Sunday, November 30, 2008

It’s Saint Andrew’s Day

DATE: November 30th, 2008 Feast of Saint Andrew
WEATHER: A most glittering starlight sky
OUTLOOK: No suffering

On this day in 1736, the Grand Lodge of Scotland was formed when about a third of the approximately 100 known lodges sent representatives to Edinburgh to settle the matter. Despite being the native land of the earliest known Masonic lodges, Scotland was not the first to form a national body. The 30th of November was selected because it is the Feast Day of St. Andrew, who is the patron saint of Scotland and of Scottish Freemasonry. It is his Feast Day because on this date in 60 C.E., during the reign of Nero, he was martyred.

There was that Hellenic period in Jewish history when Jews had Greek names, and the name Andrew indeed derives from the Greek word for “manly.” (Somehow, “Andrew Palmer Hall” just sounds bland.) Considering he was one of the 12 chosen to be Apostles, it is odd that Scripture doesn’t offer much information on him. What little I know is found here.

“St. Andrew is said to have been crucified on an X-shaped cross, although there is no historical evidence to support this claim,” writes Rex Hutchens in his book A Bridge to Light. “The cross bearing his name appears on the Scottish flag. He is said to have appeared to Hungus, King of the Picts in the ninth century, promising him victory in a battle with the English King Athelstan who sought to conquer Scotland. In the sky that night St. Andrew placed the shape of the cross on which he was crucified as a token of this promise or covenant. The Picts defeated Athelstan and thereby maintained their liberty, for a while.”

Scotland figures significantly in the history of American Freemasonry. “It has been established that the first Freemason known to have been in America was John Skene,” says Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, “whose name appears on the roll of Lodge of Aberdeen and who settled at Burlington, New Jersey in 1682.” (The lodge in Aberdeen itself can be traced to the year 1483, according to this same reference book.) Chartered Nov. 30, 1756, St. Andrew’s Lodge in Boston would distinguish itself several times during the colonial era. In 1764 it became the first Masonic lodge anywhere to possess its own hall upon purchasing the Green Dragon Tavern. On Dec. 16, 1773, this lodge became linked, accurately or otherwise, to the Boston Tea Party when some of its members – enough to prevent the lodge from holding its meeting scheduled for that evening – involved themselves in the Tea Party.

St. Andrew’s Masons are found around the world. In Scandinavia, where the Swedish Rite continues Scottish traditions (incidentally, the GL of Scotland warranted St. Magnus Lodge No. 199 at Gothenburg in 1780), there are St. John’s lodges that confer the three Craft degrees, from which the deserving may be allowed to progress to the St. Andrew’s lodges, which work three subsequent degrees.

Aprons of the V° and VI° of St. Andrew's Masonry in Norway. (Courtesy of the Museum of Masonic Culture, Lincoln Park, New Jersey)

Today, American Masons must look to the Scottish Rite for remnants of St. Andrew’s Masonry or Scotch Masonry. It is the 29° in that system of degrees that still holds the title Knight of St. Andrew. (Plus, there is a fraternity of this name within the Scottish Rite.) There being two Scottish Rite jurisdictions in the mainstream of the fraternity, it should be noted that more than one version of this degree is extant, and that both versions have undergone many changes over the years. The form of this degree circa 1804 is of interest to students of the history of “High Degrees.” In it, the Grand Master of Ceremonies explains to the candidate the differences between the three degrees of St. John’s lodges and this degree:

An Elder Scottish Master is a high Priestly Order, my Brother, and highly different from the Blue Master. A Master of the three lower degrees, wherein until now you was only taught to venerate the Godhead, under the name of the Most Great, Most Wise and Almighty Architect of the Universe. But an Elder Scottish Master must pay a more deep and feeling veneration to the Almighty God. That due veneration we are taught by the teacher and declarer of our Holy Order, when he says “The true worshippers will worship him in spirit and in truth.” The first veneration is common to all men and Brethren, as directed by common sense, but the latter belongs to those who dedicate their hearts for the dwelling of the Most High and Merciful God, the Grand Architect of the Universe.

