Saturday, January 30, 2010

‘The Commander and Chief’

John J. Corrigan reads the charter of Northern New Jersey Council No. 10 during his installation as Excellent Chief Thursday night at Pantagis Renaissance in Scotch Plains. From left: Installing Officer Thurman C. Pace, Jr., outgoing Excellent Chief Richard A. Hammill, and Corrigan. (Rich doesn’t usually look so menacing!)

Thursday night was the first meeting of the new year for Northern New Jersey Council No. 10 of the Order of Knight Masons. Time for the installation of officers. Our new Excellent Chief is John J. Corrigan.

This year will be a busy one for Corrigan, who also will be installed as Right Eminent Grand Commander of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of New Jersey in March, and who will be coroneted a 33° Scottish Rite Mason in August when Supreme Council meets in Philadelphia.

Our council also celebrated the 86th birthday of Thurman C. Pace, Jr., Past Most Excellent Great Chief of the Grand Council of Knight Masons of the United States (and our “go to guy” whenever it’s time to install the officers of these little known York Rite bodies).

Blowing out the candles - Instead of a globe-warming 86 candles on Thurman’s birthday cake, there was a “mystic nine.”

The Order of Knight Masons is an honorary body within the York Rite of Freemasonry. Membership is invitational and open only to Royal Arch Masons. Created circa 1790, it works the “Green Degrees” of Irish Freemasonry, concerning the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This council and Southern New Jersey Council No. 11, are the two Knight Masons councils in our state, both chartered in 1968.

Our next meeting will be Thursday, May 20.

Friday, January 29, 2010

‘The fruits of labor at Alpha’

W. Bro. David Lindez, left, receives the thanks of Alpha Lodge No. 116 from Worshipful Master Kevin and District Deputy Grand Master Fred Waldron Wednesday night. David was Master last year.

We enjoyed a nice evening at Alpha Lodge the other night with a fun, interactive program complemented by a heartfelt gesture by the lodge in salute to its junior Past Master.

The meeting began with Worshipful Master Kevin calling W. Bro. David Lindez to the East, where he was presented with an etched golden plaque commemorating his service to Alpha Lodge in 2009 – when The Magpie Mason conferred upon it the nickname “The Provincial Grand Lodge of Essex County.” If you read this blog with any regularity last year, you learned of the world renowned lecturers and other visitors who made stops at Alpha Lodge, surely testaments to W. Bro. Lindez’s qualities as a man and a Mason. Bro. Rob Morton, Senior Warden, was summoned to the East for the purpose of awarding David his Past Master’s jewel and ring.

The program for the evening was a multifaceted group presentation united under a theme one might term “The fruits of labor.” Five presenters took turns in a kind of show-and-tell format, giving talks and displaying items to make the point that working hard in Freemasonry yields benefits of health and happiness, with the possibility of acceptance into Masonry’s invitational and honorary orders to boot.

Bro. Gerard, recently returned from a trip to the Holy Land, spoke on the Tree of Life, pointing out the parallels between this timeless esoteric map of the spirit to the meaning of Masonry. Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty are not only supports of a lodge; they epitomize vigorous health of psyche, body, and spirit.

W. Bro. Franklin of Nutley Lodge No. 25, also recently passed from the Master’s chair, likewise worked wonders during his year in the East, dispensing Light to the brethren with the help of an impressive itinerary of guest lecturers and with a variety of very enjoyable activities. You may have read about these meetings on this blog also.

Left: W. Bro. Franklin displays his replica George Washington apron.
Right: Bro. Gerard explains the Tree of Life.

Franklin talked frankly about what Masonry means to him, and what he has gained from his experience as Worshipful Master. For “Show and Tell,” he gave the brethren an eyeful of the beautiful apron his lodge gave him. Not the constitutionally mandated lambskin bordered with purple grosgrain–although he got one of those too–but a wonderful reproduction of the apron presented to Bro. George Washington in 1784 by the Marquis de Lafayette.

Bro. José, also from Nutley Lodge, and a newly initiated brother of the Allied Masonic Degrees, spoke enthusiastically of the AMD. Franklin and José are among the charter members of Alexandria Council No. 478, one of the four(!) AMD councils chartered in New Jersey in 2009.

José displayed AMD regalia (aprons, breast jewels, etc.), connecting each piece to its corresponding degree, and explained these time honored degrees, sometimes with the help of W. Lindez.

Bro. José displays the miniature jewels of the AMD.

Yours truly spoke of The Masonic Society, careful to point out how membership is not invitational, and that all that is required is a curious mind desirous of further Light in Masonry. Circulating copies of all six issues published thus far of The Journal of The Masonic Society, I explained the philosophy of the publisher: to offer a top quality periodical that delivers solid scholarship, colorful current events, insightful opinion, fiction, poetry, helpful advertisements, and more – the way the excellent Masonic magazines of the early 20th century did, but this time with state-of-the-art layout and design.

