Friday, July 31, 2009

‘The Magic Flute’

AMC Theatres is working with the Metropolitan Opera to bring marvels of the stage to the big screen, and on Wednesday, Mozart’s The Magic Flute will be shown nationwide at 7 p.m. in all time zones.

The always accommodating website of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon says:

The first performance of The Magic Flute took place on September 30, 1791 at the Theater auf de Wieden. Mozart was now a member of the New Crown Freemason Lodge, and was suspect to the Austrian emperor, a prime mover and benefactor in Mozart’s compositional life. Knowing that the Masons are soon to be outlawed in Vienna, Mozart realizes that The Magic Flute is his last chance to ensure that his esoteric knowledge gained through Freemasonry reaches the rest of continental Europe. The Magic Flute must become the metaphorical journey into the Enlightenment questions and ideals that remain unanswered, yet can be through Freemasonry.

Some of the Masonic symbolism in this opera is not recognizable to most in the English-speaking Masonic world. What is at work here is the alchemical and esoteric language of Continental Masonry, and keep in mind this opera is a work of art, and not a ritual exposé. That said, there is plenty of dialog about harmony and Light. You will see pillars, deltas, squares, circles, vesica piscis... and an initiation into a brotherhood in a temple, repleat with “Follow me.”

The Met itself offers this synopsis:

Three ladies in the service of the Queen of the Night save the fainting Prince Tamino from a serpent (Introduction: “A serpent! A monster!”). When they leave to tell the queen, the bird catcher Papageno bounces in and boasts to Tamino that it was he who killed the creature (“I’m Papageno”). The ladies return to give Tamino a portrait of the queen’s daughter, Pamina, who they say is enslaved by the evil Sarastro, and they padlock Papageno’s mouth for lying. Tamino falls in love with Pamina’s face in the portrait (“This portrait’s beauty”). The queen, appearing in a burst of thunder, is grieving over the loss of her daughter; she charges Tamino with Pamina’s rescue (“My fate is grief”). The ladies give a magic flute to Tamino and silver bells to Papageno to ensure their safety, appointing three spirits to guide them (Quintet: “Hm! hm! hm! hm!”).

Sarastro’s slave Monostatos pursues Pamina (Duet: “You will not dare escape”) but is frightened away by the feather-covered Papageno, who tells Pamina that Tamino loves her and is on his way to save her. Led by the three spirits to the Temple of Sarastro, Tamino is advised by a high priest that it is the queen, not Sarastro, who is evil. Hearing that Pamina is safe, Tamino charms the animals with his flute, then rushes to follow the sound of Papageno’s pipes. Monostatos and his cohorts chase Papageno and Pamina but are left helpless by Papageno’s magic bells. Sarastro, entering in great ceremony (Chorus: “Long life to Sarastro”), promises Pamina eventual freedom and punishes Monostatos. Pamina is enchanted by a glimpse of Tamino, who is led into the temple with Papageno.

Sarastro tells his priests that Tamino will undergo initiation rites (“O Isis and Osiris”). Monostatos tries to kiss the sleeping Pamina (“Men were born to be great lovers”). He is discovered by the Queen of the Night, who dismisses him. She gives her daughter a dagger with which to murder Sarastro.

Sarastro confronts and then consoles the weeping Pamina (“Within our sacred temple”). Tamino and Papageno are told by a priest that they must remain silent and refrain from eating, a vow that Papageno immediately breaks when he takes a glass of water from a flirtatious old lady. The old lady vanishes when he asks her name. The three spirits appear to guide Tamino through the rest of his journey and to tell Papageno to be quiet. Tamino remains silent even when Pamina appears, which breaks her heart since she cannot understand his reticence (“Now my heart is filled with sadness”).

The priests inform Tamino that he has only two more trials to complete his initiation (Trio: “Why, beloved, must we part?”). Papageno longs for a cuddly wife but settles for the old lady. When he promises to be faithful she turns into a young Papagena but immediately disappears.

