Wednesday, December 31, 2008

‘That is “Amadeus” backward’

David Greilsammer conducts Suedama Ensemble through its rehearsal before its New York City debut Dec. 11 at the 92nd Street Y.

The Magpie Mason began the month of December with mention of Suedama Ensemble’s upcoming performance at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, and before the month is out I’d better tell you what happened!

The performance was the NYC debut of this very excellent chamber orchestra that, for the occasion, chose a program of Mozart’s Masonic music and other esoterica-inspired works, including the world premier of an avant-garde piece. The evening was titled “A Musical Exploration of Freemasonry and Kabbalah.” The Y’s gorgeous and acoustically magnificent Kaufmann Concert Hall was the perfect venue. Its performance space is seemingly a smaller version of (pre-renovation) Alice Tully Hall, and the highest reaches of its walls are engraved with the names of our cultural giants: David and Moses; Washington and Lincoln; Shakespeare and Dante; Beethoven and Bach; and others. A monument to Western civilization.

For a music lover, it was a perfect day. Through the kind offices of the orchestra’s management, the Magpie Mason was granted access to the dress rehearsal before the performance, and to the performance itself, for a total of about five hours of live music. Many thanks to superpublicist Amelia Kusar for her limitless patience and cheerful assistance.

The second piece performed was Mozart’s “Masonic Funeral Music” for orchestra in C Minor, K. 477. Composed in 1785, this short work commemorates the deaths of two of Mozart’s lodge brothers. No fewer than three basset horns are enlisted for the work, lending a sublime aura to an already somber sound. The program notes for the concert say “the key of C Minor, with its three flats, and the work’s ABA form, reflect Masonic Trinitarian symbolism,” and that “the midsection is based on a Gregorian chant sung during Holy Week.” The piece’s final C major chord “foreshadows the eternal peace that Mozart described in an often-quoted letter to his dying father: ‘Death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness.’ ” And indeed that chord, which was rehearsed to tonal and timed perfection that afternoon, conveyed an optimism that would remind any Mason of the immortality of the soul.

“I don’t know if the ‘Funeral Music’ would have had the same meaning for me if it had been of a different nature,” said Artistic Director and Conductor David Greilsammer during a telephone interview five days after the performance. “I have a few friends who have joined lodges in different parts of the world – Tel Aviv, Paris, New York – who have told me about Freemasonry. It’s really a beautiful thing to see how the ideas and works of the composer have been influenced (by Masonry), and it has been on my mind. It has a transcendent psychological power. We were all feeling very much that connection to something very mystical and special. A lot of passion went into it.”

Greilsammer and Suedama Ensemble have one CD available. Titled “Mozart Early Piano Concertos,” it consists of three concertos for piano and orchestra (K. 175, K. 238 and K. 246), composed during Mozart’s youth. Greilsammer said the composer’s Masonic music will “definitely be a big part of the next recording.”

The second Mozart work performed that night was Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-Flat Major, K. 482, and was by far the best known piece in the program. The program notes say Mozart unveiled this work in December of 1785, possibly at a “musical ‘academy’ sponsored by a Masonic lodge.” Specifically it is the piece’s third movement that even the least osmotic listener of classical music can recognize from its various pop culture uses. As the program notes put it: “Mozart decorates (it) with dazzlingly virtuosic passagework. A brief Andantino episode interrupts the musical momentum before piano and orchestra resume their merry dash to the finish line.” And it is a lively finish indeed, rendered all the more impressive by Greilsammer’s dual roles as conductor and pianist!

Without recounting the entire evening, the Magpie Mason must share a little about the world premier of Jonathan Keren’s “On the Bridge of Words: A Triple Concerto for Narrator, Clarinet, Piano and Chamber Orchestra.” This 15-minute piece is the aforementioned avant-garde work inspired by the Kabbalah of Jewish mysticism. Or, more accurately, as Keren explained during an interview before the show, this music’s narration borrows from six literary texts that were Kabbalah inspired. His goal as composer was to envision music that could have inspired those texts, creating a triangular cycle among the ancient Kabbalah, these six texts spanning from the 13th to 20th centuries, and this modern music.

“It’s not a bad thing to be inspired by the world outside of music,” Keren said. “We derive our inspiration from real life experiences.” This particular real life influence arrived in the form of a commission from the 92nd Street Y and the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, a challenge that didn’t cause him to blink at all. “The real challenge is to work with that and still be yourself. It can nourish and inspire. One day I may have to write a trumpet concerto, and I’ll have to deal with that!”

Well, let’s hope his career won’t force him onto that daunting a path.

“On the Bridge of Words” is music that one probably would not play in the car. It is not intended for background or even passive enjoyment, but demands your attention. The narrator’s six texts are conversational to the music; each quotation marks a movement, and the seventh movement is a pastiche of all the six quotations, culminating the lesson in symbolism for the listener. The music itself reminds me of Frank Zappa’s orchestral work and, by extension, of Zappa’s influences, like Varese and Holst.

As the program notes put it: “On a deeper symbolic level, Keren tells us that each text relates to one of the seven lower Sefirot, or so-called attributes in the Kabbalah. These attributes – such as understanding, judgment, beauty, and victory – are held to be emanations of the divine principle, the creative forces that link the infinite realm of the unknowable to the finite world of creation. Taken together, words and music constitute what the composer describes as ‘a musical and philosophical journey.’ ”

Greilsammer, who collaborated with Keren on the work, offered more background.

“I was born and raised in Israel, with a traditional Jewish family, but Kabbalah was very secretive. You don’t learn about it in school and do not hear a lot about it. So I started my own reading of philosophers’ and rabbis’ ideas. It is a different world that fascinates me.” Of the music itself, he describes it as “an interesting contrast between two languages: one avant-garde, and one musical sound we always use classically.”

“Usually when you hear an opera, it can be very difficult to understand,” he added, “but I have found that as crazy as (this) music is, you can relate and make sense of the narrator. He’s just giving you information. He’s not acting, making it different and a unique format.”

That’s a fact!

