Sunday, June 17, 2012

‘The Icarus Syndrome’

In the Masonic Light group last Wednesday, the brother known worldwide as the Canberra Curmudgeon posted the text of an edict from his grand master Down Under – United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, specifically – that was hot off the presses. Since then I’ve seen it on the Dummies blog, and the FD2L blog, various vBulletin sites, and even on Facebook. Despite being one of the first to read the edict on the web, I guess I’m pretty much the last to blog about it, and since we have a few final minutes of Father’s Day remaining, I will try to explain, drawing from the lesson of one of mythology’s great father-son disasters, why the edict is no big deal.

But first, the nothing about which there is much ado:

Grand Master’s Edict

Announced at the Grand Communication – 13th June, 2012

On 12 May 2010 the Board of Management passed a resolution stating the principles governing esoteric research. These principles are central to the practice of Regular Freemasonry. In order that there be no doubt that they bind every brother and Lodge in this jurisdiction I have decided to make them the subject of a Grand Masters edict. At my request the Board of Management has rescinded its resolution so that it may be substituted with the following edict which takes effect immediately.

1. Authorised, official Masonic Education and Instruction is only ‘Regular’ when applied to Free and Accepted or Speculative Masonry (Regular Freemasonry).

2. Because of the widely divergent interpretations which can be placed upon it, I am concerned about the unqualified use of the word ‘esoteric,’ or any of its derivatives or extensions, within Regular Freemasonry. Such use needs to be avoided as it has been and can be misconstrued to the detriment of the Craft.

3. I encourage all Masons to make daily progress in the acquisition of Masonic knowledge. Speculation and discussion within the Landmarks of the Order are to be commended.

4. Within Regular Freemasonry, interpretive discussion and exposition concern only the progressive acquisition of Masonic knowledge towards an understanding of the secrets and mysteries of the Craft, promoting the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God. To avoid any misapprehension, such regular discussion and exposition shall be described as ‘speculative,’ and the term ‘esoteric’ shall not be applied.

5. Regular Freemasonry does not permit within it any form of esotericism which encompasses or tends towards occultism, sorcery, alchemy, astrology, profane mysticism, transcendentalism, supernaturalism, druidism, rosicrucianism, satanism or any concept or movement related to any of these. The presentation, endorsement and/or promotion of such subjects in any Lodge holding under the UGL of NSW and ACT whether the Lodge be open, adjourned, at refreshment or closed or at any connected or associated Lodge function should be deemed irregular and is strictly forbidden.

6. Any breach of this Edict constitutes serious unmasonic conduct and shall be treated accordingly.

7. The Grand Master from time to time may grant dispensations to permit the presentation of papers on esotericism which would otherwise constitute a breach of this edict. A dispensation may be granted on such terms and conditions as the Grand Master may impose. An application for a dispensation must be made to the Grand Master in writing through the Grand Secretary. Normally it will only be granted if the proposed paper is a genuine and proper piece of masonic research.

Okay, and here is why I say this is nothing to worry about, much less justify the bizarre caterwauling (“book burning!” “thought control!”) that I’ve seen on web these past several days. It’s the Nekillim Syndrome, defined by psychology researchers as “the mindless, hysterical (but often amusing) reaction to the action of a Masonic grand master.”

As I phrased it in our conversation on ML:

Having had some time to digest this news, I’m looking more closely at what this edict states, and what it does not state.

The grand master is governing the Craft lodges, and not interfering with Masonic Rosicrucians or any appendant or concordant group. He does not prohibit activities independent of Freemasonry.

The edict prohibits sorcery, satanism, and the like in the lodge. We don’t object to that, do we? It prohibits alchemy and rosicrucianism in the lodge. Is that really so problematic? I don’t think a ban is necessary, but I can’t say it deprives Masons of urgent or fundamental Masonic knowledge. Others listed in Item 5 sound reasonable to me. I don’t want Freemasonry confused in the mix of New Age activities.

I work in Masonic education because I believe Masons ought to be educated about Masonry. There is a lot to learn in Freemasonry. A lodge that focuses on Masonic learning will not run out of material to cover any time soon. Maybe that is better than having programs on transcendentalism in the lodge.

There is a group on Facebook called “Esoteric Masons” or something like that. It has some useful information; it has some less-than-useful information; it also has Masons advertising their availability for Masonry’s invitational orders. It has a lot of talk, some of it plagiarized, about rosicrucians and other topics. What is missing usually is a mention of Freemasonry. I think there is esoterica to Freemasonry, and maybe this grand master wants that explored before lodges diversify their activities by going off topic.

That said, I doubt there is some frantic need for this edict. Are the lodges in New South Wales hives of satanist astrologers or something?

I’d encourage the brethren to follow the model of Canonbury and Rose Circle, and host conferences that explore other avenues of esoteric study, independently of the Craft so they may enjoy full freedom. It can’t be too difficult to find an accessible venue where Masons can spend a Saturday learning about, say, the similarities of symbols in Masonry and Alchemy; or Masonry and Tarot. If there’s a demand for that, someone will show up. If it is organized professionally, maybe the event would qualify for the dispensation that is offered.

Keeping calm and carrying on,


I do not know the Grand Master of New South Wales and Australian Capital Territories, so I cannot view his edict through or in proximity to his eyes, but looking at it with my own eyes, it makes some sense.