The Magpie Mason does a lot of work in Freemasonry–frankly, more than is healthy–and nothing instills more pride than my association with The Masonic Society. Since introducing ourselves in 2008, membership in the Society has grown to more than 1,000. Issue No. 7 of The Journal is now arriving in our members’ mailboxes, and our on-line discussion forum is buzzing with 650 members discussing 3,300 topics. And we’re getting ready for our second annual Gathering and Banquet on February 12 in Alexandria, Virginia at Masonic Week. In addition, local events, called Second Circle meetings, are taking place all over the United States and Canada, with one in the works for Britain too! It is exhilarating to eyewitness such success.

After my spiel, several other Masonic Society members rose spontaneously to say how much they too love the magazine. José said when he receives each new issue of The Journal, he stays awake late into the night reading it from cover to cover. That was one of the more tame endorsements offered. And then, our Master of Ceremonies thoughtfully held up a stack of Masonic Society membership applications, asking “Who wants one of these?” Nearly every brother in the room stuck out a hand to get one. Thanks for that, guys.

And speaking of our intrepid Master of Ceremonies, it was none other than X who brought us all together, kept us all on topic, and thematically tied together our presentations... with calisthenics thrown in too! (The Magpie Mason is unable to share the memorable photo of the exercising, for fear of being pummeled.) Seriously though, think about that. Imagine a couple of minutes near the start of a lodge meeting devoted to some simple stretching exercises to get the blood circulating, awakening the body and mind. I’m a strong advocate of adding a moment of silence to the early minutes of a meeting for the sake of tranquility, but the perfect complement to this would be, let’s say, a “moment of motion!” Just a minute of stretching arms, legs, back, and neck to maintain alertness. (Or maybe your lodge has no one napping on the sidelines!)

X’s own talk included a show-and-tell display of the replica claymore given to him in thanks by his grateful commandery, the excellent Trinity No. 17. But more importantly he shared with us the numerous pieces of “bling” (his word). In what really could be the most important remarks of the evening, thanks to their candor and brevity, X said these beautiful aprons, medals, jewels, collars, sashes, and swords are not to be treasured for their impressive appearances or intrinsic values, but they must be seen as symbols of the intangible: the spreading of Brotherly Love, the readiness to extend Relief, the resolute upholding of Truth. It was a blunt challenge to our senses of duty and honor which, to be honest, needs to be heard much more often in this fraternity. I’m sure we all have seen instances of titles and privileges being bestowed with undue generosity, which of course devalues the fraternity itself, to say nothing of reducing its regalia to gimcrackery.

Yes, it was a great night at Alpha. As usual.

The Magpie Mason will be the guest lecturer at Alpha Lodge’s Regular Communication of Wednesday, May 26. Topic: “Death: Why I’m Looking Forward to It!”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

‘Mozart at 254’

Mustn’t let the day end without wishing Bro. Mozart a happy 254th birthday. Also, might as well remind readers of The Magpie Mason in the New York area that Mostly Mozart is coming.

For 22 nights this summer, Lincoln Center’s annual Mostly Mozart music festival will fill the air with our timeless Brother’s immortal music.

Bro. Haydn and others will be included in the festival also.

The complete schedule has been taken down from the Lincoln Center website, but tickets will become available before too long. It had been announced 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 July 31 and August 1 concerts in Avery Fisher Hall will begin with the Overture to The Magic Flute, featuring Piotr Anderszewski on piano.

The 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.

‘Daniel D. Tompkins remembered’

“The Best of the Rest of 2009” continues on The Magpie Mason. I’d better wrap this up before the end of the month, eh?

On Monday, November 9, the New York City Chapter of U.S. Daughters of 1812 hosted its service of commemoration and grave-marking to honor Daniel D. Tompkins (1774-1825). The U.S. Daughters’ interest in Tompkins stems from his service as Governor of New York, and Vice President of the United States, and as a crucial financier of the American war effort of 1812. This historical society had held a similar ceremony 70 years earlier, almost to the day, when it dedicated a bronze bust of Tompkins in the yard at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, where he is laid to rest.

Was Tompkins a Freemason? Not only was he a Mason, he was Grand Master of New York, and the first Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (Northern Masonic Jurisdiction).

Freemasonry became involved, if I understand it correctly, almost by accident. Bro. Isaac Moore of Mariners Lodge No. 67 in New York City happened upon Tompkins’ gravesite one day. Struck by the neglected condition of the burial place, he let the brethren know how this illustrious Mason’s final resting place could benefit from some rehabilitation. One of the Masons Isaac had spoken to was Cliff Jacobs, 33° of St. John’s Lodge No. 1 and the Valley of New York City. Ill. Cliff discovered the U.S. Daughters’ project to fix up the gravesite, and the Daughters welcomed the brethren into the endeavor.

The affair on November 9 was a very special and memorable occasion, as I hope these photos will convey.

The final resting place of Daniel D. Tompkins. Governor of New York. Vice President of the United States. Grand Master of New York. Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.

The Veteran Corps of Artillery, State of New York, founded in 1790, served as the color guard for the ceremony.

Freemasonry was represented in numbers that day. That is John Mauk Hilliard at left, accepting a presentation from Anne Farley, Mary Raye Casper, and Emily Malloy of U.S. Daughters of 1812. Also present were Peter Samiec, 33°, Deputy for New York; RW Vincent Libone, Deputy Grand Master of New York; W. Kenneth Lorentzen, Master of Tompkins Lodge No. 471; and several dozen others. Malloy was chairman of U.S. Daughters’ Tompkins Commemoration Committee.