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It is New Year’s Eve, and quite a blizzard is brewing here. The Magpie Mason is signing off for 2008, wishing you all a joyful and hopefully prosperous 2009.

‘On the go in Stillwater’

Guildhall Lodge No. 553 in Stillwater, Oklahoma is a little outside the Magpie Mason’s orbit, but he has long wanted to visit the Valley of Guthrie, so maybe he’ll get there eventually.

The lodge has a busy year planned for 2009. Many thanks to Bro. Robert Davis, one of the founders of this Traditional Observance lodge, for sharing this information. Here is the lodge’s education agenda:

January – “Out of the Crucible: from the Reformation to the Age of Enlightenment”

February – “The First Recorded Freemasons, and Rosicrucian History”

March – Festive Board

April – “Sacred Space and the Lodge: A Footprint of Sacred Geometry”

May – “Current Global Trends in European Masonry”

June – Festive Board

July – “Comparing Practices of Kavvanah to Practices of the T.O. Lodge”

August – “C... K... Qabalah and Hermetic Philosophy”

September – Festive Board

October – “Alchemy: Spagyric Tincture Lodge Experiment”

November – “Jungian Psychology and Esoterica 101”

Monday, December 29, 2008

A new year at ALR

The new elected officers of American Lodge of Research.

The annual installation of officers took place a few hours ago at American Lodge of Research in New York City. RW Bill Thomas is the new Worshipful Master.

About 70 Masons filled the French Ionic Room to capacity for the occasion. The brethren came from multiple lodges representing many jurisdictions to salute the incoming Master and to honor the country’s oldest lodge of research. There was a dizzying blur of regalia, as aprons, collars, jewels, crests and other pieces displayed more designs and colors than one usually finds in a single lodge, especially an educational lodge. And speaking of diversity, it was difficult to place every one of the many foreign accents heard across the room. (And no, I don’t mean Queens and Brooklyn!) Did someone say “cosmopolitan Freemasonry?”

Lots of familiar faces also. As so often is the case in the field of Masonic education, the inhabitants are relatively few, and tend to find each other at the same kinds of events. I finally got to meet Steve Starkes, the new Junior Warden; we’ve been internet penpals for a number of years. There was Ted Harrison and George Harrison. Spiro, Philippe, Daniel from the library, Henry, Frank, the other Henry, a François or two, John Simon-Ash, the officer line of Boyer Lodge No. 1 of New York Prince Hall, and Luther from Cornerstone No. 37. And a lot more.

Shakespeare Lodge, Sibelius, Composite, King Solomon-Beethoven, Allied and other lodges were represented, as was the Grand Lodge, with multiple Right Worshipfuls showing their interest in the research lodge. (Something that can’t be taken for granted, believe me.) Also Thomas Smith Webb Chapter of Research. France L.C.A.C. And Hibiscus Lodge No. 275 in Florida was present too. An interesting lodge. Not a research lodge, but nonetheless publishes its own “International Journal of Masonic History and Culture,” copies of which were presented to WM Bill.

The inaugural paper of the Worshipful Master concerned a darkly amusing topic: the life of one George Cooke, a brother from Mt. Vernon Lodge No. 3 in Albany during the 19th century who made a name for himself as a con man, claiming to be everything from an attorney to a medical doctor to a major general.

The next Regular Communication of American Lodge of Research will take place Monday, March 30. A paper will be presented by RW Bruce Renner, Senior Grand Warden.

Journal No. 2

Word comes from our editor-in-chief that Issue No. 2 of “The Journal of the Masonic Society” will soon hit the streets.

Features include:

• Alpha Males: Trevor Stewart at Alpha Lodge, New Jersey
• Cleaning the Temple by Mark A. Tabbert
• Defining Esotericism from a Masonic Perspective by Shawn Eyer
• On Brotherhood by Robert Wolfarth
• First Degree Masonic Tracing Board: art and text by Greg Stewart
• There's A Hole In Our Bucket, Dear Hiram, Dear Hiram by Stephen Dafoe
• Photos by Ted Bastien

...and much, much more.

You mean you're still not a member of the Society? Well, consider this your engraved invitation.

And your subscription to this magazine is only one of the benefits of membership.

In addition, members are granted access to the Society’s on-line forum, where hundreds of Masons from around the globe interact every day, helping each other advance in their Masonic knowledge. As of today, there are 369 Society members discussing nearly 1,473 topics!

And of course it wouldn’t be a Masonic organization without goodies like pins and membership cards, but the Society cranks up the quality of these items, producing elegant symbols of membership that are earning accolades. In addition, each member receives an 11x14 patent, personalized and highly stylized that you'll want professionally framed. It is a very impressive document, on parchment with a hand-stamped wax seal.

But the true benefit of membership in The Masonic Society is the learning experience. Whether it’s an eye-popping topic in the magazine, or just simple conversation in the forum, there is no end to what a Mason can learn from his brethren in this organization.

Since announcing our existence on May 1, our membership has grown to more than 550. Our President is MW Roger Van Gorden, Past Grand Master of Indiana. Our Editor-in-Chief is W. Bro. Chris “Freemasons for Dummies” Hodapp. And our Directors, Officers and Founders include many leaders in Masonic education, including authors, publishers, curators, lecturers and more.

On Friday, Feb. 13, the Society will host its first banquet, as part of the Masonic Week events in Alexandria, Virginia. (Mention Hodapp's name and receive your complimentary champagne cocktail.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

‘A-P goes for the gold’

RALLYING AROUND TREVOR – Several Atlas-Pythagoras brethren flock to the side of W. Trevor Stewart at a recent visit. Rear, from left: Mike, Moises and Mohammad. Front: Pedro, Trevor and the inimitable Thurman Pace.

Atlas-Pythagoras Lodge No. 10 in Westfield, New Jersey is exploring the benefits of adding formal educational programs to its meetings. W. John Braun, the new Master has planned interesting lectures for the coming year with the encouragement of his officers. I’m told the new Senior Warden aims to continue the effort in 2010. A-P already is one of the strongest lodges in that part of the state, and with this new emphasis on education, things can only get better. (The Magpie Mason thinks he committed to a date, but can’t remember.)