After many dangers, Pamina and Tamino are reunited and face the ordeals of water and fire protected by the magic flute.

Papageno is saved from attempted suicide by the spirits, who remind him that if he uses his magic bells he will find true happiness. When he does, Papagena appears and the two plan for the future and move into a bird’s nest (Duet: “Pa-pa-pa…”). The Queen of the Night, her three ladies, and Monostatos attack the temple but are defeated and banished. Sarastro joins Pamina and Tamino as the people hail Isis, Osiris, and the triumph of courage, virtue, and wisdom.

A list of theaters screening The Magic Flute is here.

This production of The Magic Flute is the same as that broadcast on public television in 2006, and subsequently released on DVD. (Photo courtesy of PBS.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The ‘Tavern Age’ revived?

Okay, here’s one that even Lindez doesn’t know about!

While running errands yesterday, the daily unbearable bumper-to-bumper traffic (I am really starting to hate New Jersey) caused me to get off the highway and take the local streets. So I’m cruising along Main Street in East Orange, and just as I cross over the Orange border, my eyes are drawn to the unmistakable Square and Compasses adorning a local business’ front sign.


It was kind of early in the day, so unfortunately the place was not open for business, but David, I propose a fact-finding mission! Let’s get some Alpha guys together and head over there one night after lodge.

An internet search yields very little, only a few comments from a guy named “We Repair Credit!!!” on one young lady’s My Space page, with these three photos:

A Haitian-American menu is advertised. (I wonder if saying “Make me a zombie!” to the bartender has regrettable consequences.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Starting another great year!

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

Since introducing ourselves last May, membership in the Society has grown to nearly 850! Issue No. 5 of The Journal will arrive in our members’ mailboxes in the next two weeks, and our on-line discussion Forum is buzzing with 541 members discussing 2,496 topics. And we’re getting ready for our Semi-Annual Meeting, to take place Oct. 24 in Indianapolis.

For the Magpie Mason, it is especially great to see so many New Jersey Freemasons (46 at last count) joining the Society. Plans are in the works for a local gathering, consisting of a great meal and a thoughtful program to advance our Masonic knowledge. (Members will receive invitations soon.)

The Journal is a quarterly 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.

Features in the new issue include:

The Two Confessions of John Whitney: an examination of the conflicting theories as to the fate of William Morgan by Stephen Dafoe.

Brother Bloom, The Most Influential Mason Who Never Lived by Kenneth W. Davis.

Debunking Reality: Solomon's Temple and the Power of Allegory by Randy Williams.

Multiple Dimensions of Silence in Freemasonry by Shawn Eyer.

The Orders of the Secret Monitor and the Scarlet Cord By Richard L. Gan.

International Conference on the History of Freemasonry 2009 by Christopher Hodapp.

Masonic Treasures: The Washingtons of Donald De Lue by Marc Conrad.

Plus news of current events, info on terrific Masonic events this fall, and other news from around the Masonic world. It is a top quality publication that, frankly, has inspired other national Masonic periodicals to rethink their own operations.

A subscription to this magazine is only one of the benefits of membership. Members are granted access to the Society’s on-line Forum, where hundreds of Masons from around the globe interact every day, helping each other advance in their Masonic knowledge.

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. It’s the best 39 bucks I’ve ever spent in Masonry.

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, there is a lot of confusion in the Temple over Freemasonry. ‘Dan Brown this,’ ‘Templar treasure that’ and all kinds of superstitions never should distract the brethren from Truth. The Masonic Society offers one way to uphold Truth with like-minded Masons from all over the world, and have some fun doing it. I hope you’ll check us out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

‘…and the moon governs the night’

Visitors to the Newman Catholic Community Center at Drexel University in Philadelphia are greeted by audacious symbolism. The fresco rendering of the iconic color photograph of earthrise taken from the lunar surface lends context to the most incomprehensible phrase in human vocabulary: ‘In the beginning, God...’ Superimposed upon it all is the Chi-Rho mounted on a cross. The Chi-Rho, one of the oldest symbols denoting Christianity, is a combination of the Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P), the first two letters in the Greek spelling of Christ, meaning ‘king.’

