Thursday, April 30, 2009

‘So help me God’

On this day, the 220th anniversary of George Washington’s first presidential inauguration, The Magpie Mason crossposts with American Creation, one of the premier forums for discussion of the historical facts concerning the religious beliefs and practices of America’s Founding Fathers. Freemasonry has an often misunderstood relationship with the Founders and with religion in general, resulting in common confusions like the perception that most of the Founders were Freemasons, and that Masons of the 18th century were Deists or even anti-Christian. The truth is, Freemasonry’s requirement that its members believe in deity, and its – pardon the expression – “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule concerning the members’ specific religious opinions, create a fraternal order wherein any man who believes in a Supreme Being may enjoy friendships with others. In 2009 it sounds simple, but when this idea was put into practice in the cosmopolitan London of the 1720s, it was revolutionary. In the wake of the English Civil War, Restoration and Glorious Revolution, and during the era of English-Scottish Union, Jacobite rebellion and wild change in royal families, Freemasonry unveiled itself to the public, publishing its Constitutions in 1723 which state the fraternity’s preference for religious (and political) ambiguity. The result was the invention of interfaith ecumenism, a triumph that helped create the modern world; as the British Empire spread across the globe, it brought Freemasonry with it, creating a previously impossible socialization for Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Parsees and others to mingle as equals.

God and Man at Wall Street


It was Thursday, April 30, 1789 in New York City, the nation’s capital, when President-elect George Washington took the oath of office at Federal Hall. This was made possible by the recent ratification by the States of the U.S. Constitution. Article 2, Section 1 provides the presidential oath of office:

“Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ ”


No mention of a Bible on which to place one’s hand. No “So help me God” phrase.



Bearing in mind that the recording of history in the 18th century was not the hard science that we know today, with its fact-checked data, referenced citations, peer-reviewed research, academically credentialed experts, and media technologies, here is an account of the inaugural events that unfolded at the corner of Wall and Nassau streets in Manhattan:

Finally, the time set for the inaugural ceremony arrived and about half-past twelve o’clock, all things being in readiness, the procession moved from the President’s house, preceded by the troops and a numerous escort, to Federal Hall where the Senate and House of Representatives in joint session were in waiting to receive him. At the moment appointed to take the oath of office required by the Constitution, accompanied by the Vice-President, numerous functionaries and a large number of the Senate and House of Representatives, Washington appeared on the balcony fronting Broad Street. There in the presence of a vast concourse of citizens, surrounded by intimate friends, including several former comrades in arms – among whom were Alexander Hamilton, Roger Sherman, Generals Knox and St. Clair, Baron Steuben and others – he took the following oath, prescribed by law, which was administered by the Chancellor of the State of New York, Robert Livingston: ‘I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States; and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.’

When Mr. Livingston (at left, with Bible) had finished reading the oath, Washington replied solemnly: ‘I swear, so help me God,’ and bowing low, he reverently kissed the Bible.
(“Washington: the Man and the Mason,” by Charles H. Callahan, National Capital Press, 1913, pp. 158-59.)




The standard accepted backstory of how a Bible was added to the proceedings is as follows and appears on the website and promotional literature (below, left) of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, the very lodge that furnished the holy text:

“Everything was ready for the administration of the oath of office to the president of the new government, when it was found that there had not been provided a Holy Bible on which the President-elect could swear allegiance to the Constitution. Jacob Morton, who was Marshal of the parade and, at that time, Master of St. John’s Lodge, was standing close by, and, seeing the dilemma they were in, remarked that he could get the altar Bible of St. John’s Lodge, which met at the ‘Old Coffee House,’ at the corner of Water and Wall streets. Chancellor Livingston begged him to do so. The Bible was brought, and the ceremony proceeded. When the stately Washington had finished repeating the oath, with his right hand resting on the open Book and his head bowed in reverential manner, he said, in a clear and distinct voice, ‘I swear, so help me God!’ Then bowing over this magnificent Bible, he reverently kissed it. Whereupon Chancellor Livingston in a ringing voice exclaimed, ‘Long live George Washington, President of the United States!’ ”

“The Bible was “Printed by Mark Baskett, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, London 1767.” The deep gold lettering, distinctly clear on both covers, displays this inscription: “God shall establish; St. John’s Lodge constituted 5757; Burnt down 8th March, 5770; Rebuilt and opened November 28, 5770. Officers then presiding: Jonathan Hampton, Master; William Butler, Senior Warden; Isaac Heron, Junior Warden.”

“The first page is an artistic steel engraved portrait of King George II, but, that which is so dear to the heart of every Mason is the inserted second page, beautifully engrossed and remarkably legible even at this date are the lines: ‘On this sacred volume, on the 30th day of April, A. L. 5789, in the City of New York, was administered to George Washington, the first president of the United States of America, the oath to support the Constitution of the United States.’ This important ceremony was performed by the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, the Honorable Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of the State.”




Above: Genesis Chapters 49 and 50, where Washington placed his right hand during his presidential oath of office. Below: The original portrait of King George II, left, and the portrait of Washington added subsequently. Photos by The Magpie Mason, 2003.




What’s in an oath?


With the involvement in this historic event of the most senior Masonic authorities of New York, it is time to explain what I believe is the most likely reason for the first president's ad libbed addendum to the Constitutional oath of office and the inclusion of the Bible.