On Friday, Feb. 6, Bro. Yasser Al-Khatib, Senior Warden of Fritz Lodge No. 308 in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania will speak on the history and mystery of the Order of the Golden Fleece. This meeting will be open to Apprentices and Fellows. Dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. and the Communication starts at 7.30. Call the lodge at (908) 233-7349 to make your dinner reservations.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

‘A happy St. John’s Day’

The Master of Fairless Hills Lodge No. 776 in Pennsylvania, presents a gift to the Rev. Canon William Rauscher in thanks for his talk on religion and Freemasonry today. Rauscher has been a Mason for 40 years.

I enjoyed a terrific afternoon in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania today, driving out there to join the St. John’s Day celebration at the invitation of the lodge’s Worshipful Master. Scores of other Masons, family, friends and the curious converged on the lodge for a full program of cordial ceremony, food and intelligent conversation.

The keynote address was provided by a very thoughtful man and a delightful speaker. The Rev. Canon William V. Rauscher spoke, mindful that about half the audience members were not Freemasons, on the subject of religion and Freemasonry. He began in broad terms, describing religion as the human need to have “a general belief in powers larger than oneself” to allow “the experience of harmony with oneself and with God.” And Freemasonry he defined with familiar language: “A system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated with symbols that give insights into life, service and brotherhood.”

Masonry is not a church, he explained, although it can serve as a “spiritual anchor” for men who rightly understand its “short morality plays” as lessons of charity, fraternity and wisdom. “There is nothing incompatible with traditional religious beliefs,” something attested by the many clergymen who cherish their Masonic affiliations. Indeed Masonry’s “spiritual content is its most attractive and significant” offering. The degrees are the “embodiment of the simple words of the one eternal religion: the brotherhood of man, the fatherhood of God, the Golden Rule, the hope for everlasting life.”

“We need it today more than ever.”

He touched on other factors that shape Freemasonry’s relationship with religion, including the secrecy of the fraternity, and also anti-Masonry, defining the foes of Freemasonry as varying from mainstream religions to communist regimes to “extreme radical secularists” whose aim is to have “a society without any rules at all.”

A very well received talk.

In other Fairless Hills Lodge news, the Worshipful Master has unveiled his schedule of lodge events for the coming year. Not unlike New Jersey’s Alpha and Nutley lodges (see below), this lodge is heavy on education.

Jan. 20 – The Magpie Mason speaking on the Four Cardinal Virtues.

Feb. 17 – Bro. Matthew D. Dupee, Esq., PM speaking on “Freemasonry in Europe.”

March 17 – Bro. Jerry Hamilton, PM on “The True Meaning of Masonic Ritual.”

April 21 – Three speakers: Bro. Rev. William D. Hartman, Grand Chaplain, on “George Washington and Freemasonry.” Bro. Walter Lamont on “Music and Freemasonry Around the Globe.” And Bro. Carl L. Swope, DDGM on a topic to be announced.

May 19 – Bro. Aaron White, PM of Kite and Key Lodge No. 811 speaking, appropriately, on “Traditional Observance Lodges.”

May 23 – The ceremony of initiation! The EA° will be conferred at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Va.

May 27 – The lodge will visit Kite and Key Lodge, which meets at the Allentown Masonic Temple.

Oct. 20 – The MM° will be conferred by Past Masters. Speaker: Bro. Frank Walker, PM of Texas, comparing Pennsylvania and Texas rituals.

Nov. 17 – Bro. George R. Haynes, PM on “Lodge Models and Model Lodges.”

Nov. 29 – The Annual Lodge Banquet, featuring Bro. Tom Jackson, Past Grand Secretary.

In addition to all that, this lodge has a great program, devised by the aforementioned Bro. Haynes, called “One Lodge, One Book.” The lodge purchases copies of a book of Masonic significance, and mails those copies to all the lodge’s brethren. The result is improved attendance at lodge, and meaningful discussions at meetings, said the Worshipful Master, who recalled how Hodapp’s “Freemasons for Dummies” doubled lodge attendance. The book now being provided is the new one from Bro. Robert L.D. Cooper of Scotland titled “Cracking the Freemasons Code,” which is one of those great books that makes Masonry comprehensible to non-Masons without forgetting to teach Masons themselves a thing or two also.

Worshipful Master, you’re going to have an amazing year! See you on the 20th.

Friday, December 26, 2008

2009 at Alpha Lodge

Lord Cannock and David Lindez last December at Alpha.

2009 events at historic Alpha Lodge No. 116

56 Melmore Gardens in East Orange. Easily reached by Route 280, the Parkway, etc.

Wed. Jan. 14 - Junior Warden Robert Morton on “From Whence We Come.”

Wed. Feb. 25 - Special Multimedia Presentation on Haitian Freemasonry, with a catered Haitian Agape. $10 at the door. 7:30 p.m.

Wed. March 25 - World famous Masonic author and lecturer Dr. Tim Wallace-Murphy to speak on “The Enigma of Rosslyn Chapel.”

Wed. April 8 - Visit by Oliver Kruse, Orator of the Swedish Rite in Germany, to give a paper “An Introduction to the Swedish Rite.”

Wed. April 22 - Presentation by the Worshipful Master on the Johannite traditions in Freemasonry.

Wed. May 27 - Academic presentation of Masonic research papers by brethren of Alpha Lodge:

“Archetypical Influences and the Molecular Impact of Sacred/Secret Words in Masonry” by Dr. Mardoche Sidor;

“The Pillars of Masonry” by Michael Terry; and

“Reactions to Music in Freemasonry” by Nathaniel Gibson.

Wed. June 24 - Summer Solstice Agape Observation of St. John's Day (talk to be given by the Worshipful Master on “Planetary, Lunar and Solar Influences in Masonic Movement, Stations and Places.”

Wed. Sept. 9 - RW Rashied Sharrieff-Al-Bey of Cornerstone Lodge No. 37, MWPHGLNY, will speak on the “Hidden Work of our Gentle Craft.”