On the 40th anniversary of mankind’s arrival on the moon, thoughts inevitably turn to the significance of the moon in Masonic symbolism. There is much to consider.

“The adoption of the moon in the Masonic system as a symbol is analogous to, but could hardly be derived from, the employment of the same symbol in the ancient religions,” says the 1924 edition of Mackey’s An Encyclopædia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences. “In Egypt, Osiris was the sun, and Isis the moon; in Syria, Adonis was the sun, and Ashtoroth the moon; the Greeks adored her as Diana, and Hecate; in the mysteries of Ceres, while the hierophant or chief priest represented the Creator, and the torch-bearer the sun, the officer nearest the altar represented the moon. In short, moon-worship was as widely disseminated as sun-worship. Masons retain her image in their Rites, because the Lodge is a representation of the universe, where, as the sun rules over the day, the moon presides over the night; as the one regulates the year, so does the other the months, and as the former is the king of the starry hosts of heaven, so is the latter their queen; but both deriving their heat, and light, and power from Him, who as the third and the greatest light, the Master of heaven and earth, controls them both.”

Freemasonry as we know it is a product of the Enlightenment, meaning, in part, it is a philosophical society intended for the improvement of man’s station. Its use of universal symbols leads to great confusion among those who mistake it for anything from a continuation of the ancient mystery religions to a form of neo-paganism, like Wicca. Those who hold these opinions miss the point that above all else it is reason that Masonry aims to inculcate, not nature worship. It is thoughtful inquiry into the essence of nature we are taught to pursue, and not satisfaction with the superficial mindset that accepts Creation on par with the Creator.

“Whoever reflects on the objects that surround him will find abundant reason to admire the works of Nature, and adore the Being who directs such astonishing operations,” writes Bro. Charles Leslie in A Vindication of Masonry, his remarks to Vernon Kilwinning Lodge in Edinburgh on May 15, 1741. “He will be convinced that infinite wisdom could alone design, and infinite power finish such amazing works.”

Revealing what later generations of Masons will know as the Middle Chamber Lecture, Leslie continues:

“Speculative Masonry is so much interwoven with religion as to lay us under the strongest obligations to pay to the Deity that rational homage, which at once constitutes the duty and happiness of mankind. It leads the contemplative to view with reverence and admiration the glorious works of creation, and inspires them with the most exalted ideas of the perfections of the great Creator.”

And on Astronomy:

“Astronomy, though the last, is not the least important science. It is that divine art by which we are taught to read the wisdom, strength and beauty of the almighty Creator in those sacred pages, the celestial hemisphere. Assisted by astronomy, we can observe the motions, measure the distances, comprehend the magnitudes, and calculate the periods and eclipses of the heavenly bodies. By it we learn the use of the globes, the system of the world, and the primary law of nature. While we are employed in the study of this science, we perceive unparalleled instances of wisdom and goodness, and on every hand may trace the glorious Author by His works....

“By employing ourselves in the knowledge of these bodies, we are not only inspired with a due reverence for the Deity, but are also induced to apply with more anxiety and attention to the sciences of astronomy, geography, navigation, &c.”

Above, Mackey mentions Diana, the Roman moon goddess, and counterpart to the Greeks’ Artemis, who earns mention on her own in another, exoteric, section of the Middle Chamber Lecture on the subject of the Orders of Architecture:

“The Ionic is a mean between the more solid and the more delicate orders. Both delicacy and ingenuity are displayed in this pillar, the invention of which is attributed to the Ionians, as the famous Temple of Diana at Ephesus was of this order. It is said to have been formed after the model of a young woman of beautiful shape....”

The divine feminine looms large in other systems of symbols, like the tarot deck and astrology. (The Magpie Mason does not advocate use of tarot cards or astrology for divination, but, for reflection, study and exploration of symbols, tarot and astrology are as valid as any other works in the gallery of esoteric arts. Parallels to Masonic imagery are numerous.)