Participants and guests gather outside the church at the gravesite for prayer and the rededication.

Left: Brian G. Andersson, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Records and Information Services, presented a proclamation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Right: Dr. George Hill is a descendant of Daniel D. Tompkins.

The Rev. Michael Relyea of St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery reflected on the life of Daniel Tompkins, crediting him with outspoken support of Abolition, scores of years ahead of the Civil War, which Relyea attributed to the reversals of fortune Tompkins suffered at the end of his life.

Ill. John William McNaughton, 33°, Sovereign Grand Commander of the AASR-NMJ, saluted his predecessor’s service to the American people and to Freemasonry.


St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery is located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Its yards contain the burial places of a number of early Dutch settlers of New York, most notably Petrus ‘Peter’ Stuyvesant, Captain General and Governor in Chief of Amsterdam in New Netherland (New York) and the Dutch West India Islands (1612-72).

Monday, January 18, 2010

‘Sacred Spaces at MOBIA, Part II’

Dr. Klaus Ottmann and artist Tobi Kahn at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City Thursday night. Ottmann lectured on ‘Faith, Spirituality and Sacred Spaces in Contemporary Art,’ the last of three lectures offered in connection with MOBIA’s exhibit of Kahn’s work ‘Sacred Spaces for the 21st Century’ which closes on Sunday.

‘Portrait of the Artist Studio
as Spiritual Space’

Thursday night, the Museum of Biblical Art hosted the final of three lectures addressing the topic of sacred spaces in conjunction with its exhibit of artist Tobi Kahn’s work titled “Sacred Spaces for the 21st Century.” Our teacher, Dr. Klaus Ottmann, brought the lecture series full circle; what began last month with a discussion of the evolution of sacred spaces from Temple-era Israel through the Renaissance and into modern times, concluded here with Ottmann defining the artist studio as spiritual space where philosophy, language, and religion are amalgamated in certain works of contemporary art.

Not the Magpie Mason’s field of expertise, which made the experience all the more fascinating. Furthermore, if my colleagues at the Rose Circle happen to read this, I hope they will jot down Dr. Ottmann’s name, and consider inviting him to speak at one of our conferences, where he can contribute much to the members’ stock of knowledge as he is a sound choice to discuss these matters.

Ottmann earned a Master of Arts degree in 1980 from Freie Universität in Berlin, and his Doctorate in Philosophy from the Division of Media and Communications at the European Graduate School in Switzerland in 2002. Today Ottmann serves as the Robert Lehman Curator for Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York and also teaches art history at the School of Visual Arts. A prolific author of books and catalogs, Ottmann also is editor-in-chief of Spring Publications, Inc., which publishes books on psychology, philosophy, religion, mythology, and art. One of its books is Ottmann’s translation (from German) of Gershom Scholem’s Alchemy and Kabbalah (2006).

He has curated more than 40 exhibitions including Life, Love, and Death: The Works of James Lee Byars at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Strasbourg (2004), and Wolfgang Laib: A Retrospective, which traveled from Washington to five other museums around the world (2000-02). His recent curatorial projects include exhibits of Willem De Kooning and Chloe Piene; future shows of Rackstraw Downes and Jennifer Bartlett will open at Parrish Art Museum this year and next.

His curriculum vitae is extensive, and can be read here.

Ottman spoke too briefly yet managed to cover a variety of artists, the philosophers who inspired them, and the spiritual images created thereby. In only about 40 minutes, Ottman, taught us about more than half a dozen artists of the 20th century, and even one painter from 15th century Russia.

Ottmann began his talk quoting Immanuel Kant’s three fundamental philosophical questions:

What can I know?

What ought I to do?

What may I hope for?

His point was to explain that man seeks an ethical grounding in life. There are those who rely on meditation and prayer; others take to political activism; some look for fulfillment in material possessions. Their quest is for the inexpressible, what Ludwig Wittgenstein described as “running against the boundaries of language.” Or, as F.W.J. Schelling put it (Ottmann again quoting): “Each of us is compelled by nature to seek an Absolute.” (Ottmann also is the translator of Schelling’s soon-to-be published Philosophy and Religion.) This can lead to a harmonious, but deep, connection between religion and art. To wit: Chartres Cathedral, an almost limitless creation of material wonder (architecture, statuary, stained glass, etc.) that has become a destination for spiritual seekers of all kinds.

With these firm philosophical and artistic footings, Dr. Ottmann lead us forward into the fine arts, screening for us a few minutes of the film Andrey Rublyov (1966) by Andrei Tarkovsky, which tells the story of Rublyov’s torment over being hired to paint The Last Judgment inside a church, yet he cannot paint it, not wanting to “terrify people.” This 15th century painter of Orthodox icons is renowned for his Holy Trinity, which Ottmann credits as an example of art’s ability to link the present world to another world. “There exists an icon of the Holy Trinity, and therefore God exists as well.”

Fast-forwarding to 1950, Ottmann gave us Mark Rothko’s No. 10, an oil on canvas of his floating rectangles.

Left: Rublyov’s Holy Trinity (c.1410).

Right: Rothko’s No. 10 (1950).