Wed. Oct. 14 - Presentation on “Willermozism” by VW Piers A. Vaughan, world renowned expert on the RER.

Wed. Oct. 28 - Dr. R.A. Gilbert speaking on Br. A.E. Waite’s mystical approach to Freemasonry.

Wed. Nov. 11 - Visit by MW Thomas R. Hughes, Grand Master of the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New Jersey, to speak on Freemasonry’s historic importance in the black community.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

‘Hermes, Guide of the Soul’

The C.G. Jung Foundation has a daylong seminar scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 21 at its Manhattan headquarters. Led by Gary D. Astrachan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst from Maine, this event will “explore, celebrate and delight in the Hermetic mythologem, with lecture material, slides, music, readings and lively discussion.”

Recommended readings are excerpts from Charles Boer’s “Homeric Hymns” and Karl Kerenyi’s “Hermes: Guide of Souls.”

The Foundation is located at 28 East 39th St. General public admission costs $70 per person.

‘Going nuts for Nutley’

While you are filling in your 2009 calendars, you may want to take note of the schedule of Nutley Lodge No. 25.

The following dates are first Mondays:

January 5 - Bro. R_____ M______, Past Sovereign Master of Voorhis Council No. 260, AMD, speaking on “The Traditional Observance Lodge System.”

February 2 - W.B. Ben Hoff, Master of NJ Lodge of Masonic Research and Education, on “The Development & Diversity of Masonic Ritual.”

April 6 – the Magpie Mason on “Esoterica and Common Sense.”

June 1 - M.W. David Chase, Past Grand Master of NJ, on “Masonic Symbolism.”

October 5 - W.B. Trevor Stewart, Past Prestonian Lecturer of UGLE, on “Kabbalistic Influences on Freemasonry.”

November 2 - W.B. Mark Tabbert, author of “American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities.”

The new Worshipful Master at Nutley is W. Franklin Suco, who is one of those rare guys who “gets it.” He and other officers have been making a huge impact at Nutley in recent years, and the commitment shown to Masonic education is only one aspect of their dedication to the Craft.

Nutley Lodge No. 25 is located at 175 Chestnut St. in Nutley, which is in the Essex-Passaic county area. Nutley is easily accessible from routes 3, 23, 46, 80, 280, and the Parkway and Turnpike.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another Big Night at ‘The Little Inn’ (conclusion)

It normally doesn’t take your correspondent a week and a half to complete a thought, but it’s been a hectic week and a half. Forthwith, here is Part Four of “Another Big Night at the Little Inn.”

“Thank you for the 48 hours notice,” said Bro. Trevor Stewart to Master of Ceremonies Bill Thomas. “I appreciate the gesture!” It was true. Trevor had been drafted into the program at the proverbial eleventh hour. Not having a talk formally prepared, he nonetheless professorially clutched a sheaf of papers as he spoke engagingly of the ways brethren of the 18th century supported the arts in their communities.

“We know from playbills and other ephemera that, as the 18th century went on, Freemasons, as individuals or lodges, were involved with theatrical performances,” he said, beginning a short lecture on what could be titled “Processions: Masons in Regalia.” Torch-lit parades, even with military bands, would march from the tavern/lodge to the theater and back. “This happened frequently.” I don’t know if Trevor realized it, but he was expanding on a detail in the talk he gave in this very room 52 Mondays ago.

This started around 1723. It was “strange in England,” because a ban on Masonic processions was attempted in 1745 in the wake of scurrilous embarrassments. “But the Irish, bless them, had frequent processions,” Trevor said. We know from newspapers, diaries and playbills that comedies and Shakespeare were the frequent beneficiaries of Masonic sponsorship. “In the early 18th century, there were 11 lodges dedicated specifically to the name of Shakespeare!” And in fact, we had a Shakespeare Lodge with us that evening. The Bard’s comedies were very popular, but his historical plays – “Henry IV,” “Henry V,” and “Henry VI” also were underwritten by the brethren. These dramas, particularly “Henry V,” were popular because “they espoused ideas that went to the heart of the Hanoverian times” with melodrama, heroism and idealism.

This item has nothing to do with Trevor’s talk exactly, but it is in the archives of the Livingston Library, and was included in its exhibit at Fraunces Tavern Museum seven years ago. It is the program of St. Patrick’s Lodge’s St. John’s Day procession in New York City in 1795. The lodge was accompanied by 10 other lodges, two marching bands, a contingent of Knights Templar, and the Grand Lodge officers. They marched from City Hall, through what is today the Financial District, and to “the Church,” which I take to mean St. Paul's. They returned to City Hall by a different route.

There were exceptions though.

“Prior to 1745, there were plays of ‘Macbeth’ sponsored by the Masons,” Trevor Stewart explained, but that stopped because the Hanoverians, “a very querulous people,” feared any talk of rebellion.

There were several motives at work in the Masonic patronage of the performing arts. The brethren quickly arranged to sponsor plays and to put themselves on parade, “making a spectacle of themselves in a theatrical and political statement.” These processions had order, and were characterized with “great dignity and decorum.” The brethren were not only on display in the street, but at the theater they’d sit in special boxes with the Lord Provost and other civil authorities. “Masonic lodges were taking active part in the body politic at this time. They were guys who had arrived, socially.”

They were opportunistic, but they also raised money to give to charity, and “not just Masonic charity, but any charity.” A playbill in 1785 told how “a poor house and asylum for the mad folk” in Edinburgh was one such recipient. “They were motivated by the idea of being good, and being charitable to the less fortunate.”

“The gentlemen Masons were putting on street theater, but more importantly than that, they played a crucial part of the body politic at the time,” Trevor added. “As the 18th century progressed, the legitimate activity of a gentleman was not just to be in the isolation of his lodge room, but to also be out in the streets, in coffeehouses, literary clubs and attending the theater, culturally inspired.”

“So, what has this got to do with us? We can’t parade in the streets with our regalia as much as we might wish,” he added, “but we can sponsor plays and musical performances. Why not?”