In tarot’s major arcana there is Card 18, called The Moon, which is thus described by Adele Nozedar in The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols:

At the lower level of the three layers that comprise this image, is a square-edged lake with a crayfish in it. Above, there are two dogs – or possibly a wolf and a dog – that look up to the Moon, jaws open, possibly howling. To their left and right are the corners of two buildings, both slightly different. One has a roof; the other appears to be open to the sky and is reminiscent of the Tower that was struck by lightning in Card 16. In the sky at the top of the card is the full Moon, with a face that points to the left and with a halo of rays, like moonbeams, surrounding it. There are teardrop shapes surrounding it that seem to either emanate from the Moon or, alternatively, are sucked into it.

The dogs are a reminder of the hounds that accompany the Moon Goddess. Dogs also act as psychopomps, guardians of souls in the spirit world. There is a nightmarish aspect to this card. The surrounding landscape is barren, only two small plants appear in it, a sort of no-man’s land. This card represents the “dark night of the soul.” However, the preceding card (No. 15, The Star) signifies hope, and the Moon provides the light that is reflected from the Sun (Card 19), illuminating the way ahead, indicating that guidance will come from above.

Left: An elegant interpretation of The Moon tarot card, courtesy of All Posters.

Right: Bro. Colin Browne’s version, from his Square and Compasses Tarot Deck, which connects the moon to the Senior Warden in the West.

There is a lot to work with here. The dogs can remind us of hunting, as in Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. The twin towers may speak to certain pillars Masons know well. That crayfish is important for its shell. In other tarot decks and elsewhere in symbolism, creatures with shells (crabs, scarab beetles, etc.) denote self-protection, and even aloofness. The astrological connection, naturally, is to the crab of the Cancer constellation, which Nozedar describes elsewhere in her book as a female symbol that denotes the moon and, interestingly, spans from June 21 to July 22.

On July 20, 1969, astronauts named for the god of the sun landed on and walked on the moon. And Freemasonry was there. Bro. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second human to walk on the moon, was made a Mason at Montclair Lodge No. 144 in Montclair, New Jersey, which was Aldrin’s hometown. That lodge no longer exists; it is one of the many lodges that amalgamated into what today is Essex Lodge No. 7. But, getting back to the feminine, Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was... Moon.

Friday, July 10, 2009

He coined G.A.O.T.U.

Happy birthday wishes to the man who coined the phrase “Great Architect of the Universe.” Yes, John Calvin would be 500 years old today. Among the world’s major religions, Calvinism is kind of a youngster, but its importance to Protestantism and its indirect benefit to Freemasonry are very important.

It was Calvin, the legendary French troublemaker, who coined that phrase in his “Commentary on Psalm 19,” which sometimes is translated to say Supreme Architect.

(The 19th Psalm itself is worthy of every Junior Warden’s attention.)

But the idea of God being a kind of cosmic architect predates Freemasonry by even more centuries. Depictions of this nature are found in medieval Christian art. The “Bible Moralisée,” published about 1250 AD, shows God busy at work with compasses in hand.

G.A.O.T.U. was introduced into Freemasonry by Dr. James Anderson, author of the Premier Grand Lodge’s first Book of Constitutions in 1723. A Presbyterian minister himself, Anderson is a theological descendant of Calvin. However, I’d say the credit for making the phrase Masonic vernacular belongs to Albert Mackey who used the term in his groundbreaking list of Masonic Landmarks, which has affected the jurisprudence of our grand lodges since its publication in 1858. And then of course there is the Scottish Rite and its siblings, which employ the term in prayer and ritual. (Photo courtesy GL of British Columbia and Yukon.)

Cushite at labor

Senior Warden Rob Morton, Sovereign Master David Lindez, and Bro. Steve rally around the altar at the Hunter Estate, the private home where Cushite Council No. 474 held its first meeting July 3.