Rothko’s favorite philosopher was Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish thinker who believed Christianity was better left to the individual believer who, if left free to worship, would seek the community of a congregation. (Such thinking put him at odds with the Danish National Church, the official state church.) His preference for the individual also is seen in writings about the patriarch Abraham. “Kierkegaard has that passion for the ‘I.’ For that ‘I’ experience, like Abraham in his Fear and Trembling,” said Ottmann, quoting Rothko. “It is the ‘I’ that I myself experience every day.”

No. 10 shows a few horizontal bars, but The Rothko Chapel in Houston is a modern work of specifically religious art. Perhaps most notably, this sacred space was not built to be a synagogue or church, but was commissioned by private individuals. “The Chapel has two vocations: contemplation and action. It is a place alive with religious ceremonies of all faiths, and where the experience and understanding of all traditions are encouraged and made available. Action takes the form of supporting human rights, and thus the Chapel has become a rallying place for all people concerned with peace, freedom, and social justice throughout the world.” Read more here.

Our next stop was New Mexico to visit the Dwan Light Sanctuary on the campus of the United World College. Curator Virginia Dwan, architect Laban Wingert, and artist Charles Ross collaborated to create an exceptionally unique sacred space. As one website puts it, the Sanctuary is:

“a space shaped by the Earth’s alignment to the sun, moon, and stars. Designed around the number twelve, the Sanctuary is illuminated by six prisms in each of two apses, and three prisms in each of four skylights. The prisms form broad ribbons of pure solar color that move in concert with the rotation of the Earth. Lunar spectrums can be seen on nights when the moon is full. A third apse, facing north, houses a square window. A line parallel to Earth’s axis extends from the center of the floor through the center of this window, and points directly to the North Star.”

Moving to France, we examined Yves Klein’s Blue Monochromes, which I think Dr. Ottmann said were six in number, and had been created for a chapel that in the end was not built. As MoMA’s website says:

“Monochrome abstraction—the use of one color over an entire canvas—has been a strategy adopted by many painters wishing to challenge expectations of what an image can and should represent. Klein likened monochrome painting to an ‘open window to freedom.’ He worked with a chemist to develop his own particular brand of blue. Made from pure color pigment and a binding medium, it is called International Klein Blue. Klein adopted this hue as a means of evoking the immateriality and boundlessness of his own particular utopian vision of the world.”

Then it was time for more film. Klein’s Anthropometries of the Blue Period (1962) combines music, blue paint, and nudes to create what Ottmann called “a theater of the flesh.” Referring to Klein several times as a Christian and Rosicrucian, our lecturer described the action in the film as an expression of the incarnation of The Word, and the resurrection of the body. The Word made flesh. I cannot find the same piece of film on the web, but this alternative gives you the idea. This clip is shorter than what we saw during the lecture, and what is most obviously different is the absence of the original music. Klein had his female models, the “human brushes,” do their work while a chamber orchestra with two vocalists performs a droning piece of music which sounded almost like a liturgical chanting, but with strings and woodwinds undertaking the work of a choir of baritones. Frankly, it gave the scene a nightmarish quality. (Also, the longer film we saw during the lecture offered a few quick glimpses at a jewel around Klein’s neck. Its red ribbon was plainly visible against his white tuxedo shirt, but the jewel itself seemed to escape the camera; to me it appeared to have had the shape of what we American Freemasons call a Most Wise Master’s jewel.)

Klein and Claude Parent collaborated on “Air Architecture” and their “Air Conditioned City” (1961). Rosicrucian symbolism abounds, as the elements Air and Fire again dominate Klein’s statement, his call for a new Eden.

Leaving Europe for India, our group looked at Wolfgang Laib and his Brahmanda (1972). Read Dr. Ottmann’s explanation here from last November.

For his Brahmanda, said Ottmann, Laib had discovered a large black rock, about three feet long, in India. He brought the rock home and carved it into a perfect oval shape called a “brahmanda.”  A Sanskrit word, “brahmanda” is defined as “cosmic spirit” + egg. “The embodiment of Brahma, particularly the solar system, physical, psychological, and spiritual; the ancient Hindus called Brahma “the cosmic atom. The idea is that this cosmic atom is ‘Brahma’s Egg,’ from which the universe shall spring into manifested being.”

Laib also is known for his “Fire Rituals.” Ottmann said Laib’s exhibition in Turin consisted of Vedic fire rituals, which included priests’ religious chants and the lighting of 33 fire altars on which ritual elements of fruits and vegetables, and other organic materials were burned. A very rare happening outside of India. These are celebrations of peace, prosperity, health, love, and other ethics and energies.

The Faith by Enrique Celaya, oil and wax on canvas, 2007.

Enrique Martinez Celaya, (born 1964) a Cuban-American artist, wants, said Ottmann, for “artists to be prophets again.” Marrying art, literature, philosophy, and science, this artist calls for art to show “ethical responsibility” with the artist/prophet, unlike the mystic who aims to leave this world for the next, returning to the world to spread his message.

The Magpie Mason could not help but smile when Dr. Ottmann projected the next painting onto the screen. Celaya’s Two Worlds (2007) unmistakably recalls the countless myths, legends, and religious stories that allegorically employ a river as, what Piers Vaughan might term, “a barrier between two states of consciousness.”