He then went on to explain how last year’s International Conference on the History of Freemasonry featured the young musicians of the Royal Academy of Scotland, thanks to the sponsorship of the Grand Masters of England, Ireland and Scotland. He also told of the lavish catalog provided to him that chronicled a major artistic exhibition in London, but that had no mention of Freemasonry. “Why not?” he asked. “We can’t parade in the street, but we can make that statement.”

The Magpie Mason could not agree more! There is so much opportunity to show ourselves to the public. Not by bowling against the Elks lodge down the street, but by sponsoring the arts, especially in and around New York City. Just off the top of my head: Lincoln Center has “Mostly Mozart” and the Duke Ellington festival; there is “Shakespeare in the Park” in Central Park; the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is just across the Hudson from West Point; “The Magic Flute” pops up at the Met and NJPAC on occasion. I may have been the only one who knew, but a mere 72 hours after this dinner-lecture the chamber orchestra called Suedama Ensemble would perform a concert inspired by Freemasonry just a few miles away! (But more on that later.) All of these endeavors rely mightily on private sector sponsorship.

Livingston Library Executive Director Tom Savini had the sobering answer.

“We need to look within before we look outside to help others,” he said, explaining how the library’s priority now is to find the resources to create the position of archivist. In the works is a database to record the histories of New York lodges, past and present.

Hopefully the means will be found to support many parallel projects in the effort to preserve Masonic culture, both within and without the temple.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

‘Deep Purple III’

Some other notable installations in the past week:

Evan Weiner, with whom I was raised in 1997, reached the East of (mighty) Peninsula Lodge No. 99 in Bayonne last Thursday. High honors were announced for two other Peninsula Masons: RW Greg Scott will take over as District Deputy Grand Master, and W. Mike Kinigstein will become Grand Chaplain in May. Congratulations brethren!

At Nutley Lodge No. 25, my friend Franklin Suco was installed into the Solomonic chair on Monday. Franklin is committed to excellence in all aspects of Masonry. Despite that, he has invited me to return to the lodge’s podium in April to deliver an educational talk. I’d better come up with a good one.

The highlight of that evening was Franklin’s introduction of his parents, who had traveled from Ecuador to be there. Franklin presented his mother with a bouquet of beautiful flowers, and he embraced his father, a brother Mason, and thanked him for teaching him how to be upright before God and man. It happened very suddenly, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the standing room only lodge.

The Magpie News Service would have had a photographer present, except that someone forgot to charge the camera battery.

In the York Rite, both Scott Chapter No. 4 or Royal Arch Masons and Scott Council No. 1 of Royal and Select Masters installed their officers for the coming year. Mario Bolaños, Jr. is the new MEHP of the former, and Bill Krzewick is TIM of the latter. In addition, Max Marcille is the new Master of J. William Gronning Council No. 83 of Allied Masonic Degrees. Congratulations guys!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Plans for St. John’s Day

While normal people devote time and energy in December planning things to do on Christmas or Hanukkah or New Year’s Eve, there exists a subculture of people like myself who plan for St. John’s Day.

Unfortunately it appears that the Festive Board I had been hoping St. John’s Lodge would host at Fraunces Tavern on the 27th is not to be, but of course in Masonry we have the law of duality, which guarantees something else is bound to pop up.

And so it has.

Tonight, Bro. Makia will be installed into the Solomonic chair of Fairless Hills Lodge No. 776 in Pennsylvania. His first event in what will be a very productive year will be a St. John’s Day celebration at the lodge on the 27th. More than great fellowship and food, the day will include The Rev. Canon William V. Rauscher, a longtime Mason from New Jersey, speaking on “Religion and Masonry.”

Very much looking forward to being there.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

‘Deep Purple II’

The East of New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786 in Trenton, NJ.

Saturday was the Installation of Officers of New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786 (where no prices are lower prices than New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786’s!), and it was an extra special occasion because the new Master is one of the lodge’s top scholars. Having just completed a second term as Master of Highland Park Lodge No. 240, Bro. Ben Hoff is sufficiently seasoned for a two-year term in the East of our research lodge.

RW Jim Ross, Installing Master, greets W. Ben Hoff in the East of New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786 in Trenton Saturday morning.

The lodge is in very good hands.

True to form, Ben began his term by presenting a thought-provoking paper. It was topical also; he wrote of how Freemasonry in the pre-grand lodge era defined Masters. Where they Master Masons, as we understand the term today, or were they Masters of lodges?

Taking from Regius, Cooke, Edinburgh Register House and other seminal texts, Ben illustrated the differences between Masters and Fellows, and the differences between Masters of construction sites and those under his authority. A number of revealing details were highlighted. For example, one item of moral instruction found in the Grand Lodge Manuscript (c. 1583), says that no Fellow shall “go into the town on an evening when there is a lodge of Fellows, unless he has a Fellow with him that might bear witness that he was in honest places.” And so we see a clear difference between competency and conduct in the workplace by day, and moral rectitude while on Refreshment at night.

Another eye-opener was revealed in the Trinity College MS (1711) and Sloane MS No. 3329. These documents show that the FPOF and the Master's Word existed well before the late 1720s, when the MM Degree we know today is believed to have debuted.

A great start to what will be a very productive period for the lodge.

‘Big Night’ (continued)

Bro. Robert L. Barrows, Grand Organist of the Grand Lodge of New York, was next on the program Monday night, speaking on “Freemasonry and Music.” A musician himself, even a choral director, Bob is well known for his lectures on a variety of music subjects. “This is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” he said, opening his remarks with a rhetorical question about culture, either the Craft or life in general. “Or it should be.” He came not to discuss famous musical Masons like Mozart, Haydn and Sibelius, but to explain “the why” of music in Freemasonry. “Why should the arts concern us at all?”

He answered his own question in two parts.

