both 2008 and 2009, and will be out next year.

In the new members department, two worthy brethren were elected to Active Membership, which is achieved by those who do the work of the lodge: writing and presenting papers. W. Bro. Philippe of Heritage Lodge No. 371, and W. Bro. Gilbert Ferrer, Master of Shakespeare Lodge No. 750 have been immortalized! And a good thing too, because Gil was to be the speaker for the evening.

Among those elected to Corresponding Membership was Bro. Luther from Cornerstone Lodge No. 37, who might actually learn about this good news by reading The Magpie Mason. Surprise!

And, as always, there were plenty of familiar and friendly faces. Aside from WM Bill Thomas and his officers, there were John Simon-Ash, Mark Koltko-Rivera, and John Mauk Hilliard, one of the deans of Masonic education in the United States, who dutifully took the vacant Senior Master of Ceremonies chair. And also Bro. Alessandro (with short hair!), and Bro. Frank, and about 35 others.

One cannot attend lodge at 23rd Street without being dazzled by the diversity of regalia on display. My unofficial Magpie Apron Award for the evening goes to the young Mason who was sporting a most elegant apron from a Scottish Constitution lodge he joined in Belgium while serving in the U.S. Army attached to NATO.

But on to the paper for the evening. W. Bro. Ferrer, an attorney by profession, employed his expertise in both logic and rhetoric to illustrate the illogic and incoherence of anti-Masons, particularly the fundamentalist Christian sort indigenous to the United States who appear on the John Ankerberg Show.

If you’re familiar with fundamentalist Christian anti-Masons, then you know how they operate:

They present themselves as the experts on Masonry; and since they all are in agreement on their opinions, then those opinions are facts; and therefore it is up to Masonry to defend itself. And of course there are numerous instances of jerking quotations out of context, and of citing obscure writings as popularly accepted texts for Masonic education purposes.

For example, the characters studied by Ferrer had mailed questionnaires to 50 grand lodges in the United States. Half replied to the questionnaire. Of those 25, a total of four stated that Albert Pike’s widely distributed (but frankly, rarely read) tome Morals and Dogma was a valid source of Masonic information. Therefore, they cite M&D as a kind of Masonic bible and, naturally, they use its index to find all kinds of scary ideas to misquote or otherwise abuse to alarm their legions of the dangers of Freemasonry.

Yes, these people still exist in 2009. In the United States.

Here is one quotation from M&D that especially frightens the antis:

Masonry, around whose altars the Christian, the Hebrew, the Moslem, the Brahmin, the followers of Confucius and Zoroaster, can assemble as brethren and unite in prayer to the one God who is above all the Baalim, must needs leave it to each of its initiates to look for the foundation of his faith and hope to the written scriptures of his own religion. For itself it finds those truths definite enough, which are written by the finger of God upon the heart of man and on the pages of the book of nature. Views of religion and duty, wrought out by the meditations of the studious, confirmed by the allegiance of the good and wise, stamped as sterling by the response they find in every uncorrupted mind, commend themselves to Masons of every creed, and may well be accepted by all.

In the Temple Room at the House of the Temple in Washington stands this massive altar of black and gold marble. (It’s bigger than my car.) Upon it rest copies of the volumes of sacred law of the world’s major religions.

W. Ferrer performed an expert job of demolishing not only the thoughtless opinions held by this particular strain of anti-Mason, but also the very methods it employs to form those opinions. These antis seize a similarity Masonry might share with, say, sun worship, to draw the conclusion that Masonry is sun worship. They rely on non-sequiturs to connect dots that otherwise never could be connected to claim that Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity. They cite the fate of William Morgan in 1826, an aberration in Masonic history, to paint Freemasonry as a secret society that threatens the very existence of America in 2009.

The paper sparked a lively discussion afterward, with the brethren sharing many ideas varying from suggested readings to articulate replies to this form of anti-Masonry. It was Bro. Alessandro of Mariners Lodge No. 67 who simply pointed out that the question is not “Is Freemasonry compatible with Christianity?” (it certainly is), but “Is this form of Christianity compatible with Freemasonry?” (it certainly is not).

WM Bill Thomas called on brethren around the room who had raised their hands waiting to speak, and the conversation shifted from how one benighted group views Freemasonry to how Freemasons view Freemasonry. It is a great debate within Freemasonry about its own identity: Is Masonry nothing more than a host of spaghetti dinner fundraisers or is it a private society of exceptional men exploring the great mysteries of human existence?

W. Bro. Sam from Mariners suggested that Masonry is not a “secret society” because a secret is learned but once, whereas a mystery is gradually explored through continuous search. Bro. Mark Koltko-Rivera, who appeared on television this afternoon on the Discovery Channel’s Hunting the Lost Symbol, asserted “we really do have secrets. Secrets are forbidden to be spoken; they are ineffable. We hold our rituals in confidentiality, and no one has the right – in the United States of America – to criticize us for it!”

The next Regular Communication of American Lodge of Research will be Monday, December 28 when the newly elected officers will be installed. The inaugural paper of the new Worshipful Master, Bro. P.F. De Ravel D’esclapon, is titled “The History of French Lodges in New York City, 1760 to 1800.”

(I’m looking forward to hearing this paper. The francophone side of the Grand Lodge of New York, such as L’Union Française Lodge No. 17 – are there others? – is of particular interest to The Magpie Mason. Somewhere in the back of my mind is the goal of introducing these lodges to La Maison Française at NYU. French House maintains a limitless schedule of literary readings, fine arts exhibits, symposia, and other cultural happenings in support of French culture, and I hope to bring the subject of Freemasonry to its attention. French Freemasonry’s past, present, and future offer a lot to talk about! The arts, politics, faith, and other subjects could be starting points toward innumerable discussions. I’m digressing myself a bit too much here.)

Brethren, make an evening of it. Before the meeting be sure to duck into the Limerick House next door for dinner. After the meeting, the brethren take their time saying good night, preferring to mingle in the lodge room and hallway to chat. The stalwarts head out for cocktails.

And there is more to ALR than its meetings. WM Thomas has taken the lodge “on the road” somewhat this year, hosting the sojourning Prestonian Lecturers and taking them to Albany. And he was a recent guest lecturer at Nutley Lodge No. 25 in New Jersey. And don’t forget the occasional social function at the Cigar Inn!