Saturday, May 30, 2009


It is official: Bro. Mohamad Yatim will be the guest speaker at Sons of Liberty Lodge No. 301 on June 10. He is going to discuss the Scottish Rite initiatic element known as the Chamber of Reflection, with an explanation of V.I.T.R.I.O.L.

Sons of Liberty meets at the Secaucus Masonic Temple, located at 1422 Paterson Plank Rd. in Secaucus, easily reached from Route 3, the NJ Turnpike, etc. Opening at 7:30 p.m.

The Chamber of Reflection offers the aspirant a very different experience than New Jersey’s ritually standard Preparation Room. In the latter, lodge officers greet the candidate with specific questions and make certain he is properly clothed for his initiation. But in the Chamber of Reflection, the candidate for the mysteries of Freemasonry is given time to think. He’ll need it, because he should achieve an emotional distance from the concerns and employments of the world outside; he should attain a mental clarity to appreciate his infinitesimal place in the universe; he needs to understand his very existence is just a temporary blip.

This is accomplished with the aid of several highly instructive symbols placed in the Chamber. Daniel Béresniak, in his excellent book “Symbols of Freemasonry,” describes the Chamber of Reflection beautifully. (These photos, shot by Laziz Hamani, are from this highly recommended book.)

“The Chamber of Reflection, present only in certain Masonic rites, is a small room in which the candidates are left on their own for a period before the initiation ceremony begins. Seated at a table, they write their Philosophical Will, which is later to be read out in the lodge....

“The initiate is alone with a sheet of paper and a pencil. The Chamber of Reflection is lit only by a candle which casts its feeble light on a number of ornaments: a human skull, some bones, a saucer containing salt and another containing sulfur. On the wall are murals painted in white on a black background: a cockerel, a scythe, and the word V.I.T.R.I.O.L. which is the ancient command to examine oneself: Visita interiora terrae, rectificando invenies occultam lapidem, (or Visit the center of the earth, and by rectifying you shall find the hidden stone).

“These symbols derive from alchemy, a tradition which has provided us with all of the symbols we use today to describe metamorphosis....

“The hourglass is an invitation to reflect on the reversibility of time; the bread denotes the vital transformation from the raw to the cooked; and water represents fertility. So knowledge has to be re-examined, not to increase its ontological qualities, but to alter them. ‘Not to fill up a vase, but to light a fire,’ as Montaigne put it. This quotation from the author of the ‘Essays’ leads us to the cockerel, which announces the appearance of light. It is associated with Mercury/Hermes who sets limits and helps us to cross them. The ability to associate things by distinguishing between them is proof of the passage from knowledge to experience.

“As for the scythe, the tool used for reaping, it is only since the fifteenth century that it has been put in the hands of a skeleton to represent death, the great leveler. This image confirms and illustrates the teaching revealed in the other symbols: Death in the vegetable world is a source of life for the animal world.

“These symbols focus the neophytes’ attention on the need to recognize reality as it is, and to free themselves from those phantoms which set light and darkness in opposition. This initial trial and proof of earth in the Chamber of Reflection shows the way forward, to replace the word ‘or’ and its surrounding attitudes by the word ‘and.’”

Friday, May 29, 2009

More ‘Alpha males’

Senior Warden Kevin, Organist Nathaniel, and Bro. Ali at Alpha Lodge Wednesday night.

It isn’t necessary to be a Masonic VIP from a faraway land to speak at Alpha Lodge’s podium. On Wednesday, we heard from a homegrown Alpha male, recently raised to the Third Degree.

Bro. Nathaniel spoke on several subjects, compensating for two other Alpha brethren who could not attend.

“Music, Brotherhood and Harmony” was his first subject. Steering clear of the obvious approach (i.e. famous Masons who composed music), Nathaniel neared his topic obliquely. “Harmony is the Mystic Tie that binds brethren together,” he said. “It binds our hearts together in brotherly love.” He recounted the significance of music in Masonic labors, starting with the songs printed in the back of Anderson’s Constitutions, and explained the unifying joy of music in Masonic refreshment, as in the ways Masons in previous generations would support the performing arts by attending concerts together as a lodge.

Perhaps the best point Nathaniel made concerned the elementary definitions of the words harmony and brotherhood.

har•mo•ny: 3 a: pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts (a painting exhibiting harmony of color and line) b: correspondence, accord c: internal calm: tranquility.

broth•er•hood: 3 : as association (as a labor union or monastic society) for a particular purpose.

Every Mason is like a musical instrument, he explained. Each gives a gift to the lodge, and then unites, as for a symphony.

Read more about it here.

‘The reign of error’

All bad things must come to an end, and King Nelson is retiring as editor of “The Philalethes,” the bi-monthly journal of unctuous opinion that suffered long and needlessly under His Highness’ rule.