There is a shared camaraderie. Music in lodge should be accessible to “the rankest amateurs in the room,” he explained. “I don’t know about your lodge, but in my lodge….” Laughter ensued. Getting serious again, he explained that music serves a unifying purpose that reinforces what perhaps is the most important goal of the lodge: to bring people together. Freemasonry adopts no creed, but its use of music appears to have been borrowed from church and synagogue. “It’s not that we ‘took,’ but our use of music comes from the same source.”

Secondly, Barrows cited “an enormous craving” for a personal relationship to the mythos of Freemasonry, especially to the Sublime Degree. The lodge’s use of music “creates a timeless and perfect parallel universe that connects all of us in a virtual temple not made with hands,” he said.

“You can’t just do that by talking about it, folks. You have to do it. And we do that through the evocative power of the arts,” he added. Through the arts we can evoke the richness of the whole of the gentle Craft.” To not have that would be a “tragedy,” an atmosphere “we can get at the corner bar.”

“The arts are, for us, more than a paste-on adornment,” Barrows said in conclusion. “They are the core. Without them, we cannot express our true Masonry.”

During the Q&A, Bro. Barrows said something else equally worthy of notice: that Ludwig van Beethoven and J.S. Bach were Freemasons. He explained that a coffee house the two composers frequented was known to be an establishment where Masons gathered.

Next on the agenda was to be the lovely and talented Bro. Robert G. Davis, author, lecturer, Secretary of the Valley of Guthrie, &c., &c.

But he couldn’t make it, due to a sudden scheduling conflict. But the paper he was to deliver did arrive, and was presented by Bro. Marcus Fuller of King Solomon-Beethoven Lodge No. 232 in NYC. Its title: “Freemasonry and the Theater Arts.” Bro. Fuller, an actor seen in several television series, including “Law & Order,” was wisely chosen to give the talk.

DEAD! Dead! This whole deed is done!” Fuller cried, beginning the paper with an excerpt from “The Ruffians Lament,” a drama set in the wake of You Know What.

Fuller explained how Masonic degrees are all theater. Hundreds of degrees that are “ritual in structure, but theatrical in nature.”

“All the stories of human occurrences become plays,” he explained, alluding to Aristotle. “Comedy, tragedy, pleasure, magic, education. Man loves to imitate. What we Masons do is basically theater, so why aren’t we better at it?” To answer that question, Fuller took us on a historical tour, back to the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, to examine the period when craft guilds staged mystery plays in their towns. These plays, with the supervision of the church, even turned into competitions among the various guilds. They influenced the social lives and education of the thousands of people who saw them, until the plays were outlawed by King James, “making them at least semi-secret, or at least deeply esoteric.” The Master Mason Degree is a mystery play.

Of course the obvious theatrical experience in American Freemasonry is found in the Scottish Rite where, since the 1880s, the AASR has used all the tools of the stage to introduce its initiates into “a rich world of fantasy and pageantry.”

“Masonry had reinvented itself as an art,” Fuller said. The degrees went from the dark rooms of the lodge to the pageantry of “a powerfully heightened initiation,” that made it possible to “mass produce” Masons. “It is a highly charged romantic experience” to those found on both sides of the footlights.

Fuller closed with a quote of his own: “I went to the theater as a child and looked into the lights,” he said. “And men told me the truth.”

From left: Bros. David, Philippe, Rob and Luther.

‘Deep Purple’


Tis the season of Masonic Installations. This week a busy one in particular.

On Wednesday at historic Alpha Lodge in East Orange, David Lindez was found qualified and then installed into the Solomonic chair in the company of about 100 brothers, friends and well wishers. Masons from throughout New Jersey, from New York City, from Britain, France, Bermuda and elsewhere convened at Alpha to witness the event.

W. Bro. Lindez, left, receives the congratulations
of VW Piers Vaughan, in his ecclesiastical attire.

A delegation from St. John’s Lodge No. 1, AYM in New York City braved the winter elements to conduct the storied George Washington Inaugural Bible to the lodge, for placement upon the altar next to Alpha’s Bible. This is the very same Bible put to use for the first inauguration of President George Washington on April 30, 1789, and has been employed similarly by other presidents since.

A Past Supreme Magus here, a Past Prestonian Lecturer there, the mayor of the city, our junior Past Grand Master, and other dignitaries made for quite a remarkable event. It is highly unusual for a Mason to achieve an international reputation in the Craft, especially for work in education and esoterica, before serving as Master of his own lodge, but David has been known across America and far beyond for several years.

Arise my Brother.
Congratulations David!

Washington Whiskey

On this day in 1799, Bro. George Washington died at his home at Mount Vernon in Virginia. Victorious general, signer of the Constitution, and first president, Washington undoubtedly is best remembered as the only Founding Father who commercially operated a distillery.

At peak production, Washington's Distillery employed five stills and a boiler and produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey, yielding $7,500 in 1799, one of the most financially successful operations at Mount Vernon.

Washington lives on today, as Mount Vernon’s Distillery is the only site which still demonstrates the 18th-century distillation process.

Alas, my Brother.

At the beginning of Fifth Avenue, on the north side of Washington Square Park, stands the Beaux Arts monument of Tuckahoe marble displaying two huge likenesses of George Washington, warrior, statesman, distiller.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

‘Big Night,’ Part Deux

Hamming it up with hats – Bro. Ari Roussimoff and his wife strike a pose.

“I love the holiday season,” said Ari Roussimoff, beginning his presentation Monday night at La Petite Auberge. This second annual dinner-lecture is the doing of the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, whose trustees selected the topic “Freemasonry and the Arts.” The fine arts and various performing arts, and even a by-gone era’s ways Masons promoted the arts were the subjects discussed. “It’s Christmas. It’s Hanukkah,” Roussimoff added. “I wish it would snow!”

Praising what he called the universality of this season of Jewish and Christian holy days, Roussimoff introduced the two paintings he brought to the restaurant. The pair are two-thirds of a triptych devoted to Masonic symbolism. All three components are oil-on-canvas paintings that lead the initiated eye through multiple Masonic degrees. Both of these measure 24x36, but the third portion was too large to transport. The complete triptych is on exhibit at the Livingston Library, located at the Grand Lodge of New York at 71 W. 23rd St., near Sixth Avenue.

