Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bro. Lightfoote, R.I.P.

The Magpie Mason just read the obituary of Bro. Andrew “Monty” Montgomery, the alter ego of Bro. Lightfoote, the brilliantly insightful diarist who recorded for posterity the doings of Stonic Lodge more than two centuries ago. Bro. Lightfoote’s Journal has appeared in “Freemasonry Today” magazine for years, and in fact has been the Magpie Mason’s first stop upon receipt of each new issue.

From the Winter 2008-09 issue:


We were all saddened to hear that our Deputy Editor, Andrew Montgomery, (Monty) died suddenly early November.

Monty was the author of our very popular series detailing the wayward life and masonic times of the worthy and worshipful Brother Lightfoote, who, according to a very early story, was responsible for the deep gash across the brow of the carved head of the apprentice in Rosslyn Chapel when he stumbled and inadvertently discharged his pistol. Monty received his education at the Royal Masonic School for Boys and gained an early love of Freemasonry. He was initiated into Old Masonians Lodge, No. 2700 and after taking his three Craft Degrees moved on to join Royal Arch, Mark, Royal Ark Mariners and Knights Templar.

Monty attended the Bournemouth College of Technology graduating in 1974 when he obtained a post with the BBC in Television production. Two years later he left the BBC and worked freelance beginning as an assistant director in the commercial film industry. He moved up through the production grades to end as a producer. During this period he spent time in Thailand, Brazil, Austria, Germany, the United States and Pakistan working on film projects. He stayed for some months in the same hotel in Peshawar as Osama bin Laden and had a number of conversations with him. At the same time journalists were reporting how difficult it was travelling far into the mountains to interview this supposedly elusive fighter. During the filming of an Arthurian epic, the Irish horsemen were unhappy about the long hours and what they considered to be low pay. Monty solved the situation by adding a risk payment: any riders who fell off their horses into the water during filming received an extra daily payment. Thereafter all the riders contrived to fall into the water at least once a day. Writing was one of Monty’s many talents and he scripted Porterhouse Blue and Demob for British television among other projects. At the time of his death he had just finished working on a new film project in Paris and Portugal.

Monty loved music and played well. He also loved classic cars. He wrote a coffee-table book on great American cars and the definitive book on General Motors’ iconic sports-car designed by the great Harley Earl, the Chevrolet Corvette. He also loved photography, especially purchasing old cameras and film on the internet and then using them to produce powerful and often emotional images. But his old Leica IIIf remained a favourite.

In 1989, while both were working on a Television series, Monty met his wife Fleur and she continues in the film industry as a leading art director.

Above all Monty loved life and always saw the humorous side. He held a compassionate view of humanity. He followed a spiritually informed and creative journey with great optimism and enjoyment. He is much missed.

Bro. Lightfoote’s Journal has been the humor section of the magazine, and each entry of the diary indeed has been hilarious, but it would be a mistake to not look beyond the wit and absurdity. “Many a true word is spoken in jest,” says the old English proverb, and it is proven in Lightfoote’s log. Rosslyn Chapel, the pyramids in Egypt, Templars, female initiates… nothing was above a good-natured and cleverly crafted jibe.

Here he explains the nature of Masonry’s degrees.

Moral rectitude: “I then reminded Brother Secretary that he had, more than once, been so inebriate at the cessation of festivities that it had taken the combined efforts of three, five, seven or more brethren to bear him home. Further, they had been constrained to assist him in the urgent matter of passing water in a public place. Brother Secretary, the while, keeping up a loud and spirited rendition of the Sailors' Song from Purcell's celebrated Dido and Aeneas with lyricks of his own invention that I shall not here record. Not only was Brother Secretary guilty of drunkenness, disorderliness and indecency, but half the lodge were accessories, before, during and after the fact!”