This is the first necessary step that the Philalethes Society must take if it is to regain whatever credibility is possible. (Actually, it has been explained to me that Nelson hasn’t truly been the editor for a number of years, and that there is someone on the payroll who does the work of a managing editor, but still it is necessary to separate his name from the voice of the society.)

My advice, which I admit is worth zero, is for the society to lose its tired, exaggerated sense of self-importance, to economize financially (and they know what I mean here), to find a new voice and a solid purpose, and to meet the expectations of the 21st century Freemason in North America. I don’t envy Terry Tilton, the current president, and I wish him lots of luck. He needs it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bro. Ambrose Ely Vanderpoel (1875-1940)

On Memorial Day, we inevitably wind up visiting cemeteries. There is one tiny burial ground in my native hometown that is the final resting place of Bro. Ambrose Ely Vanderpoel (1875-1940). A member of Madison Lodge No. 93. He was part of the wealthy and influential Ely family that settled in the area in the 18th century. Bro. Ambrose made the Masonic Charity Foundation of New Jersey a beneficiary in his will, bequeathing $2 million in the 1940s. (About $30 million in 2009 dollars.) Evidently the Vanderpoel Pavilion at the Home is named in his honor.

Here are two photos of his headstone. A monument actually. Stands about eight feet tall.

Richard Ely emigrated from Plymouth, England c. 1655 and landed in Boston. He settled in Lyme, Connecticut. His great-grandson, Captain William Ely, a veteran of the colonial wars, moved from Lyme to New Jersey in 1756 with his wife Elizabeth Perkins Ely and their seven children, settling on a tract of farm land. (A portion of this property would be owned by my family two centuries later.)

Their family tree would grow large, and would include many notable personalities in business, industry, government, military, clergy and other fields. One of those families that apparently justified its own genealogical book, published in 1902.

If the findings published in this book are accurate, Richard Ely is a descendant of one Tassilo, a Roman youth living in Buda (Budapest), capital of Hungary circa 550, who would marry Brunehilda, daughter of the Hungarian monarch Theodoric. Their son would become Theodoric the Hun, who in 580 would become a duke in the area southwest of Austria, near Lombardy.

Fast forward five and a half centuries, and Helias de la Flèche, Count of Maine, emigrates to England, where King Henry I grants him extensive lands in Cambridgeshire, including the Isle of Ely, where he died in 1110.

The family is involved in government and church for generations, with its men holding high offices, and one, Sir Walter de Ely, fighting in the Crusades, earning distinction at the storied Siege of Acre under Richard the Lionheart. He died circa 1220.

Jump ahead 405 years, after many marriages producing sons who would graduate college and become clergymen, and our Richard Ely is born at Basingstoke. Might have served under Cromwell.

There is Ely Cathedral also, located in the same Cambridgeshire.

Etheldreda (Æthelthryth, Ediltrudis, Audrey) (d.679), queen, foundress and abbess of Ely. She was the daughter of Anna, king of East Anglia, and was born, probably, at Exning, near Newmarket in Suffolk. At an early age she was married (c.652) to Tondberht, ealdorman of the South Gyrwas, but she remained a virgin. On his death, c.655, she retired to the Isle of Ely, her dowry. In 660, for political reasons, she was married to Egfrith, the young king of Northumbria who was then only 15 years old, and several years younger than her. He agreed that she should remain a virgin, as in her previous marriage, but 12 years later he wished their marital relationship to be normal. Etheldreda, advised and aided by Wilfred, bishop of Northumbria, refused. Egfrith offered bribes in vain. Etheldreda left him and became a nun at Coldingham under her aunt Ebbe (672) and founded a double monastery at Ely in 673. (from FARMER, David: The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 3rd ed. OUP, 1992.)

Etheldreda restored an old church at Ely, reputedly destroyed by Penda, pagan king of the Mercians, and built her monastery on the site of what is now Ely Cathedral. After its restoration in 970 by Ethelwold it became the richest abbey in England except for Glastonbury.

Etheldreda's monastery flourished for 200 years until it was destroyed by the Danes. It was refounded as a Benedictine community in 970....

Work on the present Cathedral began in the 11th century under the leadership of Abbot Simeon, and the monastic church became a cathedral in 1109 with the Diocese of Ely being carved out of the Diocese of Lincoln. The monastery at Ely was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. Ely suffered less than many other monasteries, but even so, statues were destroyed together with carvings and stained glass. St Etheldreda's Shrine was destroyed.
The Cathedral was refounded with a Chapter of eight canons in 1541 as was the Kings School.
Robert Steward, the last Prior of the monastery, became the first Dean.