Roussimoff spoke on “Freemasonry and Painting & Sculpture,” and he is worthy and well qualified to do so. The prolific painter and sculptor has had his work exhibited in 80 galleries, museums and other venues around the world, where his Russian, Ukrainian and Jewish imagery has won accolades. When not tending to those labors, Ari is a prize-winning maker of documentary films.

“The contributions to Freemasonry of artists are seen in aprons, tracingboards and too many artifacts to mention here,” he said. “Before standardized aprons, Masons wore hand-painted, individualized aprons. They used water-based paints, and some aprons even had jewelry. Still, you can’t call them folk art. For example, Jeremy Cross and Amos Doolittle actually signed their painted aprons.” He then lauded diverse artists who contributed to culture, from the famous Masons, like William Hogarth, to lesser known creators, including Lovis Corinth, Juan Gris and even Grant Wood. (The “American Gothic” painter also created a lithograph titled “Shriner’s Quartet” in 1939.) Roussimoff described Gris’ career, lamenting how despite being Master of his lodge, he never painted a Masonic picture. “It’s ironic. Gris was a Cubist, so he worked in geometry, in cubes.”

Focusing on his own work, Roussimoff displayed the two outer portions of his triptych, which he dubbed a “Parable of Light and Dark.” It is for the enjoyment of Mason and non-Mason alike, he explained. They parallel the legend of Hiram Abiff. The left portion is titled “Foundations.” It challenges the eye to keep pace. From the top left, the All-Seeing Eye surveys a cultural evolution. From the bottom, the operative workmen swing their tools. Emerging above are the Grand Masters of legend. A menagerie of architectural styles leads the viewer around the center of the painting. Beginning with the Beehive, a building of nature, the trail leads to classical temples, medieval cathedrals and Yakovlev-like towers, with Enlightenment icons the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower along the way. Observing from above are Pushkin (poetry), Wilde (theater), Twain (fiction) and Mozart (music).

Ari discusses his ‘Rebirth.’

The other painting available to us Monday was “Rebirth,” the third story of the triptych. Similarly it gives the eye a lot to consider. I suppose I ought to convey the artist’s explanation of the obvious eye-catcher: that double-vision pair of peepers denoting the supernatural Hebrew figure Melchizedek. “ ‘Rebirth’ is about today, not tomorrow. It is a rebuilding,” Roussimoff said. “The two sets of eyes show spirituality/creativity and the mind/intellect. I wanted to convey heart, soul and logic.”

Part III to come!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Another Big Night at ‘The Little Inn’

Tonight the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, of the Grand Lodge of New York, returned to La Petite Auberge in Murray Hill for its second annual dinner-lecture, this one titled “Freemasonry and the Arts.”

I’ll continue with a Magpie account of the evening shortly, but for now I’ll just share some photos.

These photos deny Bro. Ari Roussimoff’s work the justice it deserves. The colors, even in the subtly lit restaurant, are captivating and thrust the viewer into fantasy.

Thanks to the familiar symbols, the scenes are not entirely foreign, but clearly you’re taken into another world. (The poor quality of these photos is attributed to the need to shoot from an angle for lighting purposes. Really the best that could be managed without using more equipment.)

RW Bill Thomas, center, greets two of his guests. Bill is a Trustee of the Library. On Monday the 29th, he’ll be installed in the East of American Lodge of Research.

From left: artist Ari Roussimoff, Mark Koltko-Rivera, Daniel from the Livingston Library, and Tom Savini, Director of the Library.

That’s Bob Stutz on the right, as if you’re looking at him.

In the meantime, to read about last year’s festivities, click here.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

‘The King and Jung’

The Ardagh Chalice, from Ireland, c. 8th century CE.

I have missed too many meetings of the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s New York City Chapter this year, but that wasn’t going to happen Wednesday night, when a trip uptown was scheduled to enjoy a lecture at the 92nd Street Y. The C.G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology sponsored “C.G. Jung and the Mythology of King Arthur,” for which Dr. Beth Darlington, professor of English at Vassar College, skillfully explained the Arthurian legends in the Jungian context. She also is a board member of the Foundation’s Jung Institute of New York, which trains mental health professionals in Jungian analysis, and she herself is a psychoanalyst in private practice.

Janet M. Careswell, Executive Director of the C.G. Jung Foundation, introduces Professor Beth Darlington, with her own Grail, to discuss Jung and the Mythology of King Arthur at the 92nd Street Y in New York City December 3.

When examining the psychological aspects of the rituals and symbols of Freemasonry, it is inevitable that Jung’s ideas – for example, on archetypes, individuation and the collective unconscious – will factor into one’s studies, even unintentionally. And when examining Jung himself, one learns of the importance he placed on the myths inspired by the legendary King Arthur, how elements of the stories gratified his theories on the psyche.

But anyway, when viewing these legends and considering them as “cultural dreams,” the Masonic eye can’t help but see thematic connections. There are far better sources to read about the Arthurian legends than I could provide myself, so without getting into too much detail – and there are many trails to follow in different directions – I’ll quickly sketch what I think are the two main branches of the myth.

Joseph of Arimatheaea, as painted by a monk 
of the Brotherhood of St. Seraphim of Sarov
in Norfolk, England.

1. The Grail is the chalice from which Christ drank at the Last Supper, and into which His blood was collected during the Crucifixion, and which was brought to Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimathaea. Christians know this symbol in their Eucharist.

The Last Supper inspired King Arthur's Round Table. Thanks to Michelangelo, we think of the table at the Last Supper as rectangular, with Christ and the Apostles improbably seated on one side, facing us. But pre-Renaissance understandings of the scene place all participants at a round table.

2. The Grail is not a vessel at all, but is a stone, possibly an emerald which had fallen from Satan’s possession during his fight with God. From this understanding, it also could be construed as the Philosopher’s Stone of Alchemy.

Either way, it is the subject of The Quest. In his own travels, Masonic Man ventures from East to West in search of That Which Was Lost.