Two Worlds by Enrique Celaya, oil and wax on canvas, 2007.

The traveler, dressed unusually, crosses the water, heading toward Light, where life begins to bloom. Only one step away from completing his crossing, he appears to struggle to maintain his balance. It is “a spiritual and transcendent reminder of the ethical responsibility of the artist,” Ottmann explained which, for me, is an inspiring contrast to the hateful filth (e.g., Serrano, Ofili) that seems to garner the art world’s awards and grant monies.

Concluding his lecture, Dr. Ottmann urged us to consider the artist’s studio as spiritual space. Artists’ spaces are sometimes preserved, he said, not only for their historical significance, but for the idea of preserving the spirit of the artist. “There is so much concentration…. There is an aura.”

Magpie readers, please always remember that subjects such as this are complicated, consequently any errors above are attributable to me, and not to Dr. Ottmann.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Masonic relief for Haiti


Brethren from the Grand Orient d’Haiti at Alpha Lodge, 2009.

Brethren, the Masonic Service Association of North America will make an appeal today (January 14) for contributions to help, aid, and assist the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti, according to an e-mail just received from Executive Secretary Richard E. Fletcher.

The Magpie Mason respectfully suggests the brethren channel their giving through this single, organized resource. Whatever goods you may be shipping individually probably will not reach their intended destinations, as the destinations themselves may no longer exist, and looting is rampant. Similarly, monies transmitted via ad hoc fundraising drives might not be received in their entirety, whereas every penny received by the MSANA will go to relief in Haiti.

“To All Poor and Distressed Masons, wherever they may be, dispersed over the face of the earth or on the water, here’s wishing them a relief from their sufferings, and a happy return to their native land, should they so desire it.”

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MSANA’s appeal:

Appeal for Relief – HAITI

You’ve seen the destruction vividly portrayed by TV coverage. Much of Haiti is in ruins. All Haitians need assistance. Our Brothers in the Grand Orient D’Haiti desperately need assistance as they work with their communities in trying to rebuild their shattered lives.

Please forward to the MSA such funds as you feel appropriate to help our devastated Brethren and their families in this stricken jurisdiction. Please make checks payable to the MSA Disaster Relief Fund and send to:

8120 Fenton Street, Ste. 203,
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4785

Thank you very much for your help!

Most sincerely and fraternally,

Executive Secretary

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English Freemasonry assists also:

Information Release by The Freemasons’ Grand Charity of the UGLE:

14th January 2010


Following the devastating earthquake which took place in Haiti on Tuesday 12th January 2010, the President of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity has approved two emergency grants totaling £30,000. The funds have been issued to the British Red Cross and Plan.

The 7.3-magnitude quake, Haiti’s worst in two centuries, struck at 1653 local time (2153 GMT) on Tuesday. The epicenter was within 10 miles of the center of the densely-populated capital, where around one million people live. More than 50,000 people are feared dead.

The British Red Cross has been awarded £20,000 to assist with their relief efforts. Red Cross volunteers in Haiti are currently assisting the injured and supporting hospitals who do not have enough capacity to deal with this emergency. The most urgent needs at this time are search and rescue, field hospitals, emergency health, water purification, emergency shelter, logistics and telecommunications.

Plan has also been granted £10,000 in support of their efforts in dealing with the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Plan’s priorities are assisting children and their families and getting people into safe accommodation wherever possible, as well as working with survivors to help ease their psychological trauma.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The Masonic Book Club has begun the new year with an announcement of its 2009 book offering: Proofs of a Conspiracy: Against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, Carried on in the Secret Meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies by Professor John Robison. Magpie readers, if you ever wondered exactly how the surreal fears and outlandish speculations that have surrounded our gentle Craft for centuries were conceived, this book answers your curiosity.

Archived within the restricted access Rare Book and Manuscript Library on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, is this fourth edition of Proofs of a Conspiracy: Against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, Carried on in the Secret Meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies by Professor John Robison. The Magpie Mason had the good fortune to peruse this archive’s Masonic (and anti-Masonic) contents during a visit in 2007 with the Masonic Library and Museum Association. Sorry for the blurred image.

The MBC describes it:

“This book represents a good synopsis of the events it describes. It shows the frame of mind of the time. It is surely worth reading by everyone interested in this topic.

“Interestingly by the time this book was first published, the organization of Bavarian Illuminati was gone. Robinson was very much an advocate of science and rationalism, in later life, disillusioned by the French Revolution, he became an ardent monarchist.

“Robinson traced the story of the 1776 founding of the Illuminati by Adam Weishaupt, a professor at Ingolstadt and the suppression of the order by the royal and church authorities of Bavaria in 1785. However, his preaching against it raised the specter of conspiracy, which still hangs over the Illuminati.

“Nonetheless, this book makes fascinating reading, and in conjunction with other historical accounts of the French Revolution, helps put into perspective this period of history.

“John Robison (1739-1805) was a Scottish scientist who wrote one of the definitive studies of the Bavarian Illuminati. He was a contemporary and collaborator with James Watt, with whom he worked on an early steam car; contributor to the 1797 Encyclopedia Britannica; professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh; and inventor of the siren.”