The first major restoration took place in the 18th Century under James Essex. With the arrival of Dean George Peacock in 1839 a second restoration project began. Together with the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, he restored the building to its former glory.

A third major restoration project, the most extensive to date, was begun in 1986 and was completed in the year 2000.

Read the whole story here.

The most recent interment at the Ely Family Cemetary in New Jersey took place in 1978, when Janet Halsey Olstead, an eighth-generation descendant of Captain William Ely, was laid to rest.

Per the terms of deeds, covenants, etc., only Ely family members may be buried on this land. There is plenty of vacant land within the 145-year-old stone fence surrounding the burial ground. The shortage, evidently, is of Elys. The Historical Society that serves in trust for the cemetery is unaware of any surviving family members, and in fact does not know who, if anyone alive, is the owner of the cemetery.

The earliest headstones, made of sandstone and not enduring time well, mark the graves of Elizabeth Ely Jones, her husband Frederick Jones, and their son Bennoni, all dated 1777.

Inscribed: “Bennoni Jones, son of Frederick & Elizabeth Jones. He died 1777. Aged 3 years.”

The final resting place of Smith Ely (1825-1911), mayor of New York City, 1877-78.

Making a pleasant coincidence, another Ely, Mr. Ambrose Ely, donated $300 in 1855 to a civic club that purchased land about a mile west of this cemetery for what would become Olivet United Church of Christ, which remained on that little piece of land until September 1973. I don’t know exactly when, but later that decade the church building was purchased by one of the local Masonic lodges, which moved in and held its meetings there until—I think—about 2001, when it merged with the other lodge in town, located a few miles to the east. The former church/lodge building still stands, and I’m pretty sure the current lodge still owns it, and is eager to sell.

Sunday, May 24, 2009



Installation of Officers
St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons
New York City
May 20, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

‘Truth Crosses the Bridge’

Piers, John and Rob at Trinity on Monday night.

It was a typically memorable evening at Trinity Commandery No. 17 on Monday. There are about 10 Templar commanderies in New Jersey, but I think everyone acknowledges that Trinity offers the most. In its ritual work, education, camaraderie, and other characteristics, Trinity is regarded highly around the country. Even Grand Master Koon is a member here. For the program Monday night, Commander Rob Morton welcomed to the podium SK Piers Vaughan, past commander of historic Morton Commandery No. 4 in New York City, which is another outstanding KT commandery that confers its Orders in the Church of the Incarnation, a landmark Episcopal church on Madison Avenue. Piers also is a bishop in the Old Templar Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and is an archbishop in the Ecclesia Rosae Rubeae and Aureae Crucis. Loyal Magpie readers also know him from St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons in New York’s First Manhattan District, and from the Rose Circle Research Foundation.

Trinity is preparing to confer the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross in June, so Piers’ chosen topic worked perfectly.

“In the movie ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,’ Indiana has to select the Holy Grail from a table covered with goblets. Finally, eschewing the gold, silver and bejeweled chalices, he reaches for a simple little pottery cup at the back of the table,” Piers began. “From among the sea of ‘empty vessels’ he has selected the simplest, the least impressive of those on offer, and he has chosen the most important treasure of all: the Holy Grail. In a similar vein, we often search for meaning among the better known degrees of our beloved Craft, yet sometimes the greatest treasure lies in a place we least expect. The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross is often seen as a curiosity, a mildly interesting piece of whimsy which we put on before the ‘important’ degrees of Malta and Temple. This quaint little play in three acts about a man being sent to the court of a king, crossing a bridge only to be arrested, and then restored to his former estate seems to teach us little. And the strange debate within the degree, about wine, kings and women seems almost out of place in a Masonic ceremony.

“Yet this little degree is one of the oldest of all Masonic degrees, and so venerated that it occurs in the Allied Masonic Degrees in England under the title Red Cross of Babylon, is strongly alluded to in the Royal Order of Scotland, and even features in the Order of Knight Masons, the ne plus ultra of Irish Freemasonry. Further afield, in continental Masonry it is the 16° of many Scottish Rite systems, and is the only degree surviving intact from the mysterious rite of the Elect Cohens of the Universe of Martinez de Pasqually.

“Why would such an apparently innocuous degree be thought worthy of such preservation, especially in such exalted bodies as the Royal Order of Scotland and the Knight Masons of Ireland? Even stranger, why would it be considered a pivotal degree in early magical systems, this degree which talks of a journey and an apparently frivolous debate?”

Piers went on to give the scriptural and legendary basis of the Order. The Knights know it already, and others can read an apt summary here. But what is it trying to teach us, Piers asked.

