Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'A study in symbols'

The M.E. High Priest and I have this personal thing. When he is installed in the East of a Masonic society, he invites me to lecture at his first meeting. We did that in 2009 at Fairless Hills Lodge, and again in 2011 at Kensington-Kadosh Commandery, and we'll give it another go next month at Abington Royal Arch Chapter.

Hanukkah having begun only a short while ago -- best wishes for a happy one, to all who celebrate -- I thought it a good time to announce this event. (Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the subject of Kabbalah or other aspects of Jewish mysticism, therefore I have defined the limits of this talk very narrowly. Yet there still is a lot to discuss.)

Within the realm of Kabbalistic learning, there is a vast body of literature named Zohar, which I'll describe essentially as esoteric commentary on the Pentateuch and other Jewish Scripture. When I say "vast," I refer, for example, to my own copy, 23 large hardcover volumes, which resembles a set of encyclopedias. It is far much more than commentaries, but if I try to explain that, I'll only sound ignorant and a little crazy.

From this library, I'll share with the Companions the esoteric contexts of a number of aspects of ancient Jewish spirituality which appear to have relevance to Royal Arch Masonry. The High Priest and the Ark, to name only two obvious examples. Believe me, it will be a learning experience for myself as much as anyone else.

As you can see in the graphic above, this will take place Tuesday, January 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jenkintown Masonic Temple in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. This is a wonderfully situated Masonic space, nestled amid a very charming downtown area. There's just something very "Simpkins' Store" about it, if you know what I mean.

I'll wind up missing a pretty big event at my Scottish Rite Valley that night. Sorry about that, but I committed to this years ago.

As you also can see in the graphic above, there is an illustrated text in the background. Here is a better view:

The two pages shown are not from the Zohar, but are from, of all places, the first Calvinist vernacular Bible printed in Poland. This holy text was printed in 1563 under the auspices of Prince Mikolaj Ridziwil (1525-65), one of the great religious reformers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and a defender of Lithuanian sovereignty. The illustrations are woodcuts. They were to help the Christian reader understand Jewish ritual of the Temple period. At left is the Altar of Burnt Offerings; at right of course is the High Priest in full ceremonial vestments.

In addition to the obvious good fit, I chose to use this image for the graphic because this very copy of this Bible once was owned by a certain son of England's King George III. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) is the very same man who, as the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, solidified the union of the Moderns and Ancients beginning in 1813, and served as ex-officio Grand First Principal of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, holding both offices for the last 30 years of his life.

He should be remembered fondly by Masons everywhere for his open-mindedness regarding religion and Masonry. As MQ Magazine puts it: "His liberal attitude towards religion (he was in favour of Catholic Emancipation and had many Jewish friends), influenced the creation of a more inclusive, less obviously Christian Grand Lodge." His influence permitted men like me to become Freemasons at a time in England when non-Christians enjoyed no civil rights.

Happy Hanukkah!

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