By 1789, George Washington had been a Freemason for 37 years. He was initiated into the fraternity on Nov. 4, 1752; passed to the second degree on March 3, 1753; and raised to the degree of Master Mason on Aug. 4, 1753 at Fredericksburg Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In each of these three ceremonies, Washington would have taken an oath and an obligation; more than finalize the process of becoming a Mason, this act is what Masons specifically credit for “making” the Mason. It is important to understand that while the oath and the obligation of each degree are presented ritually together, the two declarations distinctly serve two purposes. There is no enigmatic Masonic mystery here. Just grab a dictionary.

Oath – 1. a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says 2.a: solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words.

b: something (as a promise) corroborated by an oath; an irreverent or careless use of a sacred name; broadly: SWEARWORD.

Obligation – 1. Any act by which a person becomes bound to do something to or for another, or to forbear something; external duties imposed by law, promise, or contract, by the relations of society, or by courtesy, kindness, etc.
2. The act of obligating.
3. A bond with a condition annexed, and a penalty for not fulfilling. In a larger sense, it is an acknowledgment of a duty to pay a certain sum or do a certain things.
4. That which obligates or constrains; the binding power of a promise, contract, oath, or vow, or of law; that which constitutes legal or moral duty.
5. The state of being obligated or bound; the state of being indebted for an act of favor or kindness; as, to place others under obligations to one.


From the day he entered adulthood and its societies at age 17, George Washington no doubt had taken many oaths before April 30, 1789. Washington the public official: surveyor of Culpepper County in 1749, and adjutant of Virginia three years later. The Freemason: a Master Mason (or full member) in a prestigious lodge of local elites at a time when only one in six lodge members attained the rank of Master Mason. The officer in the Virginia militia: a major in 1752, a lieutenant colonel in 1754, and a brigadier general in 1758. The elected government official: a legislator in Virginia’s House of Burgesses in 1758. A married gentleman in 1759. And of course commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775, and president of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. How were all of these oaths phrased? I will have to leave most of that to the aforementioned credentialed academics, but I can provide some insight into the language of the Masonic oaths and obligations.

So help me God.


The question on American Creation is Did Washington say “So help me God” at the end of the oath? To be candid, I cannot find proof – an eyewitness account attributed to a specific person – of that anywhere. Yet.

However, in “Freemasonry in American History,” one of Allen E. Roberts’ many books, he quotes a newspaper:

“The ‘Federal Gazette’ of Philadelphia reported: ‘The impression of his past services, the concourse of spectators, the devout fervency with which he repeated the oath, and the reverential manner in which he bowed down and kissed the sacred volume – all these conspired to render it one of the most august and interesting spectacles ever exhibited on this globe. It seemed from the number of witnesses, to be a solemn appeal to Heaven and earth at once. Upon the subject of this great and Good man, I may perhaps be an enthusiast, but I confess that I was under an awful and religious persuasion that the gracious Ruler of the Universe was looking down at that moment with peculiar complacency.’” (Emphases mine.)


It would surprise no regular Freemason in the United States (or Great Britain) that George Washington concluded his oath of office by kissing the holy text and beseeching “I swear, so help me God!” A similar act of testimony is performed by every Freemason. A “moment of truth,” if you will. If the above newspaper quotation is accurate in saying Washington bowed and kissed the book, then I think we’re close to answering American Creation’s question. Brethren, here is the scene: Washington takes his oath of office, as administered by Livingston, the Grand Master of New York, with his right hand upon the altar Bible of St. John’s Lodge. Do you think he said “I swear, so help me God” at the conclusion of his oath and before bowing and kissing the Bible? I do.

Thanks to a brief but amazing piece of research published in the current (Vol. 120) edition of “Ars Quatuor Coronatorum,” the annual book of transactions published by Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 in London, we behold a seminal use of the phrase “So help me God” for public administration purposes. The Magpie Mason is forever indebted to editor Peter Hamilton Currie for squeezing this one but fascinating page into the book. Rather than type the content of this entire page, please indulge me for instead reproducing the page below so you can see it as intended. Click to enlarge. (And RW Bro. Peter, please forgive this transgression against QCCC’s copyright. I have rendered the page blue so that any further reproduction on the web can be traced to, and rightly blamed, on me.)


Left: RW Peter Hamilton Currie, editor of AQC.

Right: King James oath as it appears in Vol. 120.




“So,” you’re thinking, still unimpressed, “who cares about King James?” The prayerful conclusion of public oaths in England is found even earlier, during the reign of Elizabeth I, in what is called the Oath of Supremacy:

“I, A. B., do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that the queen’s highness is the only supreme governor of this realm and of all other her highness’s dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm; and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities, and authorities, and do promise that from henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the queen’s highness, her heirs, and lawful successors, and to my power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, privileges, and authorities granted or belonging to the queen’s highness, her heirs, and successors, or united or annexed to the imperial crown of this realm: so help me God and by the contents of this Book.”

It is possible this oath originated even earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII. And our phrase of the day persists after the Elizabethan-Jacobean era. In the reign of Charles I was promulgated the Oath of Allegiance, a pledge of loyalty to the Crown:

(Pinky, this one’s for you.)