“The Order is usually split into three Acts,” he said. “In Act I, the Sanhedrin lament the fact that their efforts to rebuild the City and Temple at Jerusalem are constantly thwarted, either by aggressive enemies or by indifferent edicts. They elect to send an ambassador to the Court of Darius to plead their case. Zerubbabel offers to go, as he is known to the King at Babylon. In Act II, Zerubbabel attempts to cross a river by means of a bridge, but is arrested by guards and imprisoned. In Act III he is brought before the King, and his commitment to Truth and to his vows result in his being released and exalted, and, following the famous debate, he is allowed to return to his native land bearing gifts, with the promise of a free pass for him and his fellows.

“Although the journey is sandwiched between what appear to be two more impressive sections, do not let this distract you. The journey is in fact the most important part of all!”

This artifact is a fragment of a Babylonian stele, and is on display in the Museum at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It dates to approximately 500 BCE, and tells the story of the rebuilding of the Temple by Cyrus, the Persian king, on the 12th day of the fourth year of his reign.

“Now, many Masonic degrees explicitly talk of a journey:
• the Second Degree
• the Third Degree
• the Most Excellent Master Degree
• Mark Degree
• Most Excellent Master Degree
• Holy Royal Arch
• Royal Master Degree
• Select Master
• Super-Excellent Master.

“They all contain journeys, and if one accepts that all circumambulations are a symbolic journey, then all Masonic degrees contain such a journey,” Piers continued. “We find the symbolic use of a journey in many important books, not least Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales,’ Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and Dante’s ‘Inferno.’ Of all the Masonic systems of degrees, the journey undertaken by Zerubbabel in the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross is perhaps the most strange of all.

“In the Holy Royal Arch we learn that the name Zerubbabel signifies ‘Truth.’ Zerubbabel, like the ‘Pilgrim’ of Bunyan, is therefore the embodiment of this quality. It is ‘Truth,’ therefore, which undertakes this extraordinary journey, traveling, it might be noted, from West – or Jerusalem – to East – or Babylon – in a surprising reversal of the usual journeying which leads to the Holy City. In this case enlightenment is sought not in the Holy Land but beyond its shores. What is most important about this particular journey is that it is two-way. The immense significance of this will become apparent when we consider the fact that the journey involves crossing a bridge.

“Where or what is this mysterious river over which Zerubbabel must cross? An indication of the answer, surprisingly, lies in the preface to the Red Cross of Babylon Degree, published in England, which is worth quoting at length:

In the great religions of the world – for example Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Shintoism – there is a tradition that the soul has to cross the river of death, usually over a bridge, but sometimes by ferry as in Greek mythology, or by dividing the waters as Elijah did before his translation… In all the Rites, crossing the bridge is a symbolical representation of death, while the subsequent experience of the candidate is emblematical of the judgment of the soul.

“In this sense the bridge is also like Jacob’s ladder in the First Degree; it is a means of crossing a divide or chasm which separates two places. Much is made in the Book of Ezra about being ‘over the river,’ or ‘this side of the river’ and ‘beyond the river,’ so using the idea of the river as a key delimiter between two lands or empires. So what is the nature of these two worlds, this river and this bridge?

“The river has often been used as a symbol for the veil of forgetfulness or death, and its waters wash both cares and remembrances from the transitioning soul,” our teacher continued. “The two lands represent the conscious and subconscious worlds.... There is a veil which separates these two worlds, and this can only be pierced by means of traversing a path or bridge. Truth, then, crosses the bridge between the earthly world and the celestial plane, there to be detected as an intruder (naturally, for he is both conscious and living); yet he was chosen for this task because in the legend from the Red Cross of Babylon ‘Zerubbabel was formerly well-known to the King, and now offers his services to undertake the hazardous enterprise of traversing the Persian dominions, and seeking admission to the presence of our Sovereign.’ So it appears that Truth was accustomed to crossing this bridge in the past in order to communicate with this mysterious ‘King,’ but may have forgotten how to do it, which is why he is stopped, recognized as not belonging to that second world, and apprehended.”

“However, on receiving an audience with the mysterious ‘King’ he is recognized and a final test is put to him,” Vaughan added. “This test is one of determining that he understands the importance of silence or secrecy. Truth demonstrates his understanding of the importance of keep silent on secret matters, and the ‘King’ now welcomes him as a friend. The mortal is accepted in the land of the dead, or the subconscious world. But has his mysterious bridge been ‘burned,’ and will he be allowed to return to the material plane with the gifts he will learn on this journey?

“Now we come to the most perplexing part of the story – the Immemorial Discussion, in which three arbiters argue the supremacy of wine, the power of the king, women, and truth. At first glance this debate seems almost out of place in the scheme of things. Why would this be a central part of the ritual? If accepted at face value, it has little to teach us, but we have learned by now that the debate itself is a symbol of something else, something higher.