The candidate then is informed that his current working knowledge of the use of the Square and Compasses, which is “only” for “mathematical geometry,” merely hints at their purpose in the Scottish work. He then receives the Signs, Tokens and Words of the degree. “The first part of the Grand Scottish Sign alludes to the Priests in the Temple, who always put their hands to their foreheads… as if to keep off the rays, whenever they gave the benediction.” Then comes a lesson in alchemical matters, followed by the knighting. (Source: Ordo Ab Chao. Illustration courtesy of Scottish Rite Research Society.)

This degree today, as worked in the A&ASR Southern Jurisdiction, instructs in nine virtues, presented in three groupings of three. Hutchens writes: “Humility, Patience and Self-Denial are the three essential qualities of a Knight of St. Andrew of Scotland.” Charity, Generosity and Clemency must be enlisted in the defense of “all orphans, maidens, and widows of good family, and wherever they heard of murderers, robbers, or masterful thieves who oppressed the people, to bring them to the laws, to the best of their power.” Virtue, Truth and Honor “protects us when we are unarmed, and is an armor that we cannot lose, unless we be false to ourselves…. Nor is there wisdom without virtue, but only a cunning way of procuring our own undoing.”

(This mention of armor may be a link to the alchemical symbolism of the 1804 ritual, which speaks pointedly of seven planets and seven metals. I’ll have to read up on that.)

In his encyclopedic Scottish Rite Ritual: Monitor and Guide, Ill. Art de Hoyos describes the degree as one “intended to inculcate equality, representing the poor knight equal to the monarch…. The beautiful Masonic doctrine of Toleration is exemplified in this.”

The apron of the 29°
the St. Andrew's cross,
and stars.
(Courtesy of the Museum
of Masonic Culture,
Lincoln Park,
New Jersey.)

One virtue that first comes to the minds of many Masons when asked to define Freemasonry is Toleration, and in fact that is the key purpose of the 29° here in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the AASR. In the mid 19th century, the NMJ’s ritual of this degree was similar in philosophy to the ritual the Southern Jurisdiction uses today. The Knight of St. Andrew had the missions of rebuilding churches destroyed in the Holy Land by the Saracens; of protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land; and of performing other duties of knighthood. In the years following, it underwent many changes, and was set in the court of a Turkish sultan.

As the historical notes prefacing the ritual say:

The Knights of Saint Andrew appear before him loaded with chains. The Sultan discusses ransom for the captives. He asks concerning the Order of Knighthood and requests an invitation. He is at first refused until Knights learn from the Koran that the essentials of belief are the same. The Sultan and two Emirs are received into the Order. Ransom is paid by the Sultan and Emirs. A lengthy lecture on “Toleration” concludes the Degree.

In 1896 the degree took the form the NMJ knows today, although other rewritings would arise until 2003. It takes place in 1396 at Patras (ancient Patrae), in Achaia, Western Greece, and inside the Cathedral of St. Andrew, temporary military headquarters of Sultan Bayazid I.

“Masonic equality is not an artificial leveling of wealth or outward conditions,” says the Prologue of the degree. “It is the true equality which should exist between men of virtue and high ideals, regardless of such conditions. In the code of chivalry, the poorest Knight and the greatest King were equal as Knights. Masonic toleration is respect for the opinions of others. No one man, no one church, no one religion has a monopoly on truth. We should be true and faithful to our own opinions, and we should extend to the opinions of others the same respect we demand for our own.”


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Regalia of the 29°. (Courtesy Scottish Rite Research Society)

“The Cross of St. Andrew is an ancient symbol, far older than Christianity,” writes Ill. Jim Tresner, author of Vested in Glory. “It is formed in the heavens by the point at which the celestial equator crosses the plane of the eliptic. Seeming to have symbolized the idea of change from very early times, it appears on ancient statues of the Mithraic deity Kronos, the lion-headed, winged human figure often shown standing on a globe marked with that cross, probably suggesting change as a function of time.”

