Saturday, January 2, 2016
By now some of you may be tired of me promoting and encouraging membership in the Grand College of Rites, something I’ve been doing here and there in social media and in my travels for about fifteen years, but if you are a thinking Mason, then the GCR merits your attention.
The Grand College of Rites is custodian of a multitude of defunct Masonic rites and orders, conserving their rituals and publishing them for education Masons, like you and me, in its annual edition of Collectanea, edited by Arturo de Hoyos, Grand Archivist extraordinaire. It is about to go to press with its 2015 book William H. Peckham’s Cerneau Scottish Rite, Part 1: 4°-9°.
This will be the first time complete Cerneau rituals will be available in print, says Grand Registrar Gerald Klein in a letter to the membership. Those who were members in good standing for 2015 will receive this volume of Collectanea soon. If you are not a member and will attend Masonic Week next month in Virginia, you may join there. (Don’t quote me, but I believe you’d receive this Cerneau book there and then.) The ideal way to join is simply to click here and download the petition for membership and send it in.
Annual dues cost a mere $15. (In New York City, you can’t even take yourself to the movies for fifteen bucks, so just sign up already.)
So who was William H. Peckham? He was Sovereign Grand Commander of the Cerneau Scottish Rite during the 1880s. Look into some of his correspondence, courtesy of the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York, here.
But about the Cerneau book. From the publicity:
Named after Joseph Cerneau (1763-184?), “Cerneauism” was a rival and illegitimate form of Scottish Rite Masonry that challenged the Southern Jurisdiction and Northern Masonic Jurisdiction during most of the 1800s.
Cerneau, a Frenchman and resident of Havana, Cuba, was a jeweler and Secretary of a Pennsylvania lodge, La Temple des Virtus Theogalis. In 1806 he was appointed Inspector of the 25-degree Order of the Royal Secret (Rite of Perfection), with authority to create one new 25° Mason each year in Cuba. In 1807 he moved to New York City. After the Mother Supreme Council in Charleston created the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction in 1813, Cerneau’s Consistory put forth a Supreme Council of 33 degrees and claimed territory over the “United States of America, its Territories and Dependencies.” In 1853 it chartered two Blue lodges in New York City, which may have sealed its fate as forever illegitimate.
Despite its many ups and downs, the Cerneau Supreme Council became a strong rival to the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and in 1867 merged with the NMJ. In 1881, dissatisfied former members of the Cerneau Supreme Council renounced their vows of fealty, withdrew from the NMJ, and reactivated the Supreme Council for the United States of America, its Territories and Dependencies. Eventually the conflict between the Supreme Councils (primarily in the NMJ) spilled over into Blue lodges. The courts ultimately upheld a grand lodge’s right to control what Masonic groups its members could belong to, and only then did “Cerneauism” come to an end.
So I’m looking forward to this edition of Collectanea to see what the hubbub was all about. If I’m not mistaken, to this day those visiting a lodge in Pennsylvania must affirm to the brother tiler that they are not members of the Cerneau Masonry. But to be fair, it must be remembered that Cerneau died in the 1840s, and the more infamous deeds undertaken in his name followed in the ensuing decades.
Cerneau was a jeweler by profession. I would love to see what he crafted for the officers of his Consistory.
The annual meeting of the Grand College of Rites will convene Saturday, February 13 at 8 a.m. amid the Masonic Week events in Arlington, Virginia. Hope to see you there.