“The topic, not surprisingly, is about strength. Can the goals of Zerubbabel be achieved through physical, material or temporal objects, such as wine, women or kingly power (and remember that Christ himself was tempted with bread and kingly power)? Even though Zerubbabel is given the task of arguing the strength of women, he comes to realize that only Truth can set him free. That is to say, that the strength which he seeks to build his personal Temple lies within himself. Well pleased with this result, the ‘King’ asks him what he needs, and he replies the ability to return as needed, in order to learn more. This is granted (in the symbolism of passports). And this is no casual gift, for Truth now has the ability to pass between the two planes of existence without further let or hindrance. Furthermore, he is lavished with more gifts and talents to take back with him to the material plane.

“And finally, in a supreme gesture, the king gives him words of power and a sigil to enable him to make the transition in future. In knowing that the power to transform and to build the Temple within lies inside himself, he now has the power to move between life and death itself. Death no longer holds any terrors for our hero.”

Piers’ entire paper, replete with explanation of more esoterica and symbolism, can be read here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

‘Freemasonry and the Quest for Liberty’

At the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library
at the Grand Lodge of New York:

Freemasonry and the Quest for Liberty:
An Evening with James Wasserman.

Friday, May 29 at 6 p.m.

Join us for a lecture, discussion, and book-signing with James Wasserman, the bestselling author of “The Secrets of Masonic Washington: A Guidebook to Signs, Symbols, and Ceremonies at the Origin of America's Capital.”

He will share his thoughts on the crucial role Freemasonry played in the development of political liberty worldwide, and especially in the founding of the American republic. He will explore the idea that political liberty is a spiritual value, tracing its history from biblical times.

“The Secrets of Masonic Washington” provides an exquisitely illustrated tour of the spiritual, esoteric, religious, and mythic symbols of our nation's capital. From the magnificent monument erected to Freemason and first President George Washington, to the classic pantheon built to honor Enlightenment philosopher and Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C. is a hymnal in stone.

This book is an archaeological expedition to a “lost city” whose mystical treasures and traditions are hidden in plain sight, a city designed and built as the beating heart of a spiritual entity that transcends all religions, whose very streets invoke the invisible energies that drive the evolution of human consciousness, a city inspired by a civic priesthood we know today as Freemasonry.

The $20 cost of the book includes a donation to the Masonic Library. We accept cash, check or credit card. For more information, call 212-337-6620 or e-mail:

Thomas M. Savini, Director
Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York
71 West 23rd St., 14th floor
New York, NY 10010

Friday, May 15, 2009

Second Circle Gatherings!

“No one has even begun to understand comradeship who does not accept with it a certain hearty eagerness in eating, drinking, or smoking.”

G.K. Chesterson
“What’s Wrong with the World”

The Masonic Society is coming to you!

Building on the rapid and widespread success The Masonic Society enjoys as we begin our second year, we aim to offer hands-on, fraternal experiences to enhance our enjoyment of being members of the Society. Something to make our quarterly Journal and our on-line forum more personal.

We hosted our First Circle Gathering in Virginia during Masonic Week in February, which was an unquestioned triumph. It was the perfect mix of great food & drink, tasteful atmosphere, and cheerful conversation, with an irrepressible raconteur at the podium. To me, it was proof that Masons can meet, free of rigmarole and pomp. There are more great events in the works. To accommodate Society members who cannot travel to Virginia, we will host our inaugural Semi-Annual First Circle Gathering in Indianapolis on Saturday, Oct. 24. That Annual First Circle Gathering is now part of the Masonic Week tradition in Virginia, and this semi-annual event will take place in different locations around the country, bringing the Society to its members.

Masonic Society President Roger VanGorden and keynote speaker Yasha Beresiner at the Society’s First Circle Gathering at Masonic Week in Virginia Feb. 13.

And there’s more! (Ya followin’ me camera guy?)

To strengthen our fraternity even further, the Society wants to meet locally, and is now building working groups to plan Second Circle gatherings, hopefully at locations near you. As this edition of the Magpie Mason goes to press, we have plans being made in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Utah. Outside the United States, there are plans for Canada, England, Ireland, and Norway.

Yours truly is quarterbacking the New Jersey event. The Society now has nearly 800 members, about 45 of whom are in New Jersey, so I am very optimistic about putting together a memorable event for the enjoyment of our members, other Masons, our wives/girlfriends, etc.

I am acquainted with most of the New Jersey Masons who are members of The Masonic Society, and I’ve contacted 11 of those who I think might be best able to assist in the planning of this event. Any TMS member who wants to get involved but has not heard from me yet should contact me, and we’ll talk. (It’s not that I neglected you; I just figured you are already overwhelmed with other responsibilities to the Craft.) Thus far, I’ve been contacted by Alexander, Daryll, Franklin, J.D., Jeff, Jose, Mark, Steve, and Val. Some great ideas for a venue have been suggested already.