Stuart Masonry: “Gentlemen-at-Arms rushed forward, fearing that an attempt had been made on the life of His Royal Highness and I was pulled to my feet with pistol pointed at my head. The Prince, regaining his feet and straightening his clothes, demanded of me if I were a supporter of the Stuart cause. I replied, trying to make light of the incident, that I was merely a Comedy Jacobite! The man lacks humour, doubtless due to his German ancestry. I was led away. Fortunately I was released without charge but the incident has been widely reported and I have become the butt of many a ribald joke, principally at the Stonic Lodge where I am currently referred to as The Prince’s Truss.”

Tongue of Good Report: “A candidate for initiation has been proposed in the Stonic Lodge and this has caused great consternation. His name is Andrews, Nathaniel Andrews, and he is a rat catcher by trade. When his curriculum vitae was read out by his proposer, a fishmonger, there was a distinct and uncomfortable stirring in the ranks. A brother who considers himself a gentleman, but is in fact a lawyer, raised objection on the grounds that having a rat catcher in the lodge might lower the tone of our proceedings...

“Consider this: as we are not all operative masons, but rather free and accepted, or speculative, might we not ponder the possibility of free and accepted rat catchers and, indeed, speculative rats? Intolerance, injustice, intemperance and insolence are spread, like the foulest canker, from the middens of mean minds to infect humanity at large? Who resists? Who remains steadfast in the faith? Who cuts off the tales of those that tell tales and holds tight to the truth? We do, brethren. Thus are we rat catchers all, are we not?”

Fine dining: “I attended a Lodge meeting recently, having partaken, rather freely, I admit, of Casbon’s Cleansing Ale with a light luncheon at The Antlers Club (jugged hare, cold capon, pork pies, gooseberries & custard, Cheshire cheese), and enjoyed a glass or two of fine Hollands gin, together with some quite exquisite smoked eels, with my doctor in the afternoon. I arrived at the Yorick Tavern a little early, suffering from a bout of flatulence that was positively escharotic, to employ a medical term. What can have brought this on I cannot imagine but something had to be done before the meeting commenced. A Brother was to be raised to the Sublime Degree and I didn't want the sepulchral silence of the ceremony’s central section interrupted by an unexpected eruption on my part. It took three large brandies to quell the storm, I fear. (A digression: I knew a boy at school who could produce, a posteriori, as it were, Handel’s celebrated Largo from Xerxes, which must have required quite exceptional muscular control. His name? Ramsbottom. I jest not.)”

Egypt-mania: “‘How do you know how old they are anyway? When was the first description of them given by a reliable witness, which is to say by an Englishman, eh?’ I sensed that I had him on the run and kept chasing. ‘I’ll wager, Brother, that the pyramids of Egypt are not more than fifty years old and probably built on a timber frame.’

“I could tell that he was outraged because he said ‘I’m outraged! The Egyptian pyramids are mentioned in Classical Greek texts!’ The man was gullible beyond belief, as most classicists are, in my experience. I spared not the rod of my derision. ‘So is the Cyclops, and the Minotaur, and the winged horse and, indeed, the wooden horse. I suppose you believe all those too, do you? I am sorry to be the one to have to disillusion you, Brother, but the Greeks are largely liars, except for the ones from Crete, who are all liars...’”

Grand Lodge pomp: “We keep our speeches brief at Stonic: ‘talk short, drink deep’ is the motto, and so it was until our honoured guest got up on his hind legs. He proceeded to lecture us on our several failings, claiming that our demeanour was, in general, irreverent and our ritual, in particular, irregular. He made special mention of my contribution, claiming that my witty paraphrase of the tale of Jephtha and Ephraimites constituted an innovation in the ritual and suggested that I, and everyone else, might care to attend a Lodge of Instruction. At this point, Lightfoote, already feeling clamorous and turbulent, broke out into full-blown fury. I rose to respond, noting that the Worshipful Master looked a little pale. I reminded the Grand One that he was a guest and it wasn’t a guest’s place to tell his host how to behave; if he didn’t like us, he would have to lump us. Further, I reminded him of the address made to the brethren on installation night, which points out, quite unequivocally, that our end and aim is primarily to please ourselves, not the Grand Lodge, the Emperor of China, my wife, the landlord’s dog or anyone else!

