Tuesday, December 29, 2009

‘Early French lodges in NYC’

The American Lodge of Research held its first meeting of the 2010 Masonic year last night. The Installation of Officers was followed by the presentation of the new Master’s inaugural paper, a probing examination of a singular subject. W. Bro. Pierre F. de Ravel d’Esclapon presented the fruits of his research into “The History of French Lodges in New York City, 1760 to 1800,” which explains the origins of four francophone lodges and the very complicated men who created them during the earliest years of New York Masonry.

The lodges were La Parfait Union (Perfect Union), Loge la Tendre Amitie Franco-Américaine (French-American Loving Friendship Lodge), L’Unité Americaine (American Unity), and L’Union Française (French Union).

The first of these was Perfect Union, chartered on November 1, 1760 by Provincial Grand Master George Harrison. That date is significant not only because it predates even Independent Royal Arch Lodge No. 2, but because it lands during the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years’ War, as it was known to its European combatants). At issue were the activities of the French nationals residing in enemy territory: the British colony of New York. When Britain declared war on France, the French commercial dealings in the Caribbean became a strategic consideration, and the merchants “worked around the embargo,” as de Ravel d’Esclapon phrased it. The matter was so serious that French merchants in New York were arrested, and some were kept in prison even after the cessation of hostilities in 1763. A significant number of these businessmen were brethren of Perfect Union, and this disruption to their lives seems to have resulted in the demise of the lodge.

Decades would pass until French lodges again would populate Freemasonry in New York City. Not a war this time, but a different bloodbath remembered as the slave revolt on Saint-Domingue. During the 1790s, French Masons fleeing this revolution on the sugar producing island colony emigrated to the United States. Seeking more than the religious freedom and economic opportunity that typically drew immigrants, these people were refugees running for their lives. The first lodge created by this wave of immigrants was Loge la Tendre Amitie Franco-Américaine (French-American Loving Friendship Lodge), which was set to labor on a six-month dispensation on December 12, 1793. In time, the Grand Lodge of New York allowed the dispensation of this French Rite lodge to expire, preferring to create a lodge named L’Unité Américaine (American Unity), which received its dispensation on Christmas Day, 1795. The lodge would go dark in 1799.

Even more useful than the details of the lodges in this paper are the personal stories of the people involved. One of the reasons for the short life of French-American Loving Friendship Lodge was the discovery that one of its founders never had been initiated, passed, and raised. To remedy this, Grand Lodge convened a meeting especially for the purpose of conferring the three degrees upon him, in French. Another Grand Lodge meeting was convened on Christmas Day 1797 to suspend a brother who had been found stealing from his business. (With the mention of how Masonic meetings had taken place on two Christmas Days, I ought to point out that Americans of this period did not make Christmas the central Christian holiday that it is today. For more, see the American Creation blog here.) Other intimate details shared in this presentation include the revelation that one brother’s wife was the most successful madam in the city. Turning to matters deadly serious, American Unity Lodge thrived at a time when a yellow fever epidemic menaced the city. An unexpected surprise was the discovery many years after the fact of Perfect Union Lodge’s warrant... in Nova Scotia, a revelation that recast New York Masonry’s early history.

The fourth French lodge in the Worshipful Master’s paper is L’Union Française. French Union No. 17 remains at labor today, having been chartered in 1861, but this seminal incarnation of the historic French lodge was set to labor on December 26, 1797, and received its charter from Grand Lodge six months later. Its rolls list brethren who were members of the two aforementioned short lived lodges. This lodge’s embryonic years extend well into the early 19th century, but as the parameters of this paper are curtailed at the year 1800, it will be understood that the French Union set to labor more than two centuries ago still is an influence on the cusp of 2010.

A look at various books of GLNY proceedings will yield much of the lodge information that the Master shares in his paper, but what makes his work true research are the data discovered during the course of his meticulous digging and compiling. There is a lot more to the story of these so-called “Refugee Lodges” in New York City. The role played by the local Huguenot church in helping these French immigrants get established was revealed thanks to searching the church archives. Records of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths helped de Ravel d’Esclapon develop the French Masons’ identities, as well as trace their genealogies. And there is more to this than just budgeting time and showing up. These records date to the 1680s and can be very difficult to read. In addition, the spellings of names was anything but standard, with translations and spelling variations requiring intent study to discern their meanings. Members of the same family could have their surname recorded as Maxfield or Machsfeld. (But even the church’s relationship has Masonic roots, as it was a brother of Holland Lodge No. 8 who introduced the French immigrants to the local Huguenot congregations. Social and commercial contacts as well.) Other resources de Ravel d’Esclapon tapped include the New York Historical Society.

The history of French lodges in New York City is the story of refugees seeking support in a network that allied Freemasonry with the local French Huguenot church, and international commercial connections. These lodges may not have lasted long, but their effect on the city’s French community reached through generations. It is what one ought to expect of the Masonic Order.

His is a brilliant paper that I look forward to reading when it is published. Magpie readers, please note that any inaccuracies here are to be attributed to me, and not to the speaker.

W. Bro. Pierre F. de Ravel d’Esclapon, a prominent attorney and a published author, has plans for American Lodge of Research in 2010, continuing the progress of RW Bill Thomas in 2009. He seeks to establish relationships with Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 808 under the Grand Lodges of Germany, and the research lodges under the Grand Lodge Alpina of Switzerland and the Grande Loge Nationale Française. Our Master also is a Past Master of France La Clémente Amitié Cosmopolite No. 410, and is a member of Holland Lodge No. 8, both in New York City.

In other ALR news, the Magpie Mason was surprised to hear the announcement of RW Harvey Eysman of his retirement as Secretary of the lodge after 22 years at the desk. Harvey immediately instills in you the confidence that he is more than just a good Secretary, but that he is supposed to be the Secretary. As he undertakes some changes in life, he also is exiting the secretarial posts of his mother lodge, his chapter, and other Masonic bodies. He cheerfully maintained a workload that would have turned the Magpie Mason into an obese, suicidal alcoholic. (Oh, wait a minute.) His last meeting as Secretary will be the March 2010 Stated Communication. The Master will appoint a replacement at that time.