What attracts me the most is the freedom. We can choose the date, the location, the menu, the speaker, the frequency of our gatherings, the everything. In essence, we want to have fun and enjoy each other’s company while expanding our Masonic knowledge, and without bearing the weight of rituals, regalia, officers, etc. You buy a ticket, you show up, you enjoy yourself, you go home; repeat as needed.

Here are photos of each of four venues we are considering thus far:

Left: A popular restaurant in Bloomfield.
Right: My nomination, located in Morristown.

Left: A great place in North Brunswick.
Right: Another fine establishment in Mt. Holly.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

‘A defining moment’

W. Ted Berry, a PM at historic Benjamin B. French Lodge No. 15 and Pythagoras Lodge of Research in Washington, coined a new word today to describe one facet of e-Masonry:


I have thought of a new word. The word is blodgeosphere. The blodgeosphere represents the collective online journaling activities of Masons worldwide. The blodgeosphere incorporates Masons posting under their true names who provide us with their personal insights and experiences as well as anonymous posters who tell us How It Ought To Be.


Ted Berry
Washington DC

Friday, May 8, 2009

‘Masonic Light at 9’

The official logo of Masonic Light, as designed
by Bro. Andrew Horn of The Master’s Jewel.

On this date in 2000, a small group of Freemasons from all over the world united by an interest in Rosslyn Chapel and other mystic subjects, and led by Josh Heller in Pennsylvania, gathered under the banner of Masonic Light. I think it is safe to say the presence of Freemasonry on the internet has not been the same since. It’s not that ML was the first on-line forum or has the most subscribers – it wasn’t, and it hasn’t – but the group definitely did strike a stunning balance of talent, international scope and, perhaps most importantly, open-mindedness. That generosity took two forms: an enthusiasm for delving into wildly diverse subjects orbiting Freemasonry, and a willingness to welcome into the conversations Masons from jurisdictions not recognized by the mainstream of the fraternity.

More than 102,000 posts later, we mark our ninth anniversary today.

Along the way we have inspired the book “The Temple That Never Sleeps” co-authored by Heller and Gerald Reilly of Ireland that was published in 2006, and it may be fanciful imagining on my part, but I believe it is possible that this group’s creativity played some role in inspiring several new societies and foundations formed in recent years for the purpose of elevating the Masonic experience for the new generation of Speculative Masons. In addition to groups with organized memberships there are any number of ad hoc lectures, conferences and other events of international, multi-jurisdictional character. Could there have been a conference in California last year on women in Freemasonry had there not been ML? I really doubt it.

I’ll say it is a fact that the past nine years have seen a new generation of Masons arise, aiming to expand the common stock of knowledge by way of fresh scholarship shared via modern media technologies. Freemasonry on-line, also known as e-Masonry, has revolutionized the Craft by providing the parallel universe where talented entrepreneurs can create websites to communicate with like-minded Masons around the globe – outside the confines of our local lodges. It is a broad indictment, but one that is accurate more often than not, that the typical lodge in the United States and Britain has failed to keep pace with the world outside, and, frankly, does not provide the level of culture someone with understandable expectations would anticipate finding in the fraternal order that in earlier generations united the giants of Western civilization. It is the goal of most of the responsible participants in e-Masonry to reinvigorate the Craft by trading the recipes that make that happen, and by sharing their success stories along the way.

Even the art of researching and writing scholarly papers on Masonic subjects, an act dating to Victorian times, now has the stamp of modernity as international academic conferences proliferate and become nearly as common on a calendar as one’s grand lodge’s meetings. Under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England is Internet Lodge No. 9659, which exists for the purpose of uniting Masons from around the world who wish to share information via modern media. Last year it hosted a writing contest among whose winners was “I Am Regular” by Karen Kidd of Oregon, a member of a Le Droit Humain lodge in Washington state, and an especially valued penpal in ML.

The freedom of conscience, the freedom of speech, of association, inherent in e-Masonry have sprung a genie from its bottle. To keep it in context, it cannot replace the lodge experience, but it can complement it, and it can deliver ideas that might lead to improving one’s lodge, and it can – in the words of James Anderson – provide the place “whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.”

I cannot imagine the ways the Web will affect Freemasonry in the coming nine years; actually I suspect the Web we know today will have been replaced. (I gather even Web 2.0 is only a mile-marker.) But the moderator of ML just received a request for membership from a newly made Mason at Harbor Lodge No. 15 in Michigan.

The fraternity’s cyberworld can grow only larger.

Alchemy Journal

The new (as above: spring/so below: autumn) issue of Alchemy Journal is hot off the presses!