“I A. B. doe truely and sincercly acknowledge, professe, testifie and declare in my conscience before God and the world, That our Soveraigne Lord King CHARLES, is lawfull King of this Realme…. And all these things I doe plainely and sincerely acknowledge and sweare, according to these expresse words by me spoken, and according to the plaine and common sence and understanding of the same words, without any Equivocation, or mentall evasion or secret reservasion whatsoever. And I doe make this Recognition and acknowledgement heartily, willingly, and truely, upon the true Faith of a Christian. So helpe me GOD.”


“Still,” you may be thinking, “what do English monarchs have to do with American republicanism?” Fair question. I offer the above quotations to demonstrate how our phrase “So help me God” was instrumental to stable civil government and peaceable citizenry. As further evidence, I cite early Masonic rituals. There is a corpus of literature in Freemasonry known as the Old Charges, consisting of dozens of manuscripts describing Masonic proto-rituals starting with the Regius poem (c. 1390) and culminating with 18th century documents easily recognizable to today’s Freemason. There are too many to address here (and frankly this post has gone long enough!), but I give a few examples that display commonalities with the oaths to our 16th and 17th century monarchs (and I hereby modernize the spelling):

“These Charges that you have received you shall well and truly keep, not disclosing the secrecy of our lodge to man, woman, nor child… so god you help. Amen.” (Buchanan MS, c. 1670)

“I, AB, do in the presence of Almighty God and my fellows and brethren here present, promise and declare that I will not at any time hereafter… make known any of the secrets… of the fraternity… so help me god and the holy contents of this book.” (Harleian MS, c. 1675)

“…you shall not reveal any part of what you shall hear or see at this time… so help you god.” (Edinburgh Register House MS, 1696)

“The signs and tokens that I shall declare unto you, you shall not write… and you shall not tell… to man, woman, nor child… so help you God.” (Drinkwater No. 1 MS, c. 1700)

There is a lot of anxiety in certain circles caused by “So help me God.” Marxists, atheists, lonely busybodies, and revisionists of all stripes labor to diminish or erase the historical record of Washington’s rhetorical flourish, insisting there is no journalistic evidence he said it. I have no use for that argument, or for those who cling to it. Professional (sic) journalists and historians in 1789 were unscientific and brazenly biased, as judged against our modern expectations. (They didn’t have the objectivity and accuracy of blogs back then!) Furthermore, Washington the president was exploring new ground, truly going where no man had gone before. The Constitution didn’t prohibit the use of a Bible in the oath nor proscribed invoking deity. A good public servant – and a good Freemason – knows what his constitution says and what it does not say, and governs himself accordingly.

With this understanding of the history of “So help me God,” maybe we can agree that George Washington indeed did speak the phrase following his presidential oath of office, as reported, and perhaps also safely surmise that he added this language, not as an improvised coda, but as an established tradition in government oaths per longstanding custom. It is fact that the birth of the American republic was unprecedented in history, but it cannot be denied that the men who gave it law and politics were creatures of English habit, schooled in the mother country’s history, common law, politics, religions and traditions.

SMIB.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

‘Sons and brothers’

Alpha Lodge Worshipful Master David Lindez, right, discusses Johannite influences on Freemasonry as W. Bro. Yoel Lee, Master of Sons of Liberty Lodge No. 301, listens. The two lodges met together last Wednesday at Alpha.


It was a joint communication of two of New Jersey’s last urban lodges last Wednesday night in East Orange, when dozens of brethren of Sons of Liberty Lodge No. 301 visited Alpha Lodge No. 116. And it was a full house. The Tiler had to break out the Royal Arch aprons just to make sure everyone was able to enter the lodge!

WM Lindez almost always begins Alpha’s communications by thanking the brethren for taking time away from their families and vocations to be there, promising them intellectual and spiritual value in return for their precious time. This evening, the brethren were presented a stimulating talk on Johannite symbolism in Freemasonry. You know that lodges are dedicated to the Holy Saints John, and that the Feast Days of St. John the Baptist (June 24) and St. John the Evangelist (December 27) were adopted for special occasions by the fraternity, but there isn’t a definitive reason why these are so.

For background, the Master told us about the Johannite tradition, a Gnostic movement that reveres St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. One such group, called the Mandaeans, is known here as a “distant cousin” of the three major Abrahamic faiths. Followers speak Aramaic, the language spoken in the Holy Land in the time of Christ, and consider Adam their prophet while also revering John the Baptist. Indigenous to the Near East, the Mandaeans mostly have been displaced by the war in Iraq. Tens of thousands of the faithful have been relocated, many brought to the United States.

Elements of Johannite Gnosticism found in Freemasonry include the alchemical aspects of Scottish Rite rituals, as in the EA° we see at Garibaldi Lodge, and Kabbalah symbols employed in Scottish Masonry.

“In the far past of Christianity there were Johannite sects, but their residue at this day communicates little or nothing to seekers after spiritual life,” writes A.E. Waite in his “A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry.” “We have only to note therefore in the present connection the persistence with which Blue Masonry is dedicated to the Baptist and Evangelist in Scotland: It remains under their aegis to this day, as a sacred commemoration of that time when Operative Masonry lived and moved and had its being in the light of Christ. Of dedications to Moses and Solomon, Masonic Scotland knows as little as of the drift and scattermeal of liberal theology, or of a theistic Duke of Sussex. In addition to the two Saints John, Scotland maintains from year to year with solemn observance the sacred Festival of St. Thomas, especially in the Sanctuary of Mother Kilwinning.”