Secretary Harvey Eysman, left, presents junior Past Master Bill Thomas his Past Master Jewel at The American Lodge of Research last night.

Born on this date: Albert Pike

Today is the bicentennial of the birth of Albert Pike.

This man enjoyed a long, illustrious life with careers in law, the military, journalism, and of course, Freemasonry. Pike served as Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry from 1859 until his death in 1891. A more controvertible personality in Masonic history I cannot name.

His most famous (but I suspect least read, and most misunderstood) book is Morals and Dogma, an anthology of lectures explanatory of the entire corpus of degrees of the A&ASR, which themselves were penned or otherwise crafted by Pike. Some of his other writings that, frankly, I find a lot more useful include:

Magnum Opus, his first revision of the degrees of the Scottish Rite;

The Porch and the Middle Chamber: The Book of the Lodge, his interpretation of the ritual and symbols of the three Craft degrees;

Esoterika, a longer discussion of the Craft degrees, including details, some humorous, of his own experiences in Masonry; and

various Legenda and other shorter works, all intended to promote clear understanding of the many lessons imparted by Freemasonry.

Above and Below: Some of Albert Pike’s Scottish Rite regalia displayed in the Albert Pike Room at the House of the Temple in Washington, DC.

Above: Several of Pike’s pipes. Below: A miniature replica of the statue of Pike located in Judiciary Square in Washington. Pike is the only Confederate Army general depicted in statuary in the American capital.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

‘... and the darkness comprehended it not’

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

John 1:1-5

The Magpie Mason wishes the brethren a joyous St. John’s Day.

Friday, December 25, 2009

‘The Craftsman of Nazareth’

The Craftsman of Nazareth
(A Chistmas morning Reverie)

Beside the bench He stood with square in hand,
Around His feet the clinging shavings twined,
Odorous woods sent forth their sweet perfume,
Thoughts sadly pensive weighed down the mind.

There stood the Master Workman, skilled of hand,
While sunlight streamed in at the door,
Its dancing beams lit all the flying dust
And threw quaint shadows on the walls and floor.

At last, with labor and with thought opprest,
The Craftsman straightens up His figure tall.
With outstretched arms, to sun He turns His breast,
His shadow marks a cross against the wall.

Our Knights Great Light! Thy willing Templar sons
Patrol no more the roads of Palestine,
No longer theirs the implements of war,
But in their thands the tools of trade are seen.

Sometimes we weaken, as we stumble oft.
Eternal grinds the tedium of our days.
All that we see when sunshine brightly streams,
Is shadowed cross – not splendor of its rays.

Grant us more light into our blinded eyes,
Above the shadows lift our errant gaze.
With holy fire touch our Templar throng,
And keep our feet within Thy narrow ways.

Oh, Prince of poverty, exceeding rich!
Today the conscience hears Thy clarion call,
This day we dedicate ourselves to Thee –
Thou Servant of men, Thou Master of all.

Bro. Robert I. Clegg
From The Palestine Bulletin, Detroit
April 1914

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On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

by John Milton

This is the month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.


That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heav’n’s high council-table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside, and here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.


Say Heav’nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,
To welcome him to this his new abode,
Now while the heav’n, by the Sun’s team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approaching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?


See how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
From out his secret altar touched with hallowed fire.

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Those of a certain age possess a special appreciation for this. If, like me, you have not seen it in decades, its value only increases.
Merry Christmas wishes to my Christian brethren and their families!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bro. Tomislav Stanich in concert

There are times when I wish I could clone myself and become the Magpie Masons. Next Monday, for instance. At 8 p.m. I’ll attend the Installation of Officers at American Lodge of Research at the Grand Lodge of New York, while wishing my ears could go downtown to St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery to hear the Piano Recital.

Bro. Tomislav Stanich, of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, AYM, will perform selections by Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin.

The amazingly historic St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery is located at 131 East 10th Street at Second Avenue. Tickets cost $20 and are available at the door, before the performance, beginning at 7 p.m.

In the meantime, I’ll content myself by checking out his CD.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

‘On this date in 1767’

On this date in 1767, a Mason named Henry Andrew Francken, recently arrived in Albany, New York from Jamaica, established the first Masonic body on the North American continent associated with what would become the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite by issuing the warrant of Ineffable and Sublime Grand Lodge of Perfection. The Ineffable and Sublime Grand Lodge of Perfection was of the Rite of Perfection, that system of 25 degrees* that would be the basis for the 33-degree A&ASR established in 1801. Francken issued the patent to this Grand Lodge of Perfection, culminating several months of activity that had begun with his conferring degrees 4 through 14 upon two Masons named William Gamble and Francis von Pfister.

According to the minutes of the Grand Lodge of Perfection, the brethren received their warrant, which they called a constitution, on the 26th of December. On January 11, 1768 this Lodge of Perfection was opened by Master William Gamble, and it remained at labor, as far as we know, until December 5, 1774. An absence of records suggests it then went inactive for 45 years.

This Grand Lodge of Perfection in Albany still exists; it is one of the four Scottish Rite bodies meeting at the Valley of Albany, at 67 Corning Place.

Apropos of nothing, this is a poor photograph I shot of a Philadelphia Grand Lodge of Perfection summons dated Friday, February 15, 1889 which states the 14°, the Degree of Grand, Elect, Perfect and Sublime Mason, will be conferred upon eight candidates, and that the annual election of officers would take place. This document was on display at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia two years ago.

Bro. Francken was in the news recently following the announcement in October of the rediscovery of a long lost manuscript of rituals, signed by Francken, found in Pakistan, where one such manuscript happened to have gone missing many years ago. This duplicate original manuscript is among only four known to exist. Read about that here.