An interesting development in New Jersey Freemasonry is the current proliferation of AMD councils. If you are not familiar with the Allied Masonic Degrees, it is an honorary, invitational fraternity within the York Rite. Membership is predicated on Royal Arch membership, and the AMD is supposed to be devoted to research and education, and the preservation of a corpus of very interesting degrees that long ago were worked in lodges, but later were discarded, and finally were collected under the authority of the AMD.

Anyway, two AMD councils are being set to labor in New Jersey, with talk of a third on the way. DaVinci Council is forming in central Jersey, and Cushite Council No. 474 held its ceremony of constitution and first meeting last Friday. The third council is in an embryonic phase in north Jersey, but I’m sure it’ll come together and begin functioning soon.

You might recognize the name Cushite. In the Bible, Cush was the son of Ham. He and his people inhabited the land called Cush, which we know today by its Greek name Ethiopia. In Freemasonry, Cushite Lodge was to be a lodge set to labor in Newark, New Jersey in 1870. The Grand Lodge denied the petition for a warrant. The brethren aiming to form Cushite Lodge instead organized Alpha Lodge No. 116, whose Worshipful Master today is W. Bro. David Lindez, the Sovereign Master of the new Cushite Council.

(I won’t attempt to summarize the history of this process, which is very complicated, involves race relations, and has been told by more competent writers. A quick Google search will yield GLNJ proceedings and other trustworthy sources of this exciting time in 19th century Masonic history.)

I think just about all of Cushite Council’s brethren come from Alpha Lodge and Alpha Chapter. But there was one special guest at this first meeting last Friday: Bro. Balvin came all the way from North Carolina, making John Candy’s travels look like a hansom cab ride in comparison.

Cushite AMD Council plans to meet in a local restaurant, returning Masonry in one respect to its tavern roots. “Eat, drink, and be Masons,” I always say.

The first paper presented in this new council was presented by Bro. Steve, who spoke on the symbolic and numerological significances of the number 27. Citing Biblical, Pythagorean and other esoteric sources, Steve linked the permutations of the three-fold number to various elements in Masonic ritual and symbol. Well done!

Next up was the Sovereign Master’s paper on the August Order of Light. Also very enlightening.

All in all, it was a great start for a council that will be productive for many years.

I feel a verse is imminent!

Deity was invoked,
and incense was lit.
Masonry was worked,
and whiskey was sipped.
Cigars were smoked,
and Balvin finally made it.

Bro. Balvin joins V. Lindez in the East of Cushite Council.

This fall at ALR

Another reason to look forward to fall is the next Regular Communication of American Lodge of Research on Thursday, October 29 at 8 p.m.

This will be the Annual Meeting, with the election of officers, and WM Bill Thomas announces the paper presented that evening will be “The Anti-Mason’s Toolbox: Abusing Logic to Attack the Craft” by W. Gilbert Ferrer. “An introduction to the logical fallacies underlying some typical arguments of contemporary Anti-Masonic zealots. The focus will be on debating tactics zealots use to avoid having to prove their allegations against the Craft.”

The lodge meets in the French Ionic Room at the Grand Lodge of New York, located at 71 West 23rd Street in Manhattan.

Before the meeting, brethren are welcome to join the lodge’s officers for dinner at the Limerick House Pub next door at 6 p.m.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Opportunities for scholars

Here are two opportunities for Masonic scholars to present their work and maybe earn a little praise as well.

Pythagoras Lodge of Research in Washington, DC invites the brethren to participate in its Masonic Research Awards Program, intended to encourage research and education work.

From the official announcement:

The following criteria will be used to evaluate all submissions:

Originality: The topic introduces new ideas, innovative concepts, unfamiliar resources, and/or creative methods. Topic is the writer’s choice.

Masonic connections: Interesting, informative, and innovative references to Masonic symbolism, ritual, practices, history, etc. are included.

Style: The author displays a thorough knowledge of the content. Alternative viewpoints are legitimately presented. The content is characterized by clear, unmistakable evidence, and focused on the central statement (thesis) or research topic with effective transitions between points.