The thistle is the national emblem of Scotland.

“The Danes invaded Scotland and stealthily surrounded Staines Castle,” according to A Bridge to Light. “They took off their shoes to wade the moat, only to find it dry and filled with thistles. The resultant yells and curses roused the garrison, and the Danes were soundly defeated.”

Regalia of the 29°. (Courtesy Scottish Rite Research Society)

The aprons shown below are among the many Scottish Masonic aprons on display at the Museum of Masonic Culture, located at the Valley of Northern New Jersey.

Grand Lodge of Scotland apron highlighting the MacQueen tartan.

The apron of the Grand Lodge of Scotland's Provincial GL of Bermuda, featuring the Black Watch tartan.

An apron from Scotland's District Grand Lodge of South Africa.

This apron is from Scotland's District Grand Lodge of the Middle East, which includes Lebanon, which is also ground zero in the current feud between the grand lodges of New York and Washington, DC.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

‘From Commandery to Consistory’


When the planets align just so, it is possible to have a York Rite Commandery and a Scottish Rite Consistory meet on consecutive evenings. Or maybe it’s just coincidence. Either way, that’s how it worked out this week. Trinity Commandery, No. 17 met in Conclave on Monday, followed by New Jersey Consistory last night.

The occasion at Trinity was especially memorable for many reasons. We were treated to the visit of M.E. William H. Koon, II, Grand Master of the Grand Encampment of the United States. He’s an Honorary Member of our Commandery, so it’s tempting to think of him as just Billy, an informality he does not discourage at all.

The purpose of the evening was to confer the Order of the Temple upon 15 Knights of Malta, and Billy presided over the ritual conferral, leading Trinity’s officers through the ceremony. This cannot be taken for granted because of the excellent quality of the ritual work refined over many years at Trinity. The Knights certainly have “their way” of doing things. (A grand officer once admiringly dubbed Trinity the “Cecil B. DeMille Commandery” for the ceremonial flourishes that make its ritual work unique in New Jersey, unique for its effective esoteric transmission.) Anyway, the Grand Master and Trinity’s Knights had no opportunity to rehearse, but complemented each other’s efforts magnificently nonetheless.

Another reason that circumstance is notable is for the singularity of having anyone else confer the Order. The Order of the Temple at Trinity was conferred for 43 years by Thurman C. Pace, Jr., Honorary Past Grand Master, but he gladly stepped aside for this memorable occasion.

The sizable class included many friends: Hansel from Sons of Liberty, Geoffrey from Essex Lodge, Gordie from Scott Chapter, and others. I’m glad they were able to advance to this key Masonic experience. The Order of the Temple, in the hands of a Commandery that knows its business, makes for an unforgettable and inspiring experience.

The Order was followed by a round of awards presentations. It’s great to see friends recognized for the hard work they put into their Freemasonry. Honestly, “hard work” is an understatement in some instances.

X, a recent Past Commander of Trinity, who also is a veritable mainstay of many York Rite organizations and those organizations’ events near and far, was duly recognized with the Templar’s highest honor: the Knight Commander of the Temple. Here he is being invested with the jewel by Thurman.

Similarly recognized was Mike Lakat, Grand Commander of New Jersey. Despite serving on his staff as editor of our monthly magazine, I actually do not know Mike very well, but it is obvious to anyone that he exudes class, professionalism and fraternal friendliness. He is precisely what Masonry would want in its leaders. These top awards were given very correctly. Our fraternity too often heaps titles and jewels on those who do not necessarily earn them. Sometimes it is a kind of momentum, like a snowballing effect, where rank is bestowed upon one because he already has so many others. In these instances, merit clearly won the day.