What concerns me is the back-to-back books from the MBC on matters Illuminati. I just don’t think it is that fascinating a subject, or even significant enough to Masonic studies, to justify two consecutive books that concern the Illuminati. The 2008 choice from the MBC was reviewed by The Magpie Mason here, and I’m just hoping the same individual who brought that text to the publisher’s attention is not involved with this one also. (But I was amused to see the tiny blurb on the MBC website that markets the 2008 book lifts phrases directly from my review of last February.)

There are positive changes at the MBC that should not go unappreciated. After many years of incommunicado management that left prospective subscribers wondering for months if they had become members, the MBC now has this website, replete with an on-line store, PayPal payment option, and some information on when to expect delivery. The inventory of previous years’ selections is listed for your perusal, with each title priced fairly to equal a year’s dues. And speaking of dues, you can pay yours on-line. The MBC is now affiliated with the Illinois Lodge of Research’s Louis L. Williams Library, which has been a vendor of Masonic books and has maintained a web presence for some time. This alone says a lot about the direction the MBC is taking, and I wish them well. I’ve been a reliable cheerleader for the club since I joined, and I hope to remain so.

Just get the books into the mail, okay guys? You mentioned an October ’09 delivery.

Magpie edit: I just wanted to provide this link to today’s Boston 1775 blog concerning this topic. It’s a great blog. Bookmark it, and check in often.

Monday, January 11, 2010

‘The Art of Initiation’

The Rose Circle Research Foundation and Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 of Ancient Free & Accepted Masons invite you to an inquiry into The Art of Initiation. On Wednesday, February 10 at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, both societies will co-host a daylong event of lectures, ritual exemplification, dining, and more.

Piers Vaughan of the Rose Circle
Research Foundation.
Beginning at 4 p.m. in the Memorial’s North Lodge Room, the Rose Circle’s Piers Vaughan and Oliver Kruse will speak on the ritual, spiritual, and psychological aspects of initiation. Piers of course is the world renowned lecturer, translator of rare French texts, and Past Master of St. John’s Lodge No. 1 in New York City, among other things. Oliver is an 8º Swedish Rite Mason at labor in Zur Brudertreue im Ravensberger Land in Bielefeld, which is under the Great Land Lodge of Freemasons in Germany, within the United Grand Lodges of Germany. He too is very highly regarded the world over for his lecture work and translations of rare German texts.

After which, in the Grand Masonic Hall, our sponsor, Toye, Kenning and Spencer, Ltd., will host a reception to introduce their company of distinct regalia manufacturing to Freemasonry in the United States. TKS has been the maker of jewels and regalia to Britain’s royal family for nearly 300 years. Their Masonic regalia is worn all over the world, and in 2010 they enter the U.S. market.

At 7 p.m., Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 will open its Stated Communication for the exemplification of the Entered Apprentice Degree in the Bristol ritual. The Bristol working is a unique Masonic ritual almost never seen outside England. (South Lodge Room.)

One description says:

“Bristol Masonry is unlike anything seen elsewhere in England. In the first degree alone one witnesses unusual ceremonies and hears statements which will surprise even the well-read Mason. Have you ever heard ‘the Nile, the Ganges, the Euphrates, [and the] Mississippi’ mentioned in an Entered Apprentice degree? How about ‘the immeasurable wilds of the scattered Indian tribes across the mighty Atlantic… the wandering Arabs, roaming tartars, or far distant Chinese?’ Have you ever seen the ‘circle of swords,’ the ‘cup of affliction,’ or the ‘writing test’ given to an Entered Apprentice? It is all here, and much more. As one of the most unusual rituals in the English language, Masons travel from all over the world to witness these fascinating ceremonies. Boasting what is probably the oldest Craft working in England, Bristol ritual retains aspects which are similar to the unpublished Irish workings, but also resembles Continental Masonry in some regards.”

After the degree exemplification, the brethren will retire to the Dining Room for a classic Festive Board.

Reservations for the Festive Board, featuring a catered dinner, are requested. Please write to the Senior Steward of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 at

to say you’re attending, so heads can be counted, and all guests can be accommodated comfortably.

There is no charge for dinner, but donations of $10 (or more) will be appreciated.

Shuttle bus service will be available to take you to and from the Alexandria Mark Hilton beginning at 3 p.m. Make sure you catch that first bus to ensure you do not miss any of the program beginning at four o’clock.

Whether you are traveling to Alexandria for Masonic Week, or if you are local to the area, there will be no Masonic event more worthy of your time on this Wednesday than this occasion.

Look for us on Facebook as The Art of Initiation, or feel free to send questions and comments to The Magpie Mason in the comments section of this blog.

Photo of altar courtesy of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, AF&AM, Alexandria, Virginia.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

‘Can Masonry cure insomnia?’

No, I don’t mean boring meetings.

Insomnia grips the Magpie Mason this time of year. Not even my midnight brandy helps anymore. (Don’t hurt either, so I ain’t giving it up.) To pass the hours leading up to my morning constitutional of steak & eggs, coffee, tobacco, I read. On one of the final nights of 2009 I chose to revisit a great book that I read upon its publication in 1992, while still a university student who knew that good writers read great writers. Ergo my limitless appreciation for Joseph Mitchell.