Coming up at historic Alpha Lodge on May 27 is the presentation of speculative papers by newly raised Master Masons:

“Archetypical Influences and the Molecular Impact of Sacred/Secret Words in Masonry” by Bro. Mardoche Sidor;

“The Pillars of Masonry” by Bro. Michael Terry; and

“Reactions to Music in Freemasonry” by Bro. Nathaniel Gibson.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

‘Hockley revisited’

Courtesy of Ill. Cliff Jacobs of the Valley of New York City.


Now Available from The Teitan Press: “The Rosicrucian Seer: Magical Writings of Frederick Hockley.”

An important collection of Hockley’s writings, with a biographical introduction by John Hamill, and chapters on Hockley’s Manuscripts, and “Hockley as an Astrologer” by R. A. Gilbert. The editor, John Hamill, is one of the leading historians of English Freemasonry - with a particular fascination for its more unusual byways. R. A. Gilbert is of course an acknowledged authority on the 19th century occult revival on which he has written and lectured extensively.

Frederick Hockley (1809-1885), was a major, if often overlooked, figure in 19th century occultism. He was an active “seer” who engaged in scrying, and took an interest in ritual magic, alchemy and spiritualism. He was also a Freemason, who was associated with the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and other esoteric fraternities. In addition, Hockley sought out and copied Grimoires and other magical, alchemical and kabbalistic texts that had lain hidden in private collections around England. Many of Hockley’s early manuscripts were commissioned by John Denley, the bookseller who had acquired Ebenezer Sibly’s stunning library, the source of many of the texts that Francis Barrett used in compiling “The Magus,” while others were for his own use. After his death, Hockley’s library was dispersed, and it is known that many Hockley manuscripts made their way into the hands of members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Such was the high regard in which Hockley was held, that one of that group’s founders, W. Wynn Westcott, not only wrote that Hockley’s manuscripts were “highly esteemed,” but also posthumously claimed him as Adept of the Golden Dawn. “The Rosicrucian Seer” not only reveals much about Hockley’s life and esoteric activities, but also provides invaluable insights into the occult milieu of 19th century England that gave rise to the Golden Dawn and inspired its members.

“The Rosicrucian Seer” was previously published as a paperback in 1986. This new edition, the first in hardcover, has been extensively revised and corrected, and contains much new material both by and about Hockley.

New book. Fine in fine dust jacket. (36444) $45.00
Publisher: The Teitan Press. York Beach, Maine USA, 2009.
Details: First Edition Thus. Edition Limited to 950 numbered copies.
ISBN: 9780933429154.

Format: Hardcover. 8vo. xxiv + 240pp. Quality red cloth with gilt sigil on upper board, gilt titling to spine. Full color dustjacket. Color frontispiece, index. Printed on library quality paper. New book.

Shipping within the US for one book:
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Special launch-week offer!


While supplies last, copies sold will come with a book-plate signed by both John Hamill and R. A. Gilbert. (Please note: Signed copies are strictly limited to one per customer, subject to availability on a “first come, first served” basis. No limit on purchase of unsigned copies.)


For further information on this and other Hockley titles published by the Teitan Press please click here.

Place an order via the secure website of Weiser Antiquarian Books, or send an e-mail to books@weiserantiquarian.com

Weiser Antiquarian Books is presently the sole distributor of Teitan Press titles.
Wholesale inquiries welcome.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Class Portrait



Members of the Henry J. Stein Class, the latest class of initiates at the Scottish Rite Valley of Northern New Jersey, rally around their Class Sponsor Tuesday evening. This Stated Meeting of New Jersey Consistory was devoted, in part, to presenting these brethren their 32º Diplomas and Membership Jewels.

Those members of the Class not in attendance are encouraged to come to the Valley’s Annual Meeting on May 19 to receive their awards. The Diploma and Jewel are considered the most attractive and popular of Masonic symbols of membership.



Sorry to say this photo of the Class Membership Jewel does not accurately represent the luster of the gold tone or the vibrancy of the red and blue enameling. It’s a much more impressive piece of regalia when seen in person.

21st Century Masonry

Bro. Ronald Pollock, president of the First Manhattan District Association, introduces RW Jeff Williamson, our speaker last night.


How good and how pleasant it is to dwell together with brethren who understand Freemasonry.

Last night was the first of what could become annual dinner-lectures hosted by the First Manhattan District Association at the Grand Lodge of New York. RW Bro. Jeffrey M. Williamson was the speaker. With his PowerPoint graphics ready, he discussed “How Can Masonry Survive and Prosper in the 21st Century?”

RW Williamson is one of those leaders whose résumé spans seven pages. He is a Past District Deputy Grand Master of the Second Erie District in the Buffalo area. He is Grand King in the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. He also is a veteran of Grand Lodge’s Educational Services Committee and its Masonic Development Course, and has played a large role in training the jurisdiction’s DDGMs for many years. “I have a universal view of Masonry,” he said. (And he’s a Master Electrician, so “Let there be Light” is no trivial business to him!) He was recommended to the FMDA by Ted Harrison. ’Nuff said.