“Like a cup of last night’s claret, it didn’t go down well.”

Hospitality: “This very morning I was awoken at eight o’clock by stones being thrown at my bedroom window. I rose, for the first time, to ascertain the cause. A man was standing in the street below, smiling up at me. ‘Good morning, Sir,’ said he, ‘I trust that I haven’t disturbed you.’ ‘In whom do you put your trust?’ I enquired. ‘In the Metropolitan Insurance Company,’ he replied, quick as lightning, ‘and so should you!’ Now I knew what he was - and what he wasn’t – and what to do about it. ‘Against what should I be insured, do you think?’ I asked. He stepped closer. ‘Fire and flood, loss and damage, personal injury, robbery, acts of God…’ I emptied the chamber pot over him and shut the window.”

Masonry’s origins: “Now I’m an easy-going fellow, am I not? I enjoy a jest as much as the next man, possibly more. I am quite happy, if it makes them happy, for people to put forward suggestions about masonic ritual being founded on the long-lost practices of the Mediaeval Guilds, the Knights Templar (God bless them!), the Vikings, the Cult of Mithras (whoever she was) or whatever, but men from Mars is going too far – far too far. I could scarce restrain myself. ‘Spheres!’ I cried, though their synonym had first come to mind, ‘Orbs to the pair of you!’ ‘Globes – Celestial and Terrestrial!’ I could see that I had managed to discomfort them but a far more distracting interjection was supplied by our Junior Warden. Leaping on to his chair, he turned, dropped his breeches and announced that the pale moon was rising. It was acknowledged that the night was, indeed, waning fast and the Lodge was duly closed with some hilarity.”

Charity: “Just yesterday I was walking down Jermyn Street, thinking to buy Mrs. Lightfoote some perfume, when my ears were assaulted by what I at first took to be the cries of persons in panic and in pain. I hurried forward, ready to give what aid I could, assuming that a carriage must have overturned or some such similar catastrophe occurred –but it was carol singers! It was impossible to tell what carol they were singing, even assuming that they were all singing the same one, but whatever it was it came to a ragged conclusion as I came up. A young ruffian in a ruff rattled a box at me and demanded that I spare him a copper. ‘What for?’ I enquired. ‘Christmas, of course,’ the filthy urchin replied, bold as brass. I clarified my question. ‘For whom are you collecting, boy? Widows? Orphans? The poor and distressed?’ ‘No!’ he barked, ‘It’s for us, innit.’ The only thing this chubby little extortioner appeared to me to be in need of was a good hiding, but thrashing choristers in public, esp. during the Festive Season, might easily be interpreted as anti-social behaviour and one has to be so careful about that kind of thing nowadays.

“I advanced, pursued by a torrent of obscenities that would have made a naval surgeon blush, to the doors of my grocer’s shop. The place was heaving with humanity of every hue and it was only after some delay that I managed to collar a clerk and confirm the contents of the Lightfoote hamper: a ripe Stilton cheese, ditto Cheshire, a side of Hereford beef, three York hams, pork pies, rabbit pies, pigeon pies, game pies; hen’s eggs, quail’s eggs, duck’s eggs, plover’s eggs; French brandy, Scotch whisky, Plymouth gin and halfa- dozen cases of Yardy’s Wolfshead port to give away – I’m not wasting the ’59 on trades people! Five geese, four colley birds, three French hens – the usual stuff. It suddenly occurred to me that there were people in this world – in this city – who would not have enough to eat on Christmas Day or indeed on any other day and I suddenly felt quite guilty. I thought of cancelling my order but the thought soon passed; instead, I ordered that it should be doubled so that half may be given to those in need.”