* It seems there were degrees above 25 that were reserved for the rite’s highest officers.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

‘Into the Oriental Chair, II’

Congratulations to Bro. Mohamad Yatim, the newly installed Master of Atlas-Pythagoras Lodge No. 10 in Westfield, New Jersey.

Mohamad’s installation took place Friday night in the presence of more than 150 well wishers. Masons came from all over New Jersey, plus Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and elsewhere, I’m sure. One visiting Worshipful Master stood to praise Mohamad as one of the guys who gets it, an “education Mason,” the likes of whom we need more.

Among the visiting lecturers scheduled to appear at Atlas-Pythagoras in 2010 include RW Rashied Bey, of Cornerstone Lodge No. 37 under the MWPHGL of New York; Bro. Tim Wallace-Murphy, of Lodge Robert Burns Initiated No. 1781 in Edinburgh; W. Trevor Stewart of Quatuor Coronati 2076, et al.; W. David Lindez, of historic Alpha Lodge; and the Magpie Mason of The Magpie Mason. However, Atlas-Pythagoras’ “theme” for 2010 will be “Enlightening the Temple,” so there will be thoughtful discussion of the meaning of Masonry at most, if not all, the meetings.

The lodge is blessed with a full line of enthusiastic and talented officers, and a cadre of experienced Past Masters; all are supportive of Mohamad’s plans for the year, which is a great indication that the lodge will continue on this path in 2011 and beyond.

I was going to joke that he is singing “My Way,” but it is enough to know that W. Bro. Mohamad will set the Craft to labor his way during the coming year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

‘Sacred Spaces’ at MOBIA, Part I

As mentioned last week, yesterday evening saw the first of the three-part lecture series at the Museum of Biblical Art concerning what it calls Sacred Spaces. Our speaker Thursday was Dr. Ena G. Heller, Executive Director of MOBIA, and curator of the related exhibition of artist Tobi Kahn’s work titled “Sacred Spaces for the 21st Century.”

Heller’s lecture was titled “Function, Symbol, Access: Sacred Spaces Throughout History,” which took us on a visual tour through time and space, from ancient days to medieval times to the Renaissance, and up to today, visiting synagogues, cathedrals, monastic churches, private chapels, and a meditation space designed by Kahn. “I live in a very predictable universe,” she joked, “so if I’m going to lecture on something, it’ll be the Bible.” And she indeed began with that Volume of Sacred Law, even beginning with its beginning.

It is in Genesis where we are introduced to the idea of a place where the Divine is manifest, she explained, screening a photo of one of Bro. Marc Chagall’s paintings of the passage in Chapter 28, when Jacob dreams his vision of the ladder, and upon awakening constructs our first sacred space. Excerpted:

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel....

Fast-forwarding to 13th century Europe, Heller brought us to Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, a relatively small Gothic structure built quite quickly in Paris during the late 1240s, and to the Old-New Synagogue in Prague, another Gothic-style house of God, completed in 1270. She cited both as early examples of how architecture can define the uses of space for prayer, study, and ritual. Juxtaposing the floor plans of both, she pointed out their similarities. Explaining how that evolved from pagan practices of using temples for the public sacrificial rites conducted by an elite few, Heller acknowledged how Temple-era Judaism had a similar priesthood, but that after the destruction of the last Temple of Jerusalem, the synagogue became the center of the Jewish faith, where it served as a place of assembly. With the faithful gathering to read and study Torah, Judaism became the first communal religion, she added, which brought an element of democracy to religious life. It was Philo of Alexandria who first dubbed the synagogue a sacred space, thanks to the presence of Torah, “the supreme source of holiness.”

Reinforcing her point on how architecture defines the sacred space, Heller explained that synagogues do not follow a uniform architectural plan, but are constructed to highlight the location of the Torah. “There is a general and generous space with benches for the community, and then the Torah shrine.” The Talmud’s metaphoric injunction to build a fence around the Torah would be expressed literally in some cases, such as the Old Synagogue in Krakow, the 16th century Renaissance structure with famous wrought ironwork inside and out. The significance of the Torah location gave rise to the apse, the architectural flourish designed to draw attention to the presence of deity, which Christianity would adopt and adapt for the place of its altar.

Evolution led to the advent of the chancel screen, a “highly charged symbol” that makes for two distinct spaces, “separating the sacred from the profane.” To illustrate this, Heller guided our tour to Florence for examinations of two monastic churches, one Dominican, the other Franciscan, both dating to the 13th century.

Dr. Ena G. Heller, Executive Director of the Museum of Biblical Art, explains some of the functional similarities in the architecture of synagogues and churches during her lecture Thursday night. Behind her is one of the artworks in MOBIA’s “Scripture, Image, Life: Orthodox Christianity” exhibit, which will close January 24.

The Dominican Order’s Santa Maria Novella and the Franciscans’ Basilica of Santa Croce both feature more than chancel screens; they boast very solid, bridge-like barriers that perform the function in monastic churches of ensuring the monks can worship separately from everyone else. (NB: Galileo, Machiavelli, and Michaelangelo are entombed inside Santa Croce.) In fact, this segregation is what differentiates monastic church from cathedral, the latter being intended for everyone’s use.

Ultimately the concept of sacred space divided led to what Heller suggested was an abuse, as families possessing more wealth than virtue came to acquire their own chapels on the altar side of the chancel, changing worship space from being open to everybody to being owned by the few, and sometimes for purposes other than religious. Cosimo Medici, Florence’s supremely powerful “Father of the Homeland,” would employ his family’s chapels as reception rooms for visiting dignitaries, and to host high level business meetings. He even had his likeness painted into a fresco depicting the Three Wise Men.

Turning away from the self-serving, and returning us full circle, Heller concluded her lecture (45 minutes, but too brief!) with a visit to a creation of artist Tobi Kahn, whose work comprises the “Sacred Spaces for the 21st Century” exhibit in the adjoining room. Kahn is celebrated in part for his Meditation Room, installed in 2001 on the fourth floor of the HealthCare Chaplaincy on the other side of Manhattan at East 62nd Street.

