Thursday, December 17, 2009

Masonic Society Journal No. 6

Issue No. 6 of The Journal of the Masonic Society is arriving in members’ mailboxes now. It is another fine edition, as members should expect, featuring:

Restructuring American Freemasonry, Part I – by Mark Tabbert is a compilation of very thoughtful ideas on ways to improve the organizational side of Freemasonry, streamlining bureaucracy and modernizing the ways Craft Masonry functions at the lodge level, the district level, and the grand jurisdiction level.

The Order of the Royal Ark Mariner in England – by Yasha Beresiner is a concise history of the highly symbolic degree’s origins.

In What’s Wrong With This Symbol? Rex Hutchens scrutinizes Dan Brown’s new bestselling novel, and itemizes the errors and omissions he finds most egregious.

Assistant Editor Randy Williams’ Beyond the Tracing Board takes the brethren outside the lodge and into a private study group for Masonic education, replacing “short talks” with three-hour group discussions.

Plus, there are reports of current events from around the world; opinion pieces; upcoming conferences, symposia, and the like; Masonic fiction; and more, including this report from the Magpie Mason of a recent banquet in New Jersey:

Three Prestonian Lecturers walk into a bar....

It was nearly as simple as that set-up despite this event being the very first time three Prestonian Lecturers would share a podium. The plan was hatched this past spring, when Trevor Stewart, deputy master of Lodge Sir Robert Moray No. 1641, one of Scotland’s lodges of Masonic research, pitched the idea to Thurman Pace as a fundraiser to benefit the local 32° Masonic Learning Center for Children in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Pace, an Active Emeritus member of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, was all ears.

The Prestonian Lecture is a tradition in English Freemasonry established in 1818, funded by a bequest from William Preston. Every year, the United Grand Lodge of England selects one outstanding scholar to travel throughout the jurisdiction and deliver his Prestonian Lecture; sometimes the lecturer will travel abroad. William Preston of course is the famous Mason credited with having compiled the Craft Lodge rituals used in much of the English-speaking Masonic world to this day.

More of an editor than an author, Preston assembled ritual elements used in his day, and published the landmark book Illustrations of Masonry, which went into multiple printings to meet the demand of the many Masons of 18th century England who desired an aid to the memory and a serious work of scholarship to guide them in their labors. While there is no standard or official ritual in England, Preston’s work is still influential throughout England; his impact is even more notable in the United States, where there practically is a general format of Craft ritual, one sometimes known as Preston-Webb, named for both Preston and Thomas Smith Webb, the American ritualist of the 19th century who fashioned the ceremonies nearly all jurisdictions in the Untied States work today, differentiated by only minor variances.

Our speakers on September 12 were Stewart, who was Prestonian Lecturer in 2004; Gordon Davie, who succeeded him in 2005; and John Wade, the Prestonian Lecturer for 2009. Wade didn’t know it when he committed to a trip across the Atlantic, but eventually his itinerary would expand into a busy speaking tour, taking him up and down the East Coast and the West Coast, and into Canada in less than two weeks.

Stewart’s presentation was a work in progress titled “Ripples in a Pool,” an exercise in research techniques intended to answer progressively probing questions. “It’s a key image,” he explained. “Think back to when you were a kid, throwing rocks into water, and seeing the ripples expanding out.”

“There are three different orders of questions,” he added. First there is the A-B-C narrative form that seeks to answer The Who, The What, The Where, and The When. “It’s a quite respectable way of proceeding, however if you want to make it more interesting, you need to go to No. 2: a panoramic, 360 degree view for context of The What. To go further – to ask general philosophical questions – we ask The Why.”

“I want to take you back to 1914,” he continued. Gustav Petrie was a coal industry executive who had co-founded a lodge in 1907, and was “greatly loved by his brethren.” Petrie was a native of Austria living and working in England when the Great War commenced. The Provincial Grand Master, Lord Ravensworth, ordered that all hailing from the Axis nations “should take their First Degree obligation seriously, and return to their native lands. Being the man he was, he resigned from the lodge. His resignation was received with regret.” Then it’s June 1914 at the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge with “a lot of Masonic blood being spilled.” The questions raised included: Could the widows and orphans of brethren from enemy nations benefit from Masonic charity? Could a Mason from an enemy nation resume his place in the officer line of an English lodge upon the cessation of hostilities? Are there occasions in matters of state that are incompatible with Freemasonry?

“Are there conflicts between one’s civic duties in carrying out lawful commands of properly instituted authority and one’s obligations as a Freemason?” Stewart said. “The case of Gustav Petrie seems to me to raise these fundamental questions.”

Petrie returned to Austria and served his country’s war effort. In 1920, after the war had ended, he returned to England for a visit. On the Continent, Petrie was a Swedish Rite Mason, meaning his lodge was German. In visiting his former English lodge, therefore, he was a German Mason entering a lodge where Masons had lost loved ones in the war, including one who lost his only son. “Gustav Petrie, a little man, came in and gave greetings to the Worshipful Master from his Blue Lodge and his St. Andrew’s Lodge... and he was greeted like a long lost friend.”

“It is tremendously reassuring on a number of levels,” said Trevor Stewart in conclusion. “When we talk about ‘Masonry universal,’ it’s not that everyone can be a Mason, but that when good men are Masons, good will and brotherhood will flourish, as we are all engaged in this one great enterprise. Gustav Petrie is of no great importance in the grand sweep of things, but certainly he has a lot to teach us.”