It seemed every lodge in the First Manhattan District was well represented last night. Worshipful Master Mike from Pioneer-Mt. Moriah No. 20 was there with a number of his officers and brethren. Many from Washington Lodge No. 21, like “HRH” Vincenzo, a college professor. There was Alessandro and others from Mariners. And Bro. Major, visiting from GLNF. RW Arnold from Consolidated. RW Christopher from Holland No. 8. Bro. Francisco, Bro. Terence, Bro. Lenny and many more. The room was full of young, educated men who are in Freemasonry to find a singular environment populated by exceptional people.

I think it is a gutsy move to host such a discussion. You never know who might show up, and what might be said. But, if there is any hope of reversing the problems plaguing Freemasonry, we have to admit a) there are problems, and b) there are solutions to the problems. The teachings of Masonry lead one to examine his life and to labor toward self-improvement. Moral, ethical, intellectual advancements. Does it not stand to reason that the order itself should, collectively, undergo the same sort of self-scrutiny, to discuss candidly the things we see that are just wrong, and the ways to fix them?

Dinner was simple, but New York style: big sandwiches worthy of a proper Manhattan deli, plus an open bar.

(Before things got started, the Magpie Mason had a “Narnia moment.” Whenever I’m in this building, I go to the windows to see what kind of view of Manhattan can be seen. The room next to our dining room was vacant, so I walk in, look out the window at an especially gloomy, rainy cityscape, and then return to the dining room. Right behind me come three Masons wearing aprons! I thought maybe the complimentary rye was getting the best of me. Where’d they come from? I go back into the room, head toward the coat closet, and find a narrow hallway winding its way around a corner. Voila! There is Publicity Lodge No. 1000 preparing for a Fellowcraft Degree! Strange that a lodge called Publicity would be secreted behind a coat closet, but of course the lodge room has a proper entrance also.)

An eclectic bunch of dozens of Masons packed the dining room adjacent to the American Room on the 19th floor. From three or four Fellowcrafts to a number of Past DDGMs, all were united in wanting to hear some common sense talk on what lodges need to do if they are to attract quality members and keep them stimulated and productive.

The Magpie Mason was delighted to see the recipe was very nearly identical to the recommendations set out earlier this decade by both the Knights of the North and the Masonic Restoration Foundation.

These two organizations deserve the credit for sparking the widespread interest in both European Concept and Traditional Observance lodges across the United States. European Concept emphasizes elegance and sophistication in upholding Masonic culture. The West Gate is closely tiled. Membership is limited. Dues are high. Food is great. Education is rewarding. Every meeting has a purpose. Sometimes a foreign ritual, like Emulation, is worked. It’s the kind of experience that, frankly, alarms those who want the Ralph Kramden Raccoon Lodge model to remain the only option. Traditional Observance has those traits in common, and goes further by incorporating highly esoteric elements into its initiations. T.O. is the proprietary design of the Masonic Restoration Foundation, a nationwide non-profit organization that offers memberships. The Knights of the North by contrast was a thinktank comprised of brethren from across the United States and Canada.

“We suffer from a lack of Masonic leadership and training,” said RW Williamson, “and we live in the past.” Boring meetings, poorly worked ritual, indifference to the brethren’s expectations and other familiar factors have created a “lackluster environment.” The fraternity’s longstanding preference for quantity over quality in membership not only has failed to cultivate talent that can move us forward, but actually has resulted in a greater number of Masonic trials to rid the Craft of those who never should have been initiated in the first place. “Can Freemasonry survive and prosper in the 21st century? It can and it will. Freemasonry is as relevant today as it was 250 years ago. But we need to make Masons, not members.”

His formula for returning Freemasonry to its true purpose is a checklist for lodges to incorporate into their management.

• Investigate the candidate thoroughly – He noted that in the GLNY the term now is “interview,” but he stressed the importance of making sure every petitioner is worthy and well qualified.

• Keep membership small – A lodge, if everyone is to know each other and function as a close unit, should be limited in size to about 50 Masons.

• Candidate comprehension – Challenge the Apprentices and Fellows to think. Have them write papers before their second and third degrees describing, in their own words, what the preceding degrees mean to them. Bro. Francisco noted how this process helped him gain greater comprehension.

• Proficiency – Rituals must be worked expertly and with sincerity, with work being assigned according to merit.

• Dues – Lodges need to be adequately funded by the brethren themselves. It is okay to hold fundraisers, but they are really intended to foster the bonding experience while raising money for worthy causes.

• Attendance – The brethren are expected to attend the Communications, or send regrets that they are unable to attend. Or, in other words, extend to the lodge the same courtesy one shows his family, friends and business colleagues.

• Festive Boards – No explanation is really needed here. Eat, drink, and be merry.

• Standards – “Set the bar high, and the brethren will respond,” he said.

St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons was well represented last night. It is already achieving this very type of lodge experience. In fact, this lodge, founded in 1757, marked its 250th anniversary year in part by receiving its Traditional Observance certification from the Masonic Restoration Foundation. An old lodge can learn new tricks. The end result of this revolution is the existence now of a waiting list of candidates trying to gain entry into St. John’s – and many, if not most, will not make the cut – whereas several years ago this lodge was struggling to remain functional.

A Past DDGM who is a member of several lodges told of his experience in affiliating with Independent Royal Arch Lodge No. 2, which was founded in 1760. “Washington and Lafayette were regular participants in its proceedings.”

