Thursday, July 30, 2015

‘Journal 28 in the mail’


Issue No. 28 of The Journal of the Masonic Society is arriving in members’ mailboxes now. Some of the highlights include:

Editor Michael Halleran considers the importance of candidate proficiency examinations. “It seems clear that suitable proficiency means comprehension—not just a rote recitation—of the experience of the degree, enriched with appreciation of the implements of Masonry and some understanding of the symbolism of the fraternity, as specified by the grand lodge,” he rightly writes. “Sadly, we have all witnessed perfunctory examinations, but these do no one any favors.”

It’s very simple to me: Since Freemasonry uses the building arts metaphorically, we’d view the prospective member as raw material. When your basic building blocks show no understanding of the fundamentals of Masonic thought, you’ll have a fraternity that serves no vital purpose. Just shallow sociability, perfunctory charity—oh, wait.

Bro. Richard Bunn, in his article, draws comparisons between architectural cornerstones installed ceremonially and elements of the Hiramic drama. “If the Freemasons had been farmers, they would have seized upon the metaphor of the seed—as utilized by ancient agrarian societies in their mystery dramas, the most famous example being the Peresphone myth, which elucidates on the esoteric phenomenon of sowing, i.e., the seed, after being buried in the earthen furrow, rises again in the new stalk—but as the Gentlemen Masons were Symbolic builders, they chose the stone, like the medieval alchemists before them, to teach the same lesson of regeneration, or immortality of the soul,” he says in one breath. “Regrettably, with the ceremony of the laying/dedication no longer being in high demand, twenty-first century Freemasons are rarely, if ever, exposed to the profound symbolism attached to one of the fraternity’s most ancient and important observances. The symbolism of the ceremony of the laying of a cornerstone and the Degree of Master Mason are so interconnected that it is my contention that if the mystery drama of the latter did not directly arise from the former, then, the two ceremonies, one public and exoteric, the other private and esoteric, evolved contemporaneously.”

A new feature, “Retrospective,” invokes lessons from the past we ought to take to heart today. This time, a concept from 1864: “The extraordinary and ruinously rapid growth which Freemasonry has experienced during the past few years has only become possible in consequence of a neglect properly to exercise the privilege of the ballot. Hundreds, nay, thousands of improper persons have been permitted to receive the degrees, who, under a proper exercise of the ballot, would never have been allowed to cross the threshold of our institution.”

Yes, that’s from 1864, not 1964.

Speaking of changes, Bro. John Bizzack returns to The Journal with “Paradigms and Periods of Transition in Freemasonry,” in which he explains what a paradigm is and how it works, and how Masons can attain a keener understanding of their fraternity’s need for constancy in Masonry’s reason for being. “The idea has never been for men to change Masonry, but for Masonry to change men. Its core values and lessons can be challenging to incorporate into one’s life,” he writes. “It takes discipline of the mind. It takes effort. But the fraternity offers true camaraderie for those who choose this difficult psychological and philosophical journey. Incredible, life-altering changes occur as a man develops and uses a value-driven moral compass.”

He continues: “The landscape has changed. Freemasonry is indeed in a paradigm shift, one that was readily identified by leaders in the fraternity in the mid 1960s and that set the course for the natural turbulence that follows any time a paradigm begins to shift. That very shift gives us the signature of the fraternity today: dwindling numbers and a sense of baffling urgency to find answers, to stop the revolving door of men in and out after only a couple of years of membership.”

Bro. Mark Tabbert, Director of the Museum and Library Collections at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Virginia, spends a lot of time these days researching and writing what I am confident will be the definitive Masonic biography of George Washington—a comprehensive study of all Washington’s Masonic words and deeds that will serve for generations. His article in The Journal this time is “George Washington Meets a Past Grand Master of England.” How did our future first president’s interactions with the Fourth Earl of Loudoun during the French and Indian War impact England’s military strategy in that conflict? You’ll want to read this one.

In his always engaging regular feature “Masonic Collectibles,” Bro. Yasha Beresiner shares an item that actually cannot be gathered into a collection: a singular ephemeral tract of anti-masonic propaganda from 1698(!). From the pamphlet: “Knowing how that God observeth privilly them that in Darkness they shall be smitten and the Secrets of their Hearts layed bare. Mingle not among this corrupt People lest you be found so at the World’s Conflagration.”

There’s no pleasing some people.

And getting back to cornerstones, Bro. Stephen Ponzillo, a Past Grand Master of Maryland, hits the books to provide some biographical knowledge of the men whose names are inscribed on the silver plaque set into the cornerstone laid in the U.S. Capitol on September 18, 1793. Reflections on brother Masons who ought not be forgotten.

Plus, there are the regular attractions. President Jim Dillman tells us about the upcoming Quarry Project in Indianapolis. In “Book Reviews,” we have six titles of Masonic and related importance, including Frances Timbers’ Magic and Masculinity: Ritual Magic and Gender in the Early Modern Era, and Roscoe Pound’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Freemasonry. “News of the Society” informs us of the many successes enjoyed by various members of The Masonic Society as they pursue their labors in various employments throughout the fraternity, plus some other oddities you may not have heard yet. And, under “Conference, Speeches, Symposia & Gatherings,” is a list of educational and cultural events around the nation upcoming in the next few months.

‘Masonic Treasures’ is the regular feature on the back cover of The Journal. This issue treats us to the tracing board artwork of Bro. Jorge Soria of Grapevine Lodge No. 288 in Texas. Such low tech devices were common in the 18th and 19th centuries as aids to imparting lessons in Masonic symbolism and thought, but were replaced by electronic media as generations passed. However, thanks to artists like Soria, lucky lodges again are able to employ graphic crafts to instruct their candidates through the degrees.

And finally, if you wish to advertise your books, regalia, wares, organized events, or other Masonic-friendly goods and services, please contact yours truly here. Our rate card is here.

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