Rosslyn Chapel: “I had to put my shoulder to the door to gain admission and fell through it to find myself on my arse, on a damp floor, staring at a rotting roof that threatened to join me at any moment. The place was encrusted with crude carvings, decayed to the point at which their content could be construed as anything that an over-fertile imagination might conceive. I stumbled about in the gloom, searching for meaning and busting for a piss. At the far end of the place were three pillars; I relieved myself, copiously, against what must have been wisdom as I had no strength and there was little beauty involved in the act. As I concluded my libation, I received such a fright that, had I not just emptied my bladder, I’d have wet myself. A dark shape swooped down at me: was it a bat?, was it a ball?, was it a heavy maul? I will never know, but I tumbled backwards, a cocked piece in both hands. Inevitably, one of them went off.”

Becoming a better husband: “I was invited to attend, as a guest, a new-founded Lodge that meets in some picturesque ruin over in Islington. I rarely travel out of town for meetings nowadays. Mrs. Lightfoote deeply resents my coming home very late and very drunk and so I restrict myself to returning fairly late and very drunk. Could a man be more reasonable? I think not!”

A distressed worthy brother: “It was decided that one of us must go immediately to see what could be done, either for W.Bro. Courts or for his dependents. Lightfoote, being able to spare the time and bear the cost, was the obvious choice....

“The trip was hell. Like the poor candidate in a state of darkness, Lighfoote risked death by divers dreadful means, finally coming to light on the shore of that ragged, rugged and remote rock that is known as the Isle of Man.... Lightfoote’s composure was almost restored when it was shattered anew by the arrival of a breathless messenger who could barely gasp out the awful words: ‘Mister Courts, he dead....’”

A healthy sense of skepticism couched in a hearty sense of humor.

It’s Saturday night. I think I’ll honor the good brother’s memory with a meal of scallops, gull’s eggs, the finest smoked herrings, stilton and of course a bottle of Yardy’s!

Alas, my brother.

Monday, January 26, 2009

‘Esoteric Quest’ is New York bound

After many years abroad, the annual Esoteric Quest will take place in America this summer. Read all about it here.

August 24 to 28
Upstate New York near Woodstock

Join us for the Open Center’s eighth Esoteric Quest, this time on the home soil of America. After seven previous conferences in Europe on the Western Esoteric Tradition, the time has come at this moment of rebirth of the American spirit to search for the Inner America—one known to the indigenous peoples, and a source of deep fascination to many esoteric thinkers from alchemists and Rosicrucians in the 17th century, to Masonic circles around the Founding Fathers, to the Transcendentalists and many writers and artists in the 20th century who have profoundly influenced modern times.

Upstate New York in the 19th century was a hotbed of spiritual innovation. It was the birthplace of many forms of unorthodox inner inquiry including the early spiritualists and feminists, the Oneida community, and the Hudson River school of painters. The Transcendentalism of Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau uplifted the difficult and dangerous epoch of the Civil War. Remarkable figures emerged such as the African-American student of magic Paschal Beverly Randolph, and later Madame Blavatsky herself founded the Theosophical Society in New York City in1875. Throughout this time the Native Americans maintained profound insight into the soul of this land and the Iroquois Confederation went so far as to impact the shaping of the United States constitution.

In the 20th century many American artists were influenced by esoteric philosophy, from Elvis to Philip K. Dick to Saul Bellow. Martin Luther King Jr.’s profound spirituality was influenced by Gandhi, who was, in turn, indebted to Thoreau, and the African American Church served as a powerful generator of soul, courage and compassion. The latter part of the century was filled with an esoteric explosion as Sufi, Buddhist, Shamanic, Vedic and many other paths found common ground in a new, holistic culture.

This conference will examine and celebrate the life-enhancing spiritual impulses that emerge powerfully in America: the creative meeting of all cultures and spiritual paths; the natural American generosity of spirit; the “Yes We Can” attitude of optimism and self-belief; and the bedrock commitment to the virtue of equality. At a time when hope is high for a new American Renaissance, please join us for this exploration and celebration of the deepest and best in the soul of this country.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

‘A night in Fairless Hills’

It has to be something important to get the Magpie Mason to miss a meeting of his Rose Croix Chapter, and so it was Tuesday night. The first meeting of 2009 at Fairless Hills Lodge No. 776 in Pennsylvania was highlighted by several educational presentations that inaugurated a full year’s calendar of lectures and other programs and travels intended to broaden the perspectives of the brethren. The Magpie Mason couldn’t miss that!