Vol. 10, No. 1
Northern Spring/Southern Autumn

(March 2009)
Theme: Alchemical Feminine

• The Modern Mystery School by Gudni Gudnason
• The Influence of Women in Alchemy by Abigail McBride
• The Mother-Space, the Ultimate Alchemical Feminine by Dr. Bruce Fisher
• Anima Mundi, Soul-Filled World by Iona Miller
• The Seed in Spring by Steve Kalec
• The alchemical feminine in new works by Michael Pearce
• The Salts of Life by Karen Bartlett
• Shekhinah, the Feminine Presence of God by Dr. Theresa Ibis
• Beyond Passions by Tamara Nikolic and Jay Hochberg
• Mater Alchemæ by Rubaphilos Salfluere
• To Pursue Their Full Measure of Happiness: Sex, Gender, Politics and Alchemy by Andrew Minkin
• Twenty-First Century Turba Philosophorum: the 2008 International Alchemy Conference by Dennis William Hauck
• Hymn to Kali by Ramdulal Nandi
• A profile of Modern Magister Jeannie Radcliffe
• Russell Burton House, plus Nicki Scully and Linda Star Wolf reviewed by Rubaphilos Salfluere; Dr. Ross Mack reviewed by Iona Miller; Paul Foster Case reviewed by Darcy Kuntz; Russell Burton House reviewed by Mike Ridpath; Ruth Rusca and Dr. Christine R. Page reviewed by Alexander Price; and Alexander Roob reviewed by Jay Hochberg.

Through the kind offices of Paul Hardacre, editor, my review of Alchemy & Mysticism appears here:

The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy & Mysticism
By Alexander Roob
Taschen, 2006, 575 pp., US$14.99
ISBN 978-3-8228-5038-1

In celebration of Taschen’s 25th anniversary, the world-renowned publisher of artistic and sumptuously illustrated books proceeded to create a line of titles covering all manner of iconic and symbolic messages, from movies and photography, to art and architecture, to tattoos and even chairs. Inevitably the publishing spree would touch on esoteric arts. The result is The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy & Mysticism by Alexander Roob. Formerly a professor of fine arts at the University of Hamburg, before joining the faculty at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart in 2002, Roob is not identified anywhere in the text as an Alchemist, Rosicrucian or Freemason, and yet he obviously is well attuned to those sciences’ hidden wisdom and the innumerable symbols communicating occult knowledge.

“A rich world of images has etched itself into the memory of modern man,” Roob’s Introduction begins, “despite the fact that it is not available in public collections, but lies hidden in old manuscripts and prints.” Medieval art depicting Christian mysticism leads to the Romantic work of William Blake, and along the way the symbols of Kabbalah, Alchemy and Freemasonry are seen as very closely related, and themselves often shown to be parallel to teachings in medicine, chemistry and color theory.

It is not easy to write a review of this book. If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then this book has a million things to say. There isn’t a single page past the Introduction that does not feature at least one esoteric illustration, and it is that 26-page Introduction that contains most of the paragraphs of text to read. The majority of text throughout the book consists of the detailed captions to the many illustrations and other descriptions for context. This book really is a museum, as in “a place of the Muses,” in that it gathers the studies of the Arts and Sciences, and more.

Roob does not play favorites. Both spiritual Alchemy and the work in the laboratory are explored. Their histories, mechanics and relevance are presented in detail, and it is shown that knowledge of both is necessary to succeed in the Great Work. And so, Roob’s goal is to define the many symbols one would need to undertake those labors. Perhaps an Alchemist with many years of experience could find deficiencies of this book, but this reviewer cannot believe a detail has been omitted.

The first chapter, titled ‘Macrocosm,’ begins with this admonition taken from an Enlightenment era French text: “I assure you that anyone who attempts a literal understanding of the writings of the hermetic philosophers will lose himself in the twists and turns of a labyrinth from which he will never find the way out.” That’s a daunting signpost to find at the outset, but if nothing else, this author shows that to be true. And that must explain the exhausting compendium of facts, speculations, myths and artistic samplings that are submitted to the reader via the hundreds of color and black-and-white illustrations, sometimes with incongruent results.

It is the fall of Adam and the banishment of Lucifer to the dark abyss – “two cosmic catastrophes” – that produced the “primaterial chaos of the elements” needed for the Work. Indeed the fall of Adam (the Hebrew name means “red earth,” as in the red of the lapis) marks the end of “inner unity” for man, casting him into the “external world of opposites.” The earliest understanding of a first man is shown as androgynous. “The feminine that was essential in Adam, before it was separated from him in sleep, was his heavenly spouse Sophia (wisdom).” The narrative explanation continues, decoding many plates from Hieroglyphica Sacra drawn by the theosophist Dionysos A. Freher:

“Adam, created in a state of purity and perfection, is at the point of intersection between the divine world of angels and the dark world of fire. Three creatures make claims on him. 1) Sophia, the companion of his youth. 2) Satan, below him. 3) The spirit of this world…. In order to force him to a decision, there follows the temptation of the Tree of Knowledge. The two S’s, Sophia and Satan, are the two contrary snakes of the staff of Mercury (Caduceus) and must be united.”