Here, Kahn’s love of abstract designs is matched with his gift for material functionality, and what is most notable – to the Magpie Mason at least – is his placement of seating. Visitors here do not sit in unison facing one direction, as in a house of worship, but sit facing one another – as in, for example, a Craft lodge. Remember, we used to have Masonic Temples, as in places for conTEMPLation.

The Magpie Mason was not allowed to photogragh inside Kahn’s exhibition at MOBIA. The photos below are courtesy of the museum. The exhibit will close on January 24.

Titled “Shalom Bat” (2008) these four chairs are painted with Kahn’s signature abstract geometric expressions.

“Ykarh II” (2008) is a matched “Havdalah” candlestick holder and spice box. Both are acrylic on wood. Kahn tells art collectors who purchase his work that they should use his creations for their intended functions.

“Mezuzot” (2008) Also acrylic on wood.
A mezuzah is a Jewish household item, mounted on doorposts. Inside is a small scroll containing the words central to Jewish life: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord Our God is one Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) I suppose in this way, the mezuzah makes every room a sacred space.

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A note from Dr. Heller:

In 2010 the Museum of Biblical Art will celebrate its fifth anniversary with many exciting exhibitions, educational programs, and special events planned. MOBIA offers one-of-a-kind programs that encourage interfaith dialogue and explore the many ways in which art and religion intersect.

To make the next five years and beyond even more successful, MOBIA depends on the support of its benefactors, friends, and members. Your donation will ensure the museum will continue to provide year-round cultural services, such as free summer art making workshops for neighborhood children and seniors, guided docent tours, and the unique concert series “Hearing the Sacred.”

You may send a check or money order made out to Museum of Biblical Art, or call us directly at (212) 408-1586 to learn more. You may also donate online with a credit card here.

Your gift makes a difference. Thank you for your support.

Ena Heller, Ph.D.
Executive Director

Thursday, December 17, 2009

‘Almost Time for Mostly Mozart’

For 22 nights next summer, Lincoln Center’s annual Mostly Mozart music festival will fill the air with our timeless Brother’s immortal music. But keep in mind it’s “Mostly Mozart,” and not entirely Mozart; there will be performances of other composers, including Bro. Haydn, and even the premier of new work.

The complete schedule can be seen here, but take note that ticket holders will have the added benefit of taking in free recitals and lectures almost every night before the concerts, so make a full night of it by having dinner a little earlier. (Tragically, Café des Artistes closed last August, but of course plenty of excellent restaurants in the neighborhood remain.)

Of Mozart’s Masonic music, both the Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1 concerts in Avery Fisher Hall will begin with the Overture to The Magic Flute, featuring Piotr Anderszewski on piano.

The Sunday, August 16 performance (seating at 3 p.m.) of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will feature his very well known Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K.482. The composer debuted this piece in December of 1785, reportedly at a musical academy sponsored by a Masonic lodge. Specifically it is the piece’s third movement that everyone is bound to recognize.

Get there on time and turn off your phone.

The view of Lincoln Center from Broadway
this frigid December evening.

Masonic Society Journal No. 6

Issue No. 6 of The Journal of the Masonic Society is arriving in members’ mailboxes now. It is another fine edition, as members should expect, featuring:

Restructuring American Freemasonry, Part I – by Mark Tabbert is a compilation of very thoughtful ideas on ways to improve the organizational side of Freemasonry, streamlining bureaucracy and modernizing the ways Craft Masonry functions at the lodge level, the district level, and the grand jurisdiction level.

The Order of the Royal Ark Mariner in England – by Yasha Beresiner is a concise history of the highly symbolic degree’s origins.

In What’s Wrong With This Symbol? Rex Hutchens scrutinizes Dan Brown’s new bestselling novel, and itemizes the errors and omissions he finds most egregious.

Assistant Editor Randy Williams’ Beyond the Tracing Board takes the brethren outside the lodge and into a private study group for Masonic education, replacing “short talks” with three-hour group discussions.

Plus, there are reports of current events from around the world; opinion pieces; upcoming conferences, symposia, and the like; Masonic fiction; and more, including this report from the Magpie Mason of a recent banquet in New Jersey:

Three Prestonian Lecturers walk into a bar....

It was nearly as simple as that set-up despite this event being the very first time three Prestonian Lecturers would share a podium. The plan was hatched this past spring, when Trevor Stewart, deputy master of Lodge Sir Robert Moray No. 1641, one of Scotland’s lodges of Masonic research, pitched the idea to Thurman Pace as a fundraiser to benefit the local 32° Masonic Learning Center for Children in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Pace, an Active Emeritus member of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, was all ears.

The Prestonian Lecture is a tradition in English Freemasonry established in 1818, funded by a bequest from William Preston. Every year, the United Grand Lodge of England selects one outstanding scholar to travel throughout the jurisdiction and deliver his Prestonian Lecture; sometimes the lecturer will travel abroad. William Preston of course is the famous Mason credited with having compiled the Craft Lodge rituals used in much of the English-speaking Masonic world to this day.

More of an editor than an author, Preston assembled ritual elements used in his day, and published the landmark book Illustrations of Masonry, which went into multiple printings to meet the demand of the many Masons of 18th century England who desired an aid to the memory and a serious work of scholarship to guide them in their labors. While there is no standard or official ritual in England, Preston’s work is still influential throughout England; his impact is even more notable in the United States, where there practically is a general format of Craft ritual, one sometimes known as Preston-Webb, named for both Preston and Thomas Smith Webb, the American ritualist of the 19th century who fashioned the ceremonies nearly all jurisdictions in the Untied States work today, differentiated by only minor variances.

Our speakers on September 12 were Stewart, who was Prestonian Lecturer in 2004; Gordon Davie, who succeeded him in 2005; and John Wade, the Prestonian Lecturer for 2009. Wade didn’t know it when he committed to a trip across the Atlantic, but eventually his itinerary would expand into a busy speaking tour, taking him up and down the East Coast and the West Coast, and into Canada in less than two weeks.