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The Scottish Rite’s equivalent of the YR’s Commandery is its Consistory, which “consists” of 32° Masons. The 32° itself is titled “Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret,” and the meeting of New Jersey Consistory on Tuesday was devoted to a discussion of what that secret is, decoding the symbols and ritual that impart it.

The degree has changed over the generations, so what a Google search can yield might not reveal the current form of the degree. Our lecturer did his best to explain various ritual elements for the benefit of all present, especially those who had just received this degree on Saturday.

Most importantly the term “secret” should not be understood as something to be hidden from the world, but rather as synonymously with “mystery,” because it is something intangible that we ought to seek in every aspect of life, not just in ritual contexts.

The trestleboard of this degree, nicknamed “The Camp,” is pregnant with symbols, as it is the accumulation of the symbolism of the entire corpus of AASR degrees. The significance of Frederick the Great, the history of the Rite of Perfection, and other subheadings were covered.

The presentation concluded with a revealing look at what the 33° used to be. Not to be confused with the modern 33°, which was written about 50 years ago to impart a variety of Masonic ideals, this original 33° was intended to continue the Templar lessons of the 30th, 31st and 32nd degrees of Scottish Rite Masonry circa 1804. I’ll have to leave you in suspense on that one.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A pretty singular occurrence

Here’s something you don’t see every day: one grand lodge in the United States withdraws its recognition of another grand lodge… over the latter’s new lodge in Lebanon!

But that’s where we are.

On Wednesday, the Grand Lodge of New York adopted a resolution withdrawing formal recognition of the Grand Lodge of Washington, DC because GLDC chartered and consecrated Ahiram Lodge, No. 1000 in Beirut. (website under construction)

It might seem unlikely that anyone would want to meet in a Masonic lodge in that city, thanks to the decades of violence there, but actually the Grand Lodge of New York, the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and other jurisdictions have had lodges working in Beirut for many years. The GLNY formed its Syria-Lebanon district in 1925.

I won’t repeat what the respective grand masters have said on this matter. You can click on the images to read the correspondence yourself.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

‘Just call me Frank’

Francis Scott Key III, a Scottish Rite Mason since 1944, when he joined the A&ASR in the Panama Canal Zone. He demitted in 1975 and joined the Valley of Northern New Jersey.

Naturally Freemasonry devotes a lot of time to history, whether its own history, or American history, world history, Biblical history, etc. But where the annals of Masonry and those of larger contexts intertwine is especially fascinating and worthy of study and preservation. That was the case today when Francis Scott Key III, the great-great-grandson of the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was honored with a very special luncheon followed by an interview filmed for posterity by the Supreme Council of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.

A very special day indeed. For the occasion, Ill. John William McNaughton, Sovereign Grand Commander of the AASR-NMJ, and his counterpart, Ill. Ronald A. Seale, SGC of the A&ASR-SJ journeyed to Jersey to be part of this celebration, joining local Masonic dignitaries from Scottish Rite and Grand Lodge alike.

“I just try to be a good citizen,” said Key when asked what it is like to share a name so well known from history books. “The name didn’t mean much to me until I was 21.” It was at that age when he began to learn about his family history. Key said his father never spoke much about the family, alluding to a rift among relatives concerning something called the Civil War. “I began reading about his father, a lieutenant during the Revolutionary War. He marched his men from Maryland to Boston to fight with Washington. When George Washington died, he (by then a general) got his men together and paraded behind the casket on the way to the cemetery. He spent three or four days with Martha Washington then; she had gotten to know the Key family quite well.”

“When I got older and read about Francis Scott Key, I wanted to be like him, but I couldn’t be. He was a highly educated man, and I am not. I only went to high school. He was a lieutenant during the war – not a fighter, but a lawyer. And he did a lot for people beside writing “The Star-Spangled Banner.’ ” But Key and his historic ancestor do share traits. “He knew what he wanted (in life) and he got it,” Key explained, “and I did too. I got to work in South and Central America, Africa and Europe, and met a lot of people. The good lord has been with me.”