Mitchell (1908-96) wrote for The New Yorker from the 1930s to the ’60s. He remained on staff for decades thereafter, still on the payroll without actually producing anything, which I suspect is the unspoken goal of a lot of writers. I planned on devoting a paragraph to describing his work, but this obituary anticipates what I was going to say.

But back to the book: Up in the Old Hotel is an anthology of Mitchell’s most famous journalistic essays. In fact, it is a compilation of several of his previous books, which themselves consisted of his three dozen best written, most known feature stories. “The Old House at Home,” his 8,200-word paen to McSorley’s Old Ale House published in 1940 begins the book. I was hooked. (McSorley’s is one of my favorite places on earth. An honorary Irish-Catholic, my affinity for this establishment could be called atavistic.)

Don’t let the sepia fool ya. This photo was taken last November 9, when I had the good fortune to have lunch with a large group of Masons at this historic establishment.

So I’m up this morning reading. The story is titled “Mr. Hunter’s Grave” and, true to Mitchell’s method, it is a high def portrait of an eccentric New Yorker who is invisible amid the cityscape, yet king of his own corner. Mitchell’s New York City doesn’t really exist anymore. The highways built during the 1950s, the poverty of the ’60s, the chaos of the ’70s, the redevelopment in the ’80s, and the Giuliani Revolution in the ’90s all played their roles in eradicating nearly every semblance of what might be termed Old New York. Mother Bloomberg isn’t helping either. Being prohibited by law from smoking my Peterson inside McSorley’s is a hate crime.

But I digress.

I actually was starting to get sleepy a few hours ago, but I didn’t want to leave Mitchell just walking up Bloomingdale Road in Staten Island by himself. I read on, but what is very strange – and in fact is the reason I’m writing this – is that some supernatural instinct was telling me our Mr. Hunter is a Brother Mason. One stranger speaking to Mitchell describes him thusly:

“The man to speak to is Mr. George H. Hunter. He’s chairman of the board of trustees of the African Methodist church. I know Mr. Hunter. He’s eighty-seven years old, and he’s one of those strong, self-contained old men you don’t see much any more. He was a hard worker, and he retired only a few years ago, and he’s fairly well-to-do. He’s a widower, and he lives by himself and does his own cooking. He’s got quite a reputation as a cook. His church used to put on clambakes to raise money, and they were such good clambakes they attracted people from all over this part of Staten Island, and he always had charge of them. On some matters, such as drinking and smoking, he’s very disapproving and strict and stern, but he doesn’t feel that way about eating; he approves of eating. He’s a great Bible reader. He’s read the Bible from cover to cover, time and time again. His health is good, and his memory is unusually good. He remembers the golden age of the oyster business on the South Shore, and he remembers its decline and fall, and he can look at any old field or tumble-down house between Rossville and Tottenville and tell you who owns it now and who owned it fifty years ago, and he knows who the people were who are buried out in the Sandy Ground cemetery – how they lived and how they died, how much they left, and how their children turned out. Not that he’ll necessarily tell you what he knows, or even a small part of it....”

I suppose some neuron encoded with the memory of this story from 18 years ago might have somehow sparked in my brain the notion that Mr. Hunter is a Freemason, which is very unlikely because I had only a general curiosity about Masonry at that time. Nor is it as though this book is full of Masonic references. A 10-page exploration of what used to be called “The New York Steak Dinner” (1939) makes one quick reference to Mecca Temple. The famous piece about Joe Gould (1964) describes a chapter of the putative “Oral History” of which Mitchell reports: “Gould’s father had belonged to the Universalist Church and the Masons, and his funeral service had been conducted jointly by the pastor of the local Universalist church, and the chaplain and the Worshipful Master of the local Masonic lodge.”

I guess my hunch had a lot to do with Hunter’s characteristics, as explained above, but it was a strong bodement. I felt compelled to continue and confirm.

Et voilà.

“On another wall was a framed certificate stating that George Henry Hunter was a life member of St. John’s Lodge No. 29 of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. While I was looking at this, Mr. Hunter came into the room. ‘I’m proud of that,’ he said. ‘There’s several Negro Mason organizations, but Prince Hall is the biggest, and I’ve been a member since 1906. I joined the Masons the same year I built this house. Did you notice my floors?’ I looked down. The floor boards were wide and made of some kind of honey-colored wood, and they were waxed and polished. ‘Virgin spruce,’ he said. ‘six inches wide. Tongue and groove. Built to last. In my time, that was the idea, but in this day and time, that’s not the idea. They’ve got more things nowadays – things, things, things: kitchen stoves you could put in the parlor just to look at; refrigerators so big they’re all out of reason; cars that reach from here to Rossville – but they aren’t built to last. They’re built to wear out. And that’s the way people want it.’ ”

He is speaking in 1956!

Rest in peace, Bro. Hunter. Requiem in pacem. But now it’s time for breakfast.

Journalist Joseph Mitchell on the waterfront he loved so much.

Here is an interview of Roger Angell and David Remnick on Charlie Rose upon the death of Mitchell in 1996. There is mention of the story Mitchell wrote of Bro. Hunter.