Here are the other Grail-Craft parallels that appear to me:

There is a theory that Arthur himself is based on King Athelstan, to whom Masonic legends, dating nearly as far back as the dawn of the Arthurian myth itself, attribute Masonic parentage.

A temple is built on the Mountain of Salvation for the purpose of housing the Grail, and an Order of Grail Knights is formed. The Grail keeper is a king. Solomon built his temple on Mt. Moriah for the purpose of housing the Ark and providing his people a religious centrality. He is king, but there is a priestly Order.

This king suffers a wound; he survives but is in agony. His torment causes his idyllic land to degenerate into the Waste Land. In other words, the leader suffers an act of violence, and in the absence of his leadership, there is confusion and suffering. The return of the Grail restores peace and harmony.

The Grail, as a vessel, has the power to nourish the peoples of the Waste Land. It is bottomless. Think Cornucopia.

Three seekers succeed in finding the Grail, with varying degrees of success. There is Galahad, the virtuous knight; Perceval, the Fool character; and Bors, the ordinary man. All three are present the final time the Grail is used ritually. This takes place in the Heavenly City in the East.

There is a ritual question that must be asked by the true quester: Whom does the Grail serve? In other versions, the question is: What ails you? The answering of these questions allows the wounded king to recover (but die in peace) and for the waters of the land to return to the Waste Land, restoring its beauty and bounty.

Throughout, there are noticable opposites and dualities. There are events in the East and West. Themes intertwine Christian and pagan beliefs. Human and divine. Good and evil. Males and females are at odds. "Only conscious compassion can heal these divisions," said Professor Darlington. That compassion is that ritual question, the asking of which triggers the rebirth of the Waste Land, not very different from how the loss of the Word throws the workmen into chaos until the giving of the substitute, upon the highly symbolic Five Points of Fellowship, allows for the completion of KST.

One final note for you neo-Templars: In at least one Grail legend, the Knights Templar themselves appear as guardians of the Grail Castle. Their suppression in the early 14th century had the effect of almost outlawing the Grail myths, which had to be perpetuated sub rosa.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Just ‘beaux’ with me

In January, the Beaux Arts Alliance will sponsor four illustrated lectures on the history, architecture and arts of Western Europe, and it is the first of the presentations that I bring to Masons’ attention.

Titled “French Cathedrals: Faith and Glory: Paris, Chartres and Rheims,” the Jan. 5 program undoubtedly will showcase the stunning stonework of these cities’ medieval cathedrals. David Garrard Lowe, the noted author on the history of architecture, will be our tour guide.

This will take place in the Undercroft of the Church of the Resurrection, a landmark itself, located at 115 East 74th Street in New York City.

(This is a second chance for those of us who missed his presentation on this subject last April at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

Reservations are required. Phone: (212) 639-9120. Admission costs $30 per lecture.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Hmmm. So it is possible for a Masonic grand lodge in this country to be relevant today.

This news – actually it’s so old it can’t be called news – was just brought to my attention via the Masonic Library and Museum Association. Bravo Grand Lodge of Oklahoma!

Masonic Charity Foundation’s $500,000 gift to create gender studies chair at OSU
Gift to focus on role men play in enhancing society

(STILLWATER, Ok. July 16, 2008) – Oklahoma State University announced today a $500,000 gift from the Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma (MCFO) to create a chair in gender studies at OSU. Once fully matched dollar-for-dollar by T. Boone Pickens’ $100 million chair match commitment, as well as the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the gift will have the impact of $2 million in endowed funds.

The gift will create the Masonic Fraternity of Oklahoma Gender Studies Chair, which will be housed within the College of Arts & Sciences.

“The response from our alumni and friends has exceeded our wildest expectations and we applaud the Masons’ on this generous gift,” said OSU President Burns Hargis. “We sincerely appreciate what the Masonic Fraternity is doing for OSU academics and research.”

In order to take full advantage of the state’s dollar-for-dollar match, and make the most significant impact on OSU academics, MCFO made the gift prior to the July 1 change in the state’s endowed chair matching program. This gift is part of the $66.8 million in endowed faculty gifts OSU announced recently.

The interest of the Masonic Fraternity lies in academic disciplines like sociology, psychology, history, and philosophy aimed at researching the importance of men and the role men play in enhancing the stability of family and social life, as well as the economic and social progress of society. (Emphasis added by Magpie.)

“Our fraternal society is first and foremost the study of men and manhood,” said Robert G. Davis, MCFO board member. “There are few academic studies which have focused on the role gender-specific organizations have played in enhancing the physical, social and psychological health of individuals.”

Davis continued, “Our hope is that this partnership with OSU will enhance family, social and community life through gender studies aimed at focusing on the needs of men, the ideals of manhood and a higher awareness of the importance of men in society.”

Endowed professorships and chairs are academic designations which provide support for faculty salary, graduate assistantships, equipment and research needs, as well as other support. These endowed faculty positions allow a university to attract and retain the best and the brightest academic minds in the world.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Suedama Ensemble’s Masonic music

“Music teaches the art of forming concords, so as compose delightful harmony, by a mathematical and proportional arrangement of acute, grave and mixed sounds,” writes the venerable ritualist William Preston. “This art, by a series of experiments, is reduced to a demonstrative science, with respect to tones, and the intervals of sound. It inquires into the nature of concords and discords, and enables us to find out the proportion between them by numbers.”

On Thursday, the 11th of this month, Suedama Ensemble will perform at the 92nd Street Y. It’s a program titled “A musical exploration of Freemasonry and Kabbalah.”

David Greilsammer, artistic director, piano, conductor

Guy Feder, guest conductor

Gilad Harel, clarinet

Ethan Herschenfeld, narrator

RAMEAU: Overture to Zoroastre

MOZART: Masonic Funeral Music for Orchestra in C minor, K. 477

KEREN: On the Bridge of Words: A Triple Concerto for Narrator, Clarinet, Piano, and Chamber Orchestra (world premiere)

MILHAUD: La création du monde, Op. 81

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482

Tickets available here.

“Mozart would have loved this!” - LE FIGARO