“I was one of the last to be allowed to affiliate with I.R.A.,” he said. “They are very selective.” He then described the process of vetting candidates for membership in I.R.A., which includes attending numerous non-tiled events and social functions to let the lodge’s brethren get to know the candidates, to see which would make a proper fit in the lodge. “Even though I was well known to the lodge, I still went through the process.”

The candidates of today, Williamson said, are looking for “education in a mystic craft,” and ways to achieve self-improvement and become gentlemen. They like the mysterious and unique language used in Masonic rituals. Memorization of ritual is not enough, but teaching an understanding of what these ceremonies say should be the goal. Admittedly, our speaker was preaching to the choir, but there was a lot of information and wisdom provided. Things that really needed to be said, and that drew applause. (And conversation of this nature is heretical in some jurisdictions, ergo this blog.)




Bro. Gerry of Pioneer-Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 20 shares his insights on membership retention.







“Just because Grand Lodge has no procedure to involve EAs and FCs, doesn’t mean the lodges cannot involve them in activities,” said RW Martin Kanter, PDDGM. Certain things have to be handled while at labor on the MM Degree of course, but there are ways to assimilate brethren of the lower degrees into the lodge experience.

VW Piers Vaughan recommended taking a creative approach to education, for example by making each of the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences a path of study, and by exploring the Art of Memory to put the Fellowcraft Degree in even deeper esoteric, historic and cultural contexts.

“We’re not the American Legion Post,” Williamson said in his conclusion. “We’re a Masonic Lodge. We invoke deity to be with us.”


Bro. Lenny and others socialize after the lecture.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

At the Onassis Cultural Center

The New York City Greek Mythology and Classical Literature Book Club is planning a trip to this exhibition in two weeks.


Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens
December 10, 2008 – May 9, 2009


The galleries of the Onassis Cultural Center in New York will be transformed into evocations of ancient Greek sanctuaries, each filled with artistic masterpieces assembled from international collections, for the major exhibition Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens.

This is on view through May 9.




The exhibition brings together 155 rare and extraordinary archaeological objects in order to re-examine preconceptions about the exclusion of women from public life in ancient Athens. The story told by these objects, and experienced in the galleries, presents a more nuanced picture than is often seen, showing how women’s participation in cults and festivals contributed not only to personal fulfillment in Classical Greece but also to civic identity.

Worshiping Women is organized by the Onassis Foundation (USA) in collaboration with the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Nikolaos Kaltsas, Director of the National Archaeological Museum of Greece, and by Dr. Alan Shapiro, the W.H. Collins Vickers Professor of Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University. Worshiping Women is the first major exhibition in the tenth anniversary season of the Onassis Foundation (USA) and the Onassis Cultural Center.

Among the treasures being brought to New York for the exhibition are marble statues of the goddesses Artemis and Athena (National Archaeological Museum, Athens); a white-ground vase with an image of Artemis, by the Pan Painter (State Hermitage Museum, Petersburg); a red-figure vase with an image of Iphigenia, the legendary heroine worshiped as a cult figure and seen as a model for priestesses (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Ferrara); a vase showing the Trojan priestess Theano, another model for priestesses, receiving the Greek warriors who had come to recover Helen from Troy (Vatican Museums); and a limestone grave marker (conserved with support from the Onassis Foundation) carved with the image of a young woman in bridal costume, holding a votive offering (State Museums of Berlin). Interspersed with these and other exquisite artworks are archaeological objects that document the religious practices of Classical Athens and tell the complex story of women’s roles in that society.

“If all Greek religion was about creating and maintaining a state of harmony between mortals and gods,” the curators state, “then the role of Athenian women was an integral part of that process. It was women’s essential contribution to share equally in securing and maintaining the divine favor that made Athens great.”

Worshiping Women tells this story in three main chapters. “Goddesses and Heroines” introduces the principal female deities of Athens and Attica, in whose cults and festivals women were most actively engaged: Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, and Demeter and her daughter Persephone. This first section also investigates the role of heroines, a special group of women believed to have lived in the distant past, who like Iphigenia became important figures of cult worship after their deaths.

The second chapter, “Women and Ritual,” explores the practice of ritual acts such as dances, libations, sacrifices, processions and festivals in which women were active in classical antiquity. Here the critical role of the priestess comes to light, specifically in her function as key-bearer for the temples of the gods.

In the final chapter, “Women and the Cycle of Life,” the exhibition explores how religious rituals defined moments of transition. Because the most important transition in a girl’s life was understood to be marriage, the wedding took on great significance, with its rituals depicted on a variety of vases associated with nuptial rites and wedding banquets. Death was another occasion on which Athenian women took on major responsibilities, such as preparing the deceased for burial and tending the graves of family members.

By presenting this story in the only way it can be properly told—through artworks and the material culture of the time—this important exhibition corrects the common, bleak picture of the lives of Athenian women. Although their participation in the political process was indeed severely restricted, the exhibition demonstrates that religious ritual allowed them to define themselves not only as women but as Athenians and as Greeks. Their involvement in cults, festivals and life-cycle observances, whether alongside men or separate from them, was essential for the successful functioning of the city—and was understood as such.