And there were many gifts and awards given by the Worshipful Master. Arguably the most touching honored W. Bro. William E. Jones who received his Past Masters jewel and apron, having just completed his year in the East.

The Worshipful Master, left, and W. Bro. William Jones.

The main presentation was provided by a visitor, the junior Past Master of New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education, located just across the river in Trenton. His subject was the Four Cardinal Virtues, which he was told do not appear in Pennsylvania Craft ritual, making his job of spreading Light a little more challenging than usual.

It was a lengthy presentation that tied together how Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, William Preston and Thomas Smith Webb all are heard in Masonry’s ceremony of initiation where the Four Cardinal Virtues are symbolized by the Perfect Points of Entrance, and also in the governance of the lodge as provided by the Master and Wardens. Understanding, internalizing and exemplifying the Four Cardinal Virtues are key to making a Mason.

Well, except in Pennsylvania.

The guest speaker distributed a sheet of notes summarizing the main points of his presentation to the 40 Masons present:

Plato, Aquinas and YOU:
The Four Cardinal Virtues in Making a Mason

The Four Cardinal Virtues are Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance and Justice.


• Oxford English Dictionary: Physical and structural strength; moral strength and courage.

• Plato: The military class of society is prepared for arduous endeavor against obstacles.

• Aquinas: “A certain firmness of mind” and a “condition of every virtue” when facing “grave dangers.”

• Preston: Teaches us to “encounter dangers with spirit and resolution” and not rashness and cowardice.

• YOU: “Undergo pain, peril or danger in the performance of duty.” Withstand efforts to extort Masonic secrets. Be received upon the point of sharp object…. (Think Senior Warden: Sees that “none go away dissatisfied” to protect the peace and harmony – “the strength and support” – of our institution.)


• O.E. Dictionary: Ability to discern the most suitable, politic or profitable course of action, especially in conduct; practical wisdom, discretion (as in jurisprudence).

• Plato: From the intellectual conflict between the producer class and the military class arises the philosopher (lover of wisdom) class, which rules society.

• Aquinas: Goodness comes from applying “right reason to action.”

• Preston: “Regulate our conduct by the rules of right reason” to benefit the “general good.”

• YOU: We “regulate our lives and actions according to the dictates of reason… to wisely judge and prudently determine on all things relative to our present as well as to our future happiness.” (Think Worshipful Master: Embodies the wisdom of Solomon as he gives us “good and wholesome instruction” so the Craft enjoys “profit and pleasure thereby.”)


• O.E. Dictionary: Rational self-restraint and moderation in action of any kind.

• Plato: “Bottom” class of society that produces the necessities of life for all. Can never be self-indulgent or inefficient.

• Aquinas: Moderation in human functions and appetites; differs from Fortitude because Temperance withdraws man from seductive things, while Fortitude enables him “to endure or withstand” them.

• Preston: Masons control their passions and desires for the health of body and mind.

• YOU: Restraint of affections and passions; “guards the mind against the allurements of vice” for the protection of Masonic secrets. (Think Junior Warden: “Call the Craft from labor to refreshment” and allow none to “convert the purposes of refreshment into those of intemperance and excess.”)


• O.E. Dictionary: The exhibition of morally just principles; integrity, just conduct, rectitude. Observance of divine law. Conformity to reason, fairness, correctness.

• Plato: Justice is the result of all three classes of society operating harmoniously. Justice is the only virtue that is directed at others, rather than for the benefit of oneself.

• Aquinas: “The common good transcends the individual good of one person.” Justice comes from the rational appetite, unlike the other virtues which come from the sensitive appetite.

• Preston: A Mason renders “to every man his due without distinction; it is not only consistent with divine and moral law, but is the standard and cement of civil society.”