“It is an honor to have this great name,” he added. “For what those people did, I feel very proud to be related to them. I was in the Navy, and every time they played the National Anthem it meant a lot to see what that song meant to other people.”

That shared sense of pride he witnessed is important to Key, not only for the way it honored his namesake’s memory, but because to him that common bond of American identity is what can reverse the biggest problems he sees confronting America today. “I have been on different Army and Navy posts, and in many lodges too, and watched everybody gather. Everybody stands up and really honors that song.”

“I don’t know how young people feel about it,” he added. “I know today many people – even older men – cannot sing even the first part of it. I do want people to respect the American flag and show it. And you should know the first stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I want for America what we had before,” he continued, alluding to a national identity. “I want to see our country get back like it was years ago. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just an ordinary old man.” He also explained in detail his admiration and hopes for President-elect Barack Obama, looking to him for leadership in uniting Americans of all backgrounds. “He wants to make something of this country, and I think he will.”

Francis Scott Key III was born September 23, 1912 in Panama City in the Republic of Panama. His family lived and worked there in the Canal Zone thanks to his father’s personal friendship with Theodore Roosevelt. Key made his life there into adulthood, working on Canal projects and for United Fruit, and was made a Mason there as well. He progressed to the Scottish Rite in 1944, joining the Valley of Balboa. He has resided in New Jersey since 1960, and joined Tilden Lodge, No. 183 in Dumont (now Alpine-Tilden-Tenakill Lodge, No. 77). He received a demit from those four A&ASR bodies in the Panama Canal Zone in 1975, when he joined the Valley of Northern New Jersey.

“We can’t look backward. We have to look forward. I have traveled all over the world, and we’ve got everything here,” Key said. “If the people would get together behind this new president – he’s got enough ‘upstairs’ – we can make this a better country again.”

Visiting an old Valley

I attended a concert last night and unexpectedly found myself inside an old Scottish Rite building, formerly the home of the Valley of New York City.

We arrived near the end of the opening act’s set, so it was dark. While wrestling myself out of my overcoat my gaze was directed to the ceiling where, staring back at me, was a foursome of Rose Croix emblems. Then next to that I see the Consistory’s Double-Headed Eagle. Then the Council’s Scales of Justice, etc., etc.

I had no camera with me, and my phone of course is useless for such shooting, but the room can be see here.

The building is the Manhattan Center, home of Hammerstein Ballroom, which I’ve walked past maybe a thousand times, but had never entered. We were in the Grand Ballroom on the seventh floor. I later got to talking with someone sitting in front of me, who said he’d attended a show three weeks ago on another floor, and that hall had an Arabic design, so maybe that was once a Shrine facility?

The New York Times has this to say:

Masonic Movements

Q. On my way to work, I pass a building on West 34th Street now called the Manhattan Center. Carved into its facade are the words ''Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite.'' What does this mean?

A. The phrase refers to the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Free Masonry, an order of the New York Freemasons who once occupied that building.

A well-known fraternal organization, the Freemasons have been in New York since the place was called New Amsterdam. The first Grand Lodge of Freemasonry was opened in New York in 1781 (until then all Freemason lodges were part of a grand lodge in England). In 1789 George Washington was sworn as America's first president at Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan on a bible borrowed from the Freemason grand lodge on Lower Broadway.

In 1867 the Freemasons moved their grand lodge to 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue. In 1910 a new grand lodge was constructed in an adjacent lot at 24th Street. Over the years, several Freemason lodges have sprung up around the city, including the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, who occupied the Manhattan Center at 311 West 34th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, for just over a decade in the 1920's and 30's. Today the Scottish Rite, and 64 other Freemason lodges, meet at the Grand Lodge, still on 24th Street.

Famous New York Freemasons include Fiorello H. La Guardia, Harry Houdini, Duke Ellington and John Jacob Astor.

Anyway, it was a damn fine show, replete with the performer's justified cursing out of one rowdy audience member. Happy birthday Lara!