The Curators
Dr. Nikolaos Kaltsas is the director of the National Archaeological Museum of Greece and the author of a prize-winning book, Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens (2002), as well as many other widely published archeological studies. Dr. Kaltsas is a member of the Central Council of Museums, the Central Council of Modern and Contemporary Monuments, and the Committee for the Conservation of the Temple of Apollo Epikourios.

Dr. Alan Shapiro, the W.H. Collins Vickers Professor of Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, has a particular interest in Greek art, myth, and religion in the Archaic and Classical periods, especially in the interrelationships among art, religion, and politics. He is an authority on vase iconography and has written numerous studies, including Personifications in Greek Art (1993) and Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece (1994). In addition, he is the co-author of Women in the Classical World (1994).

The Catalogue
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue edited by Dr Kaltsas and Dr Shapiro, with essays by Professor Mary Lefkowitz of Wellesley College; Professor Olga Palagia of the University of Athens; Dr. Angelos Delivorias, director of the Benaki Museum; Professor Michalis Tiverios of the Aristotelion University of Thessaloniki; Professor Joan Breton Connelly of New York University; Professor Jenifer Neils of Case Western Reserve University; and Professor John Oakley of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, among others.

Public Programs
A variety of educational programs will be scheduled in conjunction with the exhibition, including gallery talks, lectures and an international conference.

Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Admission is free
The Onassis Cultural Center offers complimentary guided tours every Tuesday and Thursday at 1:00 p.m., open to the public.


Text and art courtesy of Onassis Cultural Center.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Swedish Rite in Germany

Oh, it was just another night at the Provincial Grand Lodge of Essex County on Wednesday. The newly hirsute Past (2004) Prestonian Lecturer here; a sojourner from the Grande Loge Nationale Française there; and our speaker for the evening, Orator in the Swedish Rite, had just flown in from Germany.

You know, the usual.

Bro. Oliver came to speak on the topic of the Swedish Rite of Freemasonry as it functions in Germany. With terrific PowerPoint graphics and regalia samples on display, he walked us through the degree structure of his Rite, with plenty of explanation of its philosophy, history, ritual and symbolism.

Oliver explains the 1° Tracing Board.


“I love coming to Alpha Lodge!” said Bro. Oliver, sensing the energy that we all know when we’re inside that lodge room. “You can feel that something is really going on here.” (Interestingly, a lodge brother of mine, visiting Alpha for the second time, said the same thing.)

Oliver is a member of Zur Brudertreue im Ravensberger Land in Bielefeld, which is under the Great Land Lodge of Freemasons in Germany, within the United Grand Lodges of Germany. He is an 8º member, recently tapped for the 9º, and is well known in Masonry’s academic and research groups around the world for his scholarly work and his speaking engagements in Berlin, Dublin, London, Madrid, Strasbourg... and East Orange!

The Swedish Rite is a complicated subject because it exists in six countries, and undoubtedly varies a little from Iceland to Norway, to Sweden, to Finland, to Denmark, to Germany. In Germany, Freemasonry in general is difficult to understand because of its own complicated structure. This is a good thing however, because its diversity ensures there is something for everyone. As we’ll see momentarily, the Swedish Rite is a highly esoteric order that marries Masonic symbolism to Christian belief, but this is far from being the only Masonic option available in Germany.



There are no fewer than six Masonic rites at labor in that country, whose characteristics vary from the American-style “Rotary with ritual,” to the Three Globes’ similarities to Strict Observance, to the very obscure “Royal York.” All six are unified under the United Grand Lodges of Germany, I suppose to simplify external relations with jurisdictions around the world.

Oliver sketched the history of Freemasonry in Germany, zeroing in on the uniquely Christian obediences and explaining how their source is one Carl Frederik Eckleff, who supplied patents and rituals to J.W. von Zinnendorf who brought the Rite into Germany in the second half of the 18th century.

These lodges and their rituals “adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ as they are contained in the Holy Scripture,” Oliver said. He made it understood that the philosophy is not to bar non-Christians from membership, but that the lodge instead will “delegate the responsibility to the seeker,” ensuring his right of conscience, to decide correctly his own compatibility with the lodge’s teachings. The further one progresses in the Swedish Rite, the more Christianity figures into the teachings of the degrees, so it is vital that one’s integrity and sound judgment form his decision to pursue Masonic Light in this system of degrees from the start.

Once that choice is made, it can take several years to be initiated. This period serves to filter out those who are either mentally or spiritually not ready for this experience.

It took two years for Bro. Oliver to become a Mason by initiation into a St. John Lodge, and as much as nine months in service to the lodge can be required for advancement to the 2º, and nine months to the 3º. Even more time is spent between the higher degrees, because the brother, in addition to proving his proficiencies, will experience each degree anew at least once before advancement. The Swedish Rite is very discreet, preferring mystery over gratuitous disclosure – there is not much information on the internet – which gives its members a greater appreciation for the Masonic journey. “You can see there is a place to go further,” he said, “but you don’t know where it is.” It can take as much as 20 years to reach the last available degree.

Beyond the three degrees of the St. John lodge, the Master Mason may continue to St. Andrew Masonry, which offers EA, FC and MM degrees of its own. The door to this progression is seen plainly in the lodge without being explained in detail to the St. John Mason prematurely. When the time is right – when a decision is achieved mutually between lodge and brother in light of philosophical questioning – the St. John Master Mason may knock upon the door leading to St. Andrew Masonry, transitioning from what could be termed “the stage of cleansing” to that of, so to speak, “illumination.” Years later, if proven worthy and well qualified, the St. Andrew Master Mason might gain entrance to the Chapter, where the highest degrees are worked as Christian chivalry in a process that could be dubbed “the stage of reunification.”