Stewart’s presentation was a work in progress titled “Ripples in a Pool,” an exercise in research techniques intended to answer progressively probing questions. “It’s a key image,” he explained. “Think back to when you were a kid, throwing rocks into water, and seeing the ripples expanding out.”

“There are three different orders of questions,” he added. First there is the A-B-C narrative form that seeks to answer The Who, The What, The Where, and The When. “It’s a quite respectable way of proceeding, however if you want to make it more interesting, you need to go to No. 2: a panoramic, 360 degree view for context of The What. To go further – to ask general philosophical questions – we ask The Why.”

“I want to take you back to 1914,” he continued. Gustav Petrie was a coal industry executive who had co-founded a lodge in 1907, and was “greatly loved by his brethren.” Petrie was a native of Austria living and working in England when the Great War commenced. The Provincial Grand Master, Lord Ravensworth, ordered that all hailing from the Axis nations “should take their First Degree obligation seriously, and return to their native lands. Being the man he was, he resigned from the lodge. His resignation was received with regret.” Then it’s June 1914 at the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge with “a lot of Masonic blood being spilled.” The questions raised included: Could the widows and orphans of brethren from enemy nations benefit from Masonic charity? Could a Mason from an enemy nation resume his place in the officer line of an English lodge upon the cessation of hostilities? Are there occasions in matters of state that are incompatible with Freemasonry?

“Are there conflicts between one’s civic duties in carrying out lawful commands of properly instituted authority and one’s obligations as a Freemason?” Stewart said. “The case of Gustav Petrie seems to me to raise these fundamental questions.”

Petrie returned to Austria and served his country’s war effort. In 1920, after the war had ended, he returned to England for a visit. On the Continent, Petrie was a Swedish Rite Mason, meaning his lodge was German. In visiting his former English lodge, therefore, he was a German Mason entering a lodge where Masons had lost loved ones in the war, including one who lost his only son. “Gustav Petrie, a little man, came in and gave greetings to the Worshipful Master from his Blue Lodge and his St. Andrew’s Lodge... and he was greeted like a long lost friend.”

“It is tremendously reassuring on a number of levels,” said Trevor Stewart in conclusion. “When we talk about ‘Masonry universal,’ it’s not that everyone can be a Mason, but that when good men are Masons, good will and brotherhood will flourish, as we are all engaged in this one great enterprise. Gustav Petrie is of no great importance in the grand sweep of things, but certainly he has a lot to teach us.”

On the lighter side, Gordon Davie rose to speak on “The Grand Stewards and Their Lodge,” a very colorful history of a singular and historic lodge that will celebrate its 275th anniversary in 2010. To set the scene, he spoke of the Freemasonry in 1720s London: Prior to the Grand Lodge era, one would never attend a lodge where he wasn’t a member, but the advent of the Grand Lodge introduced the new concept of visiting other lodges. There were feasts at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House, a tradition borrowed from the Scots. “English Masonry was a ‘boozy do,’” Davie said, prompting raucous laughter from the brethren assembled. “If they were here today, they’d be mortified!” In 1724-25, there were 77 lodges in the city, with a total membership of 1,480. By the following year, no one wanted to become Grand Warden because there was too much work to do in organizing the feast. It was an expensive enterprise, and at one point it was decided to cut costs by eliminating one course of the meal. Wary of the expense, the Grand Lodge placed the entire financial responsibility on the Stewards who had to pay the deficit themselves if the event went over budget. “That really concentrates the mind brethren!” said Davie to a new fit of laughter. “That really concentrates the mind!”

But with great responsibility comes great reward. By 1735, it was decided to allow the Grand Stewards to select their own successors. “A powerful thing, brethren, isn’t it?” (The path to grand rank began with one’s appointment as a Grand Steward.) Special regalia – aprons, collars and jewels festooned with the color red, perhaps recalling the color of the wines served – was approved for the Grand Stewards. And reserved seating at the feasts, a luxury, but a fair benefit for those who paid the bill. And also in 1735, a lodge of Master Masons (remember most Masons of this era were Apprentices) called Stewards’ Lodge was entered on the roll of lodges, that later in the 18th century would be placed at the head of that list, but without a lodge number, an honor continued today.

Other highlights in the careers of the Grand Stewards include a feast in 1806, where 384 Masons sat down to dinner… and consumed 680 dozen bottles of wine! Later, a letter of complaint from the Prince of Wales objecting to the rowdiness of the meetings would result in removing walnuts from the menu… to deny certain brethren the projectiles they had thrown at the prince!

In 2010 it is expected that the Pro Grand Master will serve as Worshipful Master of Grand Stewards’ Lodge, ushering in a 275th year of, as Davie put it, “undiscovered sin.”

The main event was the current Prestonian Lecturer, John Wade, speaking on English Masonic processions from the 18th to the 20th centuries, in a paper titled “Go and Do Thou Likewise.” The title is borrowed from the King James Version of Luke 10:37, when Christ relates the parable of the Good Samaritan as the right thinking and right action rewarded with eternal life.

The religious imagery is not overdone in the context Wade presents. The honorific titles of Masonry, he explained, parallel those of church: Most Worshipful-Most Reverend. Right Worshipful-Right Reverend. Very Worshipful-Very Reverend. Worshipful-Reverend. But then Worshipful also has its civic purpose, as in the Worshipful Mayor of London. All of which fits Wade’s seven purposes of Masonic processions: the Annual Feast, foundation stone-laying ceremonies, formal dedications of new buildings, visits to the theater, church services, funerals, and public celebrations.