Monday, January 4, 2010

‘An everyday hero from long ago’

Before getting too far into 2010, The Magpie Mason aims to report on several recent events from last year, playing catch up by bringing you “The Best of the Rest.”

Freemasonry in the United States often draws upon our country’s Colonial and Revolutionary histories for inspiration, especially here in the Northeast. We’re criticized for it, and maybe justly too, because the love of history does trump the need for esoterica when it’s time to do the work of Masonry. But the reality is, our landscape is abundant with sites associated with America’s Founding, and this matters to many of us. We live here. At the Valley of Northern New Jersey, we find ourselves geographically almost exactly between West Point and Trenton, and somewhat equidistant from Newark in the east, and Morristown to the west. Very fertile ground for history buffs, a fact that does not escape Freemasons here.

(This was on full display on October 31, when New Jersey Consistory conferred the 20°, titled “Master ad Vitam.” This degree, set inside a Masonic lodge in 1780, dramatizes Brother Washington’s investigation into Bro. Benedict Arnold’s treason at West Point. You know the historical Arnold story well. The degree was worked at the appropriately named Loyalty Lodge No. 33, which previously had been Washington Lodge No. 33, located in the Township of Union. Its surrounding neighborhood consists of streets named for practically every famous patriot hero of the American Revolution, and in fact the area had been involved in the Battle of Springfield, which was waged only about two weeks before Arnold’s treason. Loyalty Lodge was not chosen to be the location of the degree for these reasons. It just worked out that way.)

The December 1 meeting of Northern New Jersey Lodge of Perfection featured the visit of a historical figure who is both common soldier and somewhat of an immortal hero. Joseph Plumb Martin fought in the Revolution from its earliest days through the final battle in 1783. Not a general, but an enlisted man and later a sergeant in the Continental Army who was eyewitness to history, Martin traveled for many years after the war, giving lectures to citizens eager to hear “what it was really like” from one who knows firsthand. He participated in the battles of Brooklyn, White Plains, and Monmouth, among others. He was at Valley Forge, which he was quick to point out was not nearly as grueling as the winter of 1779-80 that he spent encamped at Morristown, where the snow reached eye level, and food was rarely provided. He also was at Tappan to see Major John André escorted to his execution for his role in the Arnold affair. Even this event has its Masonic connection, as Magpie readers know.

Martin’s wartime diary has been in print for generations, sometimes under the title “Yankee Doodle Boy,” and relates his first-hand accounts of a soldier’s life. He died in 1850, at age 89.

Well, let me begin at the beginning. Of course there is no necromancy in Freemasonry. Our guest lecturer was Mr. Eric Olsen, Park Ranger and historian at Jockey Hollow National Park in Morristown, who brought Martin to us for the evening. Speaking in detail about life in an army that suffered deprivation, desertion, and desperation, Martin told a lengthy story of both harrowing experiences and stretches of tedium, but also related a number of anecdotes revealing the lighter side of a soldier’s life during the Revolution. On the frightening side was the Battle of Mud Island. Located in the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Mud Island’s Fort Mifflin and New Jersey’s Fort Mercer were crucial strategic points for cutting off the British who occupied Philadelphia. In October of 1777, British and Hessian forces that outnumbered the Colonial troops by 3:1 attacked. They lost. Where the Americans suffered 37 killed or wounded, the British-Hessian forces lost nearly nine times that, plus an additional 60 captured, and their commanding general died of his wounds. So soon after the loss of Philadelphia, this victory was a great boost to the Continental Army’s morale.

It has been all but forgotten by history, a development Martin attributes to the absence of any famous generals.

Attired in period garb, Martin explained the manufacture of his clothing and the purpose of his equipment, going as far as demonstrating the superiority of the bayonet over a sword in close combat... against the wife of one of our Past Masters. He explained how a soldier evaded punishment for playing cards by explaining to his superior officer that a deck of cards can be read symbolically as a prayer book or other aid for spiritual observance.
The ace represents the One True God. The deuce recalls the division of the Bible into two parts: Old and New Testaments. The three denotes the Holy Trinity. Four? The four evangelists of the Gospels, &c., &c.

The Magpie Mason, always looking for a Masonic angle to historical matters and knowing how American-Union Lodge was active at Morristown and elsewhere in Martin’s travels, asked Sgt. Martin if he had the chance to join a lodge.

“Oh, no. I know nothing of your arts and mysteries,” he replied, illustrating with his hands what he thought a grip might look like. In his experience, only the officers were initiated into the fraternity, he explained, adding that he was aware of the celebration on December 27, 1779 of the Feast of St. John the Evangelist at Morristown with General Washington in attendance. Martin surprised me with his knowledge of the affair, saying that he had learned that the traveling military lodge had sent to a lodge in Newark for the necessary Masonic paraphernalia for the lodge meeting. And in fact, in the annals of New Jersey Masonic history it is recorded that St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, in Newark had sent officers regalia and other lodge items to the encampment at Morristown for the occasion.

There is a lot more “Best of the Rest” of 2009, including the rededication of the Daniel D. Tompkins gravesite in New York City, and Fairless Hills Lodge’s banquet in Pennsylvania, both from November; and other memorable events, like the famous 1760 EA Degree from way back in September! I’ll try to get to them soon.