One possible interpretation of the Rite’s structure.

This, in my opinion, is the ultimate goal of all Masonic orders, whether they are founded in Christian chivalric traditions or not. From the EA Degree to 32º and others, Freemasonry is a God-centered psychology whose goal is to gradually reveal to Masonic Man the proper way to know himself, to find his place among mankind, and to praise deity by living in accord with the moral precepts that are universally known in our respective faiths. The grips, signs and words imparted to us along the way are proof of our progress in this work, culminating in our union with deity. Personally, I believe this can be understood at the Master Mason level, without need for exploring “Higher Degrees,” but let me explain that the Swedish Rite does not have appendant bodies, as we in America understand that term; its higher degrees are part of the Rite, a contiguous and progressive system of 11 degrees, with its 12º reserved for Sweden’s king. (Carl XVI Gustaf is not a Freemason, resulting in a rare vacancy at the 12º level, but this structure shows us how Freemasonry in Sweden is integrated with the highest level of civil government.)

At every step of the way, the Mason is challenged with questions intended to explore the depths of both heart and mind, possibly even eliciting beliefs he may not have consciously realized, but that are the result of his Masonic education. His ability to advance through the degrees depends on this growth. This is not a form of Masonry in which one’s reliable attendance ensures promotion; these degrees are earned, not merely received. A significant part of this approach involves the Rite’s treatment of its rituals. Not only is the memorization of ritual not mandatory in this Rite, but memorization is not a goal at all. The time, talent and energy that might be spent on memorization and precise recitation instead is devoted to – get this – thinking!

“It is a thought process, not a memorization process,” Oliver explained. Ritual accuracy is ensured by – get this – reading the ritual. Ritualists read printed texts; they are familiar with the material, so there isn’t clumsiness or error to disrupt the work. At least as importantly, the Mason is not programmed to think and speak like a parrot; he is expected to learn, to internalize the teachings of the ritual, and to be able to communicate his own thinking in his own words at the proper time. In this method, one can actually make a mistake, which of course is the best learning experience. This aspect of Masonic labor is perhaps the greatest variant from American jurisdictions, where strict memorization is the most important achievement, dead end that it is.

Of course there are other significant differences, the kinds one finds in examining rites not his own. For example, alchemical symbolism figures heavily in the Swedish Rite. The Fellowcraft Degree is the only time music is heard, being employed effectively to reinforce a lesson in harmony. There is no raising in the 3º because that degree is not the culmination of the Rite. The layout of the lodge is different. The Words of the first two degrees are reversed. And, perhaps most unusual to the Anglo-American experience, there is no progressive officer line. It is a meritocracy. The Master of a lodge serves a three-year term. If his performance is outstanding, he could be re-elected to another three-year term. If he is truly irreplaceable, he can be elected to a third triennial term. (The number three is embedded countless times in the rituals, symbols and structure of this Rite, ever recalling the Holy Trinity.) Considering lodges typically have 30 members, Oliver joked, it could take 270 years for a brother to become Worshipful Master.

Bro. Oliver displays regalia of the Swedish Rite in Germany. Left: a sash worn in the Higher Degrees, where no aprons are worn. Right: a St. Andrew apron.

Below: from the Magpie Archives, aprons of the Swedish Rite in Norway.




Magpie readers, there is so much more I’d like to share, but circumspection demands I withhold information that is not open source, that cannot be corroborated by Masonry’s reference books, academic journals, and other sources of firm information. (Oliver, you’ll let me know if something need be removed.) Please understand any inaccuracies here are my own, and not the lecturer’s. The presentation Bro. Oliver treated us to offered sincerely curious and open-minded Masons a wonderful glimpse into a little understood rite of Masonry. Minds were enlightened and nourished, and I suspect barriers between brothers, however unspoken their existence, were breached. It was Freemasonry in action, with both Speculative and Operative impulses gratified.






These illustrations actually are pages 212-13 of “Freemasonry: Symbols, Secrets, Significance” by W. Kirk MacNulty (Thames & Hudson, 2006), a landmark publication recording hundreds of images of esoteric culture.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

‘Mysticism Night’

This flier speaks for itself, so I’ll only add that there are things happening in New Jersey Blue Lodge Masonry that haven’t happened in years – if ever – thanks to a precious few progressive thinking Masters and Wardens.


This event, to take place at Nutley Lodge No. 25, is just one of many happenings on the lodge’s trestleboard intended to broaden the horizons of its brethren. As you can see, it also is open to the public, which is a bold move, in my opinion.


Nutley Lodge is a winner of the 2008 Twain Award for excellence in Masonic Awareness. This event on the 25th represents the kind of public outreach Masonry should attempt. The blood drives, coat drives, canned goods drives, and other drives are important, but there is more to Freemasonry than that.

Also scheduled to appear at Nutley Lodge this year are Trevor Stewart, Past (2004) Prestonian Lecturer of the United Grand Lodge of England and Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, and Mark Tabbert, director of collections at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, board member of The Masonic Society, Vice President of the Masonic Library and Museum Association, etc.