Illustrating his lecture with PowerPoint images and videos of newsreel footage and more, Wade recounted the history of Masonic processions through the centuries: the march in Scotland on a 17th century St. John the Evangelist Day (as told by Dr. James Anderson, whose accuracy is often doubted); the election of the Duke of Montagu as Grand Master in London in 1724, and many years of similar processions; and the darkly humorous mockeries of Masonry, which had the effect of temporarily ending genuine Masonic parades by brethren in the “Moderns” Grand Lodge. (The “Ancients” continued marching in public.) Sharing a fascinating turn of modern scholarship, Wade explained how the infamous “Scald Miserable Masons” processions of the early 1740s actually were intended to belittle and undermine the Whig government of Sir Robert Walpole, the vastly powerful prime minister. “These satirical attacks on Grand Lodge,” Wade said, citing the work of Dr. Andrew Pink of University College in London, “were in fact political stunts by the Patriot Opposition who were disaffected members of the Whig Party.” The funeral of James Anderson in 1739 was cause for a march. As was the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897; the foundation-stone laying at Central London Polytechnic in 1928; various provincial grand lodges’ ceremonies into the 1930s; and most recently, the Beamish foundation-stone ceremony in 2000, which drew 300 Masons to participate in a very rare modern practice of the tradition.

The three types of processions Wade outlined are: Display Processions, in which the brethren show themselves and their regalia; Ceremonial Processions, where Masons celebrate religious or civil occasions in public; and Building Processions, at which Freemasons demonstrate the operative origins of the Craft by inaugurating buildings. The effect is a profound lesson that annuls any notion that parades and processions are superfluous theatrics not connected to the lodge; that there is a public-private duality perhaps reminiscent of the checkered floor itself. “To describe Masonry exclusively as private and secretive is to ignore an important element not only in the way it understands itself, but in the way it has consistently adopted a public role,” Wade explained. “Freemasonry is both private and public, and we elevate one over the other at our peril. The integrity of Freemasonry lies in its reconciliation of what is private and what is public.”

“Processions are where we are most obviously in the public sphere,” Wade said in conclusion. “I suggest that we should explore the possibility of a return of these activities. I am concerned that, with regard to our public image, we have lost that civic association that we have had for hundreds of years. As we move further into the 21st century, we surely need to be proactive about our civic identity. For the man in the street, we should be demonstrating that we have a civic association with the community, and that we are not a secret society or private members’ club. Certainly we have our private space – and that is what distinguishes us from other charitable organizations – but we also have a rich heritage of moral integrity with its allegorical ceremonies and symbolism that has continued in unbroken tradition for close on 300 years. With such a sense of display, we can restore confidence in the genuine meaningfulness of what it is that makes us Masons.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

‘Into the Oriental Chair’

Congratulations to Bro. Yasser Al-Khatib, who was installed Worshipful Master of Fritz Lodge No. 308 in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania last night.

W. Yasser is shown here at Atlas-Pythagoras Lodge, where he spoke last February on historical, mythological, and ritual aspects of the Golden Fleece.

(I only just now realized The Magpie Mason failed to report on that great evening, probably because of Masonic Week-related excitement. Sorry about that Yasser.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quest is XXX in MMX

QUEST, the Grand Lodge of New York’s Queens District’s annual Masonic education seminar, will mark its 30th anniversary in 2010 with its regularly scheduled day of forums and discussions on March 13.

QUEST meets at the Advance Masonic Temple, located at 21-14 30th Ave. in Long Island City. The day will begin at 9 a.m. and should conclude at 1:15. Breakfast will be served at 8, and lunch at 12:15.

Among the speakers scheduled to appear is MW Edward Gilbert, Grand Master of New York, who has been missed for a number of months as he recovered from some health troubles. The keynote speaker will be MW Richard Fletcher, Executive Secretary of the Masonic Service Association of North America. The speaker during lunch will be MW Gary Henningsen, Past Grand Master and Past Grand Secretary.

The cost to attend is $20, and tickets can be purchased from your lodge’s Master.

As always, there will be many printed educational materials distributed, and other items for sale.

8:00 - 8:50 Check In/Breakfast - Collation Hall All

8:50 - 9:00 Go upstairs to Lodge Room All

9:00 - 9:05 Invocation/Present Colors/Pledge Allegiance RW Ken Wagner/Queens Veterans/All

9:05 - 9:15 Introductions/Program/Handouts/Web Site RW Jay Marksheid

9:15 - 9:20 In Memoriam RW Ken Wagner, Grand Chaplain

9:20 - 9:40 Keynote Address MW Richard E. Fletcher

9:40 - 10:00 LSOME/Protocol/MDC/RTTE RW Robert Russell & RW Robert Olmo

10:00 - 10:20 LDC-8 & Moodle Access/iDC VW Rubin, W Edwards & W John Robinson

10:20 - 10:35 Break All

10:35 - 10:45 Mentoring RW Maurice “Chick” Berger

10:45 - 11:05 Ritual and Masonic Education RW Richard C. Friedman

11:05 - 11:40 Q&A Session MW Fletcher, RW Davis, RW Friedman

11:40 - 11:55 Grand Master’s Address MW Edward G. Gilbert, Grand Master

11:55 - 12:05 Wrap Up: Attendance Recognition RW Jay Marksheid, GDC

12:05 - 12:10 Benediction and Retire to Collation Hall RW Ken Wagner, Grand Chaplain

12:15 - 1:15 Lunch - Speaker MW Gary A. Henningsen, PGM

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Voorhis AMD Ingathering 2010

New Jersey’s 2010 Harold V.B. Voorhis Ingathering will take place Saturday, July 10 at J. William Gronning Council No. 83.

Gronning Council meets at Olive Branch Lodge No. 16, at 2 Dutch Lane in Freehold.

The annual Voorhis Ingathering is a daylong affair, combining the presentation of research papers and speculative writings with the conferral of one of the degrees in the AMD corpus. In July we will confer the Degree of St. Lawrence the Martyr.

Brethren, consider this announcement a call for papers. Suitable presentations are now being accepted from AMD members for review and possible inclusion in the day’s agenda.