On the lighter side, Gordon Davie rose to speak on “The Grand Stewards and Their Lodge,” a very colorful history of a singular and historic lodge that will celebrate its 275th anniversary in 2010. To set the scene, he spoke of the Freemasonry in 1720s London: Prior to the Grand Lodge era, one would never attend a lodge where he wasn’t a member, but the advent of the Grand Lodge introduced the new concept of visiting other lodges. There were feasts at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House, a tradition borrowed from the Scots. “English Masonry was a ‘boozy do,’” Davie said, prompting raucous laughter from the brethren assembled. “If they were here today, they’d be mortified!” In 1724-25, there were 77 lodges in the city, with a total membership of 1,480. By the following year, no one wanted to become Grand Warden because there was too much work to do in organizing the feast. It was an expensive enterprise, and at one point it was decided to cut costs by eliminating one course of the meal. Wary of the expense, the Grand Lodge placed the entire financial responsibility on the Stewards who had to pay the deficit themselves if the event went over budget. “That really concentrates the mind brethren!” said Davie to a new fit of laughter. “That really concentrates the mind!”

But with great responsibility comes great reward. By 1735, it was decided to allow the Grand Stewards to select their own successors. “A powerful thing, brethren, isn’t it?” (The path to grand rank began with one’s appointment as a Grand Steward.) Special regalia – aprons, collars and jewels festooned with the color red, perhaps recalling the color of the wines served – was approved for the Grand Stewards. And reserved seating at the feasts, a luxury, but a fair benefit for those who paid the bill. And also in 1735, a lodge of Master Masons (remember most Masons of this era were Apprentices) called Stewards’ Lodge was entered on the roll of lodges, that later in the 18th century would be placed at the head of that list, but without a lodge number, an honor continued today.

Other highlights in the careers of the Grand Stewards include a feast in 1806, where 384 Masons sat down to dinner… and consumed 680 dozen bottles of wine! Later, a letter of complaint from the Prince of Wales objecting to the rowdiness of the meetings would result in removing walnuts from the menu… to deny certain brethren the projectiles they had thrown at the prince!

In 2010 it is expected that the Pro Grand Master will serve as Worshipful Master of Grand Stewards’ Lodge, ushering in a 275th year of, as Davie put it, “undiscovered sin.”

The main event was the current Prestonian Lecturer, John Wade, speaking on English Masonic processions from the 18th to the 20th centuries, in a paper titled “Go and Do Thou Likewise.” The title is borrowed from the King James Version of Luke 10:37, when Christ relates the parable of the Good Samaritan as the right thinking and right action rewarded with eternal life.

The religious imagery is not overdone in the context Wade presents. The honorific titles of Masonry, he explained, parallel those of church: Most Worshipful-Most Reverend. Right Worshipful-Right Reverend. Very Worshipful-Very Reverend. Worshipful-Reverend. But then Worshipful also has its civic purpose, as in the Worshipful Mayor of London. All of which fits Wade’s seven purposes of Masonic processions: the Annual Feast, foundation stone-laying ceremonies, formal dedications of new buildings, visits to the theater, church services, funerals, and public celebrations.

Illustrating his lecture with PowerPoint images and videos of newsreel footage and more, Wade recounted the history of Masonic processions through the centuries: the march in Scotland on a 17th century St. John the Evangelist Day (as told by Dr. James Anderson, whose accuracy is often doubted); the election of the Duke of Montagu as Grand Master in London in 1724, and many years of similar processions; and the darkly humorous mockeries of Masonry, which had the effect of temporarily ending genuine Masonic parades by brethren in the “Moderns” Grand Lodge. (The “Ancients” continued marching in public.) Sharing a fascinating turn of modern scholarship, Wade explained how the infamous “Scald Miserable Masons” processions of the early 1740s actually were intended to belittle and undermine the Whig government of Sir Robert Walpole, the vastly powerful prime minister. “These satirical attacks on Grand Lodge,” Wade said, citing the work of Dr. Andrew Pink of University College in London, “were in fact political stunts by the Patriot Opposition who were disaffected members of the Whig Party.” The funeral of James Anderson in 1739 was cause for a march. As was the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897; the foundation-stone laying at Central London Polytechnic in 1928; various provincial grand lodges’ ceremonies into the 1930s; and most recently, the Beamish foundation-stone ceremony in 2000, which drew 300 Masons to participate in a very rare modern practice of the tradition.

The three types of processions Wade outlined are: Display Processions, in which the brethren show themselves and their regalia; Ceremonial Processions, where Masons celebrate religious or civil occasions in public; and Building Processions, at which Freemasons demonstrate the operative origins of the Craft by inaugurating buildings. The effect is a profound lesson that annuls any notion that parades and processions are superfluous theatrics not connected to the lodge; that there is a public-private duality perhaps reminiscent of the checkered floor itself. “To describe Masonry exclusively as private and secretive is to ignore an important element not only in the way it understands itself, but in the way it has consistently adopted a public role,” Wade explained. “Freemasonry is both private and public, and we elevate one over the other at our peril. The integrity of Freemasonry lies in its reconciliation of what is private and what is public.”

“Processions are where we are most obviously in the public sphere,” Wade said in conclusion. “I suggest that we should explore the possibility of a return of these activities. I am concerned that, with regard to our public image, we have lost that civic association that we have had for hundreds of years. As we move further into the 21st century, we surely need to be proactive about our civic identity. For the man in the street, we should be demonstrating that we have a civic association with the community, and that we are not a secret society or private members’ club. Certainly we have our private space – and that is what distinguishes us from other charitable organizations – but we also have a rich heritage of moral integrity with its allegorical ceremonies and symbolism that has continued in unbroken tradition for close on 300 years. With such a sense of display, we can restore confidence in the genuine meaningfulness of what it is that makes us Masons.”

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