There is another syndrome in Freemasonry, and I have diagnosed and named it myself. The Icarus Syndrome is exhibited by Masons who really should be laying their personal foundations of Masonic knowledge by – if I may paraphrase a few rituals – going to lodge, conversing with more knowledgeable brethren, studying the Liberal Arts and Sciences, being charitable toward their brethren, and making a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge, but who instead pursue other knowledge for which they are not yet prepared. Or maybe they are prepared, but make a wrong turn and wind up in dubious rites and orders.

Courtesy The Folio Society
In Greek mythology, Daedalus, whose name means “bright” or “cunningly wrought,” was an extremely handy inventor and craftsman – “a wonderful smith,” in the words of Bro. Robert Graves in his The Greek Myths anthology – and the father of Icarus. Both were imprisoned on Crete by King Minos, and to make their escape, Daedalus fashioned a set of wings for each of them. Thread held together the large quill feathers, and wax was used to hold the smaller feathers in place.

They took flight, literally, in a northeasterly direction. The father warned his son not to fly so low as to wet his wings in the sea, nor soar so high as to melt the wax in the sunlight.

You know the rest: Icarus, not ready for the knowledge and responsibility entrusted to him prematurely, enjoyed the wonderful freedom of motion too much and sailed too high. The sun melted the wax of his wings, and he fell into the sea, drowning.

The end.

Don’t let this happen to you.

I know all the nonsense about sorcery, Satanism, druidism, etc. is not any concern of any real Freemason in any real Masonic lodge but, frankly, the Alchemy and Rosicrucianism do figure into Masonic studies, with other parallel and related practices as well.

Those will be there for us when we are ready for them. To make oneself ready for them, a Mason divides his time in a specific method, measures his thoughts and actions in certain ways, and applies himself with deliberation and finality to achieve an ultimate, desired result. So you have to ask yourself if you want to be a “seeing is believing” Mason who is in control of his passions, his physical powers, and his intellect, or do you want to be a “believing is seeing” Mason who can be fooled into just about anything because he lacks the fundamental knowledge and acquired experience that creates wisdom.

It’s all free will and accord, brethren. No one is going to arrest your movement whichever way you go, but remember what happens when you fly too high before you’re ready.


E C Ballard ஃ said...

While we may agree on some points, I respectfully wish to suggest that downplaying the importance of this ruling is to miss its message. Clearly, that message is not the one which the Grand Lodge wished to send, but that is so often the case these days.

The real message as I see it, is that the leadership of mainstream masonry (I refuse to call it regular, but that is another discussion and a lengthy one) has lost its connection to and understanding of the classic origins of Freemasonry and are instead concerned with political control and public relations.

This is not an isolated case. Perhaps more evidence of the same misguided "management strategy" was the sad exercise of corporate PR presented by the UGLE under the title of "The Future of Freemasonry Report."

Perhaps some are willing to adjust to illogical shifting regulations which ought not be, much less be tolerated, but that cannot be viewed as wise, and I really don't think it should be made light of.

I, and I know I am not alone in this, look at the actions of mainstream Grand Lodge with a measure of disbelief. Are they so out of contact with the contemporary world that they do not realize that far from disparaging esotericism, it represents perhaps their best chance of staving off what may well otherwise be inevitable obsolescence? And if one is equating esoteric study with satanism that demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of esoteric studies.

Instead, we see a continuing trend of institutional disconnect. I am sure I will be discounted by the vast majority who like the feel of sand about their receding hairlines, but where I grew up, silence is complicity. Perhaps my objections can be discounted by repeating the position taken by one brother here writing from down under who said that everyone pretty much simply ignored the order and found it amusing.

That response alone should set off alarms all on its own. The consensus where this has occurred suggests that the orders of leadership should be ignored when it is viewed as out of touch. My question is how sound an institution can one have if being out of touch is expected and accepted of its leadership?

frat. Eoghan

Magpie Mason said...

I'm sorry, Bro. Eoghan, but it is way too easy to hold up this silly edict as proof of whatever it is we want to prove.

The Christian fundamentalist who accuses Freemasonry of satanic practices can say the edict is proof of satanic practices, and that only the lexicon has changed for public relations. The Masonic esotericist can bemoan the loss of what he holds dear, even though his lodge actually never discusses alchemy and rosicrucianism.

A Masonic lodge can be fully functional and can provide excellent Masonic education in perpetuity without mentioning the words alchemy and rosicrucianism.

Do alchemists reflexively speak of Freemasonry? Do rosicrucians? No. They don't have to. All these disciplines are connected, but they are not interchangeable. They may be among "the classic origins of Freemasonry," but they are not fundamental teachings of the lodge.

Is there "institutional disconnect" in mainstream Freemasonry? Yeah, obviously, but this clumsy edict is hardly the most damning evidence of it.


E C Ballard ஃ said...

Well, my brother, as I pointed out, what is of far greater concern ought to be the responses of freemasons to such edicts and pr events. The fact that the top leadership whether it be down under or in London can produce a major document or an edict and have it either laughed off or largely ignored is not a source of either pride or optimism.

Whether large or small in one's opinion, it remains a sign that should be heeded.