Research papers AND speculative writings shall be original works, not previously published, and concerning topics relevant to Freemasonry, its influences, history, rituals, symbolism, philosophy, etc. Chicago Style is preferred, but standard formatting with Times Roman 12-point font with accurate endnotes is acceptable. Powerpoint or other appropriate media presentations are welcome as well, but please be prepared to furnish your own equipment.

All proposed presentations shall be submitted to Gronning Council no later than June 1. For instructions on how to do this, leave a note in the Magpie Comments Section. I will get back to you. If you have my e-mail address, just write to me directly. Any other questions in the meantime should be handled similarly.

It is not necessary to present a paper to attend the Ingathering. It is necessary to be a Mason in the Allied Masonic Degrees to attend. The AMD is an honorary order in the York Rite of Freemasonry; membership is by invitation to Royal Arch Masons who demonstrate ability in matters of Masonic research and education.

We expect an enlightening morning when the papers will be presented, followed by a hearty lunch, and then the degree. St. Lawrence the Martyr Degree parchments will be awarded to attendees, and possibly other gifts too. More information, including admission cost, will be forthcoming in 2010. And please note the change of date. The previously announced July 17 was changed to avoid conflict with Red Cross of Constantine.

New Jersey’s annual Ingathering is named in honor of Harold Van Buren Voorhis, the noted author, ritualist and leader of many Masonic orders.

AMD clip art courtesy of Bro. Jeff at Lodgical. St. Lawrence clip art courtesy of Grand Council.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Exploring ‘Sacred Spaces’

For the coming six weeks, the Museum of Biblical Art offers an exhibition with a concurrent three-part lecture series exploring what it collectively calls “Sacred Spaces.”

Presently underway (closes January 24, 2010) at MOBIA is artist Tobi Kahn’s exhibit titled “Sacred Spaces for the 21st Century.” The museum’s website explains:

Kahn’s images are, first and foremost, metaphors; the symbolism of his art is not about any one specific religion but about spiritual engagement. Since his art feels equally at home in the liturgy, in the public forum, and in museums, it has special significance for individuals and institutions – like MOBIA – who seek to understand the relationship between art, religion, and ritual.

Most of MOBIA’s educational programming through January concerns this same topic. The trilogy of lectures consists of (again, from the website):

Function, Symbol, Access: Sacred Spaces through History
December 17 - 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

What do an ancient synagogue, an Italian medieval church, a private chapel in a Renaissance palace, and a 21st century interfaith meditation room have in common? This lecture will discuss them within an investigation of how sacred spaces have been defined and used through the centuries. Dr. Ena G. Heller is the Executive Director of MOBIA and curator of the exhibition.

Lectures are free and include the price of admission.

Crafting Ceremonial Objects with Tobi Kahn:
A Workshop for Adults

December 20 - 1 to 3 p.m.

Hand-crafted ceremonial objects and their place in constructed sacred spaces are central to Tobi Kahn’s work. In this workshop, participants will create a ceremonial object that combines symbolism, functionality, and artistic flair! Objects will be constructed from found materials and an item of personal significance that participants bring to the workshop (we will photocopy the original item keeping it intact). This program is led by the artist and will include a guided tour of the exhibition. Admission is $5.

Faith, Spirituality, and Sacred Spaces in Contemporary Art
January 14, 2010 - 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Third in the MOBIA lecture series on sacred space, Dr. Klaus Ottmann will present a contemporary perspective on the creation of sacred space in art. Works to be discussed include The Rothko Chapel in Houston by American Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko and the Air Architecture of French conceptual artist Yves Klein.

Dr. Ottmann is the Robert Lehman Curator at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York, and an independent scholar and writer.

Lectures are free and include the price of admission.

Artist Kahn has a book accompanying his exhibit. “Sacred Spaces for the 21st Century” captures 28 of his works, including that for Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun in Milwaukee.

Each work is matched with a Meditation by novelist and poet Nessa Rapoport.

MOBIA does not say the third lecture will be the final lecture. Perhaps it will revisit this subject again.

The Museum of Biblical Art is located at 1865 Broadway (at 61st Street) in Manhattan. Click here for directions and hours of operation.

The Magpie Mason will attend the December 17 and January 14 lectures. Hope to see you there!

Photos courtesy of Museum of Biblical Art.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

‘Happy Birthday Bro. Sibelius’

I heard on the radio this morning that today is the 144th anniversary of the birth of Bro. Jean Sibelius who, like Mozart before him, composed immortal music in celebration of Freemasonry for ritual use within the Temple and for enjoyment without.

His lodge was Suomi Lodge No. 1, which was chartered by the Grand Lodge of New York, and whose earliest minutes record Sibelius’ intention to compose “original, genuinely Finnish music for the lodge.” His talent and fame also would earn him Honorary Membership in the Grand Lodge of Finland, one of the jurisdictions of the Swedish Rite of Freemasonry, and an honor very rarely bestowed.

Rather than copy and paste the writings of others, I’ll just direct Magpie readers to several websites that offer interesting information about Sibelius:

A biographical website focuses on his Masonic life.

The evolution of Freemasonry in Finland.

The Beeb.

The Canberra Curmudgeon

As Bro. Benjamin Franklin graces America’s $100 bill,
so does Bro. Sibelius on Finland’s 100 Mark note.

▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼ ▲▼

And speaking of those operative builders who labor in notes and scales, ’tis the season of Handel’s Messiah at Trinity Church! Handel’s Messiah is a Christmas tradition at Trinity dating to the famous oratorio’s New York debut in 1770, one of the first performances of Messiah in the New World.

The 2009 concerts will be performed Sunday, December 13 at 3 p.m. and Monday, December 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.

The Sunday concert will be broadcast live on WQXR, 105.9 FM, at 3 p.m. Monday’s concert will be webcast for live and on-demand viewing.