Many concepts, including Chaos, Saturnine Night, Torment of the Metals, and Resurrection lead up to Aurora, the sun, or “the final maturity of matter after it has passed through all seven spheres.” Gold.

One important service this book renders that cannot be ignored is its demystifying of Masonic symbols, especially those of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. The double-headed eagle, which to my knowledge never really was satisfactorily explained in AASR rituals as an esoteric symbol, is shown here connected to Apollo, the sun. The pelican of Rose Croix Masonry is symbolic of the lapis, an agent of regeneration. Other Masonic symbols explained in the Alchemical context are the Pillars in the Porch of the Temple, as Sun and Moon and fire and water; the Winding Stairway, as the “slow and organic course of the process of spiritual maturity;” and the Sun – where the Master of the lodge presides – of course as the “imperishable spirit, immaterial gold.”

Author Roob devotes considerable space to explaining the role of the feminine in Alchemy. It is shown that the word “matter” comes from the Latin root “mater,” as in “maternal.” But perhaps to allow for different points of view, seemingly varied interpretations of the feminine role are given. In one instance, Eve represents the element mercury, complementing Adam’s sulphur. Under the heading ‘Conjunctio,’ we learn “Woman dissolves man, and he makes her solid. That is, the spirit dissolves the body and makes it soft, and the body fixes the spirit.” An early 16th century painting is narrated thus: “I am hot and dry Sol, and you Luna are cold and moist. When we couple and come together… I will with flattery take your soul from you.”

A German engraving from 1628 depicting “coitus,” shows King Gabricius and his sister Beya who want to embrace “to conceive a son whose like is unknown to this world.” This union causes Gabricius’ death, after which he is “enclosed in her womb, so that nothing can be seen of him. So great is her love that she has absorbed him entire into her nature and divided him into indivisible parts.” A 17th century color painting shows a royal couple seeking to give birth to a son with a red head, black eyes and white feet, those colors serving as crucial symbols.

The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy & Mysticism is an encyclopedic work that unites centuries of religious, mythological, artistic and literary traditions to explain many complicated nuances surrounding Alchemy. For its overwhelming beauty it is highly recommended, but its step-by-step decoding of so many arcane or misunderstood symbols will prove to be its enduring value to students of the esoteric arts. This book could be improved only by making it larger – not thicker, but larger – in a coffeetable size. Perhaps for the publisher’s golden anniversary.

This issue of Alchemy Journal is available for USD$15 plus postage.

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Alchemy Journal is published by Salamander and Sons for the International Alchemy Guild

Sunday, May 3, 2009

‘A Year Savored’

I want to tell you about the progress enjoyed by The Masonic Society, the research and education foundation serving the Craft in North America.

We marked our first anniversary on Friday, and during year one our membership has grown to more than 750.

Issue No. 3 of “The Journal” will arrive in our members’ mailboxes during the coming week, and Issue No. 4 is well into production now. The Journal is a full color magazine containing Masonic information written by authors from all over the world. Speculative papers, news stories, fiction, poetry, great photography, insightful opinion and other editorial elements reviving the golden age of Masonic publishing.

The new issue includes:

RW Marc Conrad of Louisiana on Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Bro. Will Highsmith of North Carolina on the Order of the Arrow.
New Jersey’s own W. Cory Sigler on “Designs Upon the Trestleboard.”
W. Nathan Brindle of Indiana on “Dues That Don't.”
RW Yasha Beresiner on the August Order of Light.
Plus a recap of the Masonic Week activities, and a lot more.

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

In addition, members mingle in 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. The forum is buzzing with 484 members discussing 2,065 topics, sharing photos, files, and all kinds of information concerning Freemasonry.

But The Masonic Society is much more than a great magazine and a stimulating website. We also come together as brothers and fellows in the spirit of our Masonic ancestors who gathered convivially in the taverns. We hosted our “First Circle Gathering and Banquet” in February during the Masonic Week festivities in Virginia. Our inaugural Semi-Annual First Circle meeting will take place Oct. 24 (details to be announced), and we’re also looking to host a variety of social events locally across the country.

Roger and Yasha at our banquet Feb. 13.

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.

Our President is MW Roger VanGorden, 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.

Brethren, at a mere $39 annually, The Masonic Society provides a very stylish, educational and, frankly, fun way to broaden your Masonic horizons without conflicting with your already busy Masonic schedule.

Hope you check us out.