• YOU: “As Justice characterizes the really good man, it should be the invariable practice of every Mason never to deviate from the minutest principles thereof.” (Think Freemasonry: The Craft at labor in peace and harmony, united by the cement of brotherly love, meeting on the Level, acting by the Plumb and parting upon the Square.)

Plato (427-347 BCE) – Athenian philosopher, student of Socrates and master of Aristotle. Founded the Academy to pass the Socratic method of thinking to younger generations. Most significant writing is titled the “Republic,” which discusses the Four Cardinal Virtues as ideals for both the individual and society. He termed the Virtues: justice, wisdom, courage, and moderation. His philosophy is known as Platonism.

Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274 CE) – Italian-born member of the Dominican Order. Avid student of Greek philosophy whose writings reconciled Aristotelian thought with Catholic theology by explaining how an understanding of God can be achieved by applying human reason. His most influential writing, titled “Summa Theologica,” was unfinished at the time of his death. Because of his impact on the Church, he was canonized a saint in 1323 and proclaimed a Doctor of the Universal Church in 1567. In Christian iconography, he is represented by the Blazing Star, which also is a Masonic symbol. His philosophy is known as Thomism.

William Preston (1742-1818) – English Freemason and prolific scholar who gave shape to the rituals used in Britain and America. His book, titled “Illustrations of Masonry” published in 1772, provided some uniformity in ritual. A lasting effect of this was to turn Freemasonry from a purely convivial club to a fraternal order that had profound lessons to teach. In his honor every year the Prestonian Lecture is authorized by the United Grand Lodge of England to share a topic concerning the Craft in England.

Thomas Smith Webb (1771-1819) – Massachusetts-born Freemason who authored “The Freemason’s Monitor or Illustrations of Masonry” in 1797. This continued Webb’s work and is the basis for much of the ritual we use today. Served as Grand Master of Rhode Island in 1813. He is credited with establishing the (York Rite) Knights Templar in 1819.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Royal Arch Research

Thomas Smith Webb Chapter of Research in New York has called a meeting during the weekend of the Grand Chapter of NY’s Annual Convocation in Albany.

From the Secretary:

Companions, you will shortly be receiving your meeting notice/summons for Thomas Smith Webb Chapter of Research’s annual meeting on Thursday, March 5 at noon at the Holiday Inn on Wolf Road in Albany. Among the items to be discussed are changes to our by-laws, You’ll get a copy in the mail with your meeting notice.

I need RSVPs from our appointed/elected officers as to their attendance at this SUMMONED meeting.

Also, we are sending a request for papers. Please consider delivering a short paper or discussion at the meeting. Notify me of your interest in presenting, and I’ll send you some additional information.


Bill Thomas, Secretary
Thomas Smith Webb Chapter of Research
BillThomasNYC (at)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

It’s Yasha!

The Masonic Society has announced the keynote speaker at its first banquet will be RW Bro. Yasha Beresiner, one of the Society’s Founding Fellows.

An introduction is not necessary, and would take too long anyway. For a look at his Masonic credentials, click here.

The Masonic Society banquet is the new addition to the Masonic Week events. It will take place Friday, Feb. 13. Tickets cost $65 per person, and must be reserved in advance. Click here.

In Freemasonry, Bro. Beresiner has just about done it all, but in my estimation he has the best job around: that of traveling to Masonic museums, libraries and meeting spaces to examine and photograph the countless artifacts, art works, manuscripts, letters, records, folk art, etc., and writing his findings for one of the best magazines serving the Craft.

It is not necessary to be a member of the Masonic Society to attend this banquet, but if you’ve read this far, you ought to consider joining. Membership is open to brethren of jurisdictions constituent to the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America, and those jurisdictions in amity with the same.

RW Yasha also is world famous for his research work within Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 in London, and other lodges of Masonic education. He is somewhat personally known to many Masons around the world through his distribution of many valuable books. Without him, I might not know anything about Emulation ritual, and my oldest copies of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum came from him. It’ll be great to finally meet him.