Messiah also will be performed at Avery Fisher Hall, December 15-18, and at Carnegie Hall, December 21 and 22.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

‘Missed Opportunities’

The Magpie Mason has been under the weather for about a week. My “Cigar a Day Keeps the Doctor Away” regimen was put to a rigorous test – and it passed! But in the meantime, I was ill briefly, and regrettably missed several great events in the area.

Last Monday, Nutley Lodge No. 25 turned itself into a “Lodge of Reflection,” a variation of the Chamber of Reflection. Worshipful Master Franklin explains:

I have to tell you, it was odd but wonderful to see Masons doing breathing exercises, and meditating & contemplating our symbols. I’ve seen this type of activity with other groups (Rosicrucians, Martinists, etc.), but I don’t think ever with Masons.

We had 19 guys in attendance: six officiating ceremonies, and 13 “candidates.” Not too bad!

We are planning to do this on a regular basis, every other month or so. We’ll keep you in the loop.

And he supplied photos!

There are more photos that are too graphic to post on the web (unless Franklin says it’s okay).

Also missed with great reluctance was the December meeting of Cushite Council No. 474 of Allied Masonic Degrees. Regular Magpie readers know – and are probably damn tired of hearing – that four(!) AMD councils were set to labor in New Jersey this year, with Cushite being the first to receive its charter, back in February at Grand Council’s Annual Meeting.

Sovereign Master David explains:

Tonight we conferred the Royal Ark Mariner Degree, heard two papers, plus Q&A, and one multimedia presentation. We had a catered meal from a very nice restaurant in town, and met upstairs in an Irish tavern, then came downstairs for drinks and discussion until midnight.

I know that Irish tavern. Long before I was The Magpie Mason, I frequented the gin mills of County Essex. I am going to guess that Thursday night was the first time incense was burned there. I’m glad to see the place has classed up a bit.

And he supplied photos!

And then Friday was the installation of officers at historic Enterprise Lodge No. 31 in Jersey City (one of the last “mainstream” lodges in an urban area in New Jersey). Congratulations brethren! Photo courtesy of David Lindez.

And I still have much to tell you about Fairless Hills Lodge’s annual banquet, and Northern New Jersey Lodge of Perfection’s recent meeting, and I still haven’t told you about the rededication of Daniel Tompkins’ gravesite held four weeks ago! Where does the time go?

And then there’s the December 28 meeting of Lux ex Tenebris Council No. 176 of Allied Masonic Degrees at the dropdead gorgeous Allentown Masonic Temple in Pennsylvania. It’s the 14th Annual Feast following the election and installation of officers for 2010. I’d love to be with you guys again, but that is the same night American Lodge of Research meets.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Brethren, we’re uncles!

Congratulations to Bro. Oliver and his wife Yvonne on the birth of Marie yesterday! She is the younger sister of Tim.

(Oliver, your e-mail inbox is full! Please accept my congratulations and warmest wishes via the Magpie.)

Such a wonderful blessing... and on the same day as our Thanksgiving holiday in America.

The announcement:

Hallo ihr Lieben,

das Warten ist vorüber - es ist ein Mädchen. Wir sind dankbar, heute unser zweites Kind bekommen zu haben. Die Mutter und die Tochter sind gesund und erschöpft - aber es geht ihnen gut :)

Name: Marie
Geboren: 26.11.2009 um 10:36
Gewicht: 3160g
Size: 49cm

Denn bei dir ist die lebendige Quelle, und in deinem Licht sehen wir das Licht.
Psalm 36,9

Wir sind überglücklich!

beste Grüße,
Yvonne & Oliver, Tim & Marie


Dear all,

The wait is over – it’s a girl. We have been blessed with receiving our second child today. Mother and daughter are healthy, exhausted - but in excellent condition :)

Name: Marie
Born: 2009-11-26 at 4:36 AM EST
Weight: 6.97 pounds
Size: 1'7.3"

For with thee [is] the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.
Psalm 36:9

We are soooo happy!

best regards from Germany,
Yvonne & Oliver, Tim & Marie

Monday, November 23, 2009

Masonic Week 2010

Brotherens, I know it is only November, but now is a good time to make your plans for Masonic Week 2010.

For those who do not know, Masonic Week was initiated in the late 1930s in anticipation of the founding of The Masonic Society, which would come some 70 years later. How the brethren knew that is one of the truly amazing stories of Freemasonry. Buy me a Guinness at the hotel bar, and maybe I’ll tell you all about it.

I think there may be a Magpie Mason smoking lounge this year. I always book a smoking room. The generous Hilton staff thoughtfully sticks us cigar aficionados and those degenerate pet owners inside “The Annex,” a fitting name if there ever was one – county jails have annexes too – which is pretty far from the action, and requires rambling strolls through numerous corridors to get back and forth. (You’ve seen Goodfellas, so you remember that amazing master shot following Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco through The Copacabana backdoor, across the kitchen, throughout the winding hallways, up to the main floor, and out to their just delivered front row table? Well that is “from a point to a line” compared to the walkabout from our meeting rooms and banquet halls in the Hilton proper to our exile in the Annex. During one such late night adventure from the Tower to the Annex in 2008, I actually found myself inside the hotel kitchen! Had I known the words to “Pretend You Don’t See Her,” I’d have broken out in song.) Anyway, after learning my lesson from this year’s late night frozen cigarfest on Lindez’s balcony, I think I’ll have to welcome the Friars of the Briar and the Masters of the Leaf over for smokey treats. But it’ll have to wait until Saturday night because I ain’t living in an ashtray for four days!

So that’s it fellas. What can I tell ya? I expect a strong showing of New Jersey Masons this year, thanks in no small measure to the four AMD councils set to labor in the past couple of months here. Also, make yourselves available on the evening of Wednesday, the 10th of February, when the Rose Circle Research Foundation and Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 and Toye, Kenning and Spencer Ltd. will have a stunningly amazing event for you at the George Washington Masonic Memorial. Actually it’ll be more than just the evening; we’ll get started in the afternoon. Details to come! Just mark the date and make sure you’re in Alexandria.