Content: All information is well arranged with compelling presentation of the issue, question or problem. The research is supported by an investigation of facts and a development of the ideas. The paper is closed with strong supporting points that underline or expand the central postulate.

Persuasion: The concluding position provides coherent argument illustrative of critical analysis and a thoughtful level of inquiry, supported by well-founded, fact-based solutions and/or cause and effect relationships.

Format: The presentation is neat, correct and consistent in appearance, including margins, font size, indentations, titles, quotations, etc.

Grammar: The research paper is free of errors in terms of sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, and mechanics.

Person: The research paper is presented in perspective of Third Person focusing attention on the work, not on the author. Personal essays are not encouraged.

Citations: The bibliography demonstrates sufficient synthesis of relevant literature and practices. Citations are embedded, footnoted, and quoted correctly. A minimum of three external sources should be included.

Summary: An abstract briefly provides the key elements, main findings, and overall conclusions of the research.

Entries are to be submitted as Word documents by e-mail to W. Bro. Ted Berry at eab_dc(at) no later than October 31.

By submitting a paper, the author recognizes that such entries might be included in Pythagoras Lodge publications and/or forwarded to other Masonic research bodies for inclusion in their publications, with appropriate attributions.

Three medals will be awarded.

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In addition, the National Heritage Museum, located at the headquarters of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, is planning for its first symposium in what is hoped will become a bi-annual tradition.

“New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism” will take place April 9, 2010 at the museum in Lexington, Massachusetts.

From the official announcement:

Recently, a call for papers was issued, and we are pleased to announce that response has been brisk.

The symposium seeks to present the newest research on American fraternal groups from the past through the present day. By 1900, over 250 American fraternal groups existed, numbering six million members. The study of their activities and influence in the United States, past and present, offers the potential for new interpretations of American society and culture. Diverse perspectives on this topic are sought; proposals are invited from a broad range of research areas, including history, material and visual culture, anthropology, sociology, literary studies and criticism, gender studies, political science, African American studies, art history, economics, or any combination of disciplines. Perspectives on and interpretations of all time periods are welcome.

Possible topics include:

• Comparative studies of American fraternalism and other international forms
• Prince Hall Freemasonry and other African-American fraternal groups
• Ethnically- and religiously-based fraternal groups
• Fraternal groups for women or teens
• Role of fraternal groups in social movements
• The material culture of Freemasonry and fraternalism
• Anti-Masonry and anti-fraternal movements, issues and groups
• Fraternal symbolism and ritual
• The expression of Freemasonry and fraternalism through art, music, and literature
• Approaches to Freemasonry from disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transnational perspectives; the historiography and methodology of the study of American fraternalism

If you know anyone interested in submitting a proposal, these are the details: Submit an abstract of 400 words or less with a resume or c.v. that is no more than two pages. Be sure to include full contact information (name, address, e-mail, phone, affiliation).

Send proposals to: Aimee E. Newell, Director of Collections, National Heritage Museum, by e-mail at anewell(at) or by mail to 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA 02421.

Deadline for proposals to be received is August 15. For questions, contact Aimee E. Newell as above, or call 781-457-4144.

‘52nd annual Hill Degree’

It’s that time of year already. Mt. Anthony Lodge No. 13 in Vermont will host its 52nd annual “Hill Degree” later this month in Bennington. From the publicity:

Mt. Anthony Lodge cordially invites all Master Masons and their families to Bennington for the weekend of July 24-26.

Master Masons are welcome to attend the 52nd Anniversary Hill Degree on July 25. The HILL DEGREE is a day of fraternal brotherhood and the conferment of the Master Mason degree on one or more candidates. The first section the degree is worked in our historic lodge room. Officers of the Grand Lodge of Vermont will perform the first section degree work. Following the first section, all are invited to a great steak dinner (open to the family) on the outskirts of town. The second section is done in full costume at an outdoor natural amphitheater at dusk.

For information on registration, accommodations, etc., click here.