Saturday, July 31, 2010

‘Florence Day’

Some gravesites become secular shrines for modern pilgrims. (Think Elvis Presley.) Others are the sites of mysterious annual traditions. (The three roses and half-consumed bottle of cognac left for Edgar Allan Poe, for example.) At the final resting place of William J. “Billy” Florence, the nobles of Mecca Shrine Temple initiated a modest commemoration of the life of the co-founder of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. July 25 was that celebration, the third annual Founders Day (on the Sunday closest to the Florence’s birthday), in the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

In 2008, Noble Isaac Moore, who now is Outer Guard of Mecca Shrine in New York City, with then Potentate Mike Quigley, Chief Rabban Sanford Gottesman, and Noble Jim Reichman conceived the event out their fraternal regard for their famous founder, and their unshakable commitment to relishing a day of eating, drinking, and smoking. There was a desire on the part of other Shriners to dress up the event Sunday and make it more officious, but Isaac & Co. are having none of that, and if you know anything about Billy Florence and the creation of the Shriners, you’ll agree with them.

Outside of Masonry, Florence is remembered as a famous actor, which is notable considering the only other actor of that era anyone knows is infamous for murdering the president of the United States. Florence and Walter Fleming were Freemasons who had become frustrated with the absence of an outlet for merriment in Freemasonry. Of course this was the Victorian age, not too long after Freemasonry had left the taverns for its own dedicated temples, having emerged chastened from the devastation wrought by the Morgan scandal. It was a time when grand lodges banned alcohol from its lodges, and when the lectures of the degrees would be transformed from fraternally bonding group interactions to the monologues we know today. Blue Lodge Masonry was solemn and sober, and its charitable impulses were channeled outward to show everybody that Masons were good guys.

Perhaps the most comprehensive history of the Shrine is the book “Parade to Glory” by Fred Van Deventer. It doesn’t appear to be a very candid history – cleaned up for an innocent readership – but it may be the only book on the subject.

Anyway, the weather last Sunday was perfect for an outdoor event. About two dozen Shriners, their ladies, and other Masons like myself were in attendance. Michael G. Severe, Deputy Imperial Potentate, made the trip all the way from his home in Colorado!

The commemoration consisted of readings from Scripture, words of appreciation expressed by Potentate Ted Jacobsen, Severe, High Priest & Prophet Reichman, Oriental Guide Avery Toledo, and others. Past Potentate Gottesman read aloud the lengthy inscription on the bronze tablet in front of Florence’s impressive monument. It is William Winter’s eulogy of Florence:

By Virtue cherished, by Affection mourned
By Honor hallowed and by Fame adorned
Here Florence sleeps, and o’er his sacred rest
Each word is tender and each thought is blest.

Long, for his loss, shall pensive Memory show,
Through Humor’s mask, the visage of her woe
Dale breathe a darkness that no sun dispels,
And Night be full of whispers and farewells;

While patient Kindness shadow-like and dim
Droops in its loneliness, bereft of him
Feels its sad doom and sure decadence high
For how should kindness live, when he could die!

The eager heart, that felt for every grief;
The bounteous hand, that loved to give relief
The honest smile, that blest where’er it lit
The dew of pathos and the sheen of wit:

The sweet, blue eyes, the voice of melting tone
That made all hearts as gentle as his own;
The actor’s charm, supreme in royal thrall
That ranged through every field and shone in all.

For these must Sorrow make perpetual moan
Bereaved, benighted, hopeless and alone
Ah, no! for Nature does not act amiss
And Heaven were lonely but for souls like this.

But about the eating, drinking, and smoking: Most of us adjourned to the Bushwick Country Club, an exclusive resort on Grand Street. Beers, ribs, and oysters, with cigars for some, were enjoyed with great pleasure. A sudden rain kept everyone off the golf course (miniature), but there was plenty else to do.

With some time to pass between the memorial ceremony and lunch at the Country Club, I remained inside the Green-Wood Cemetery to look for Masonic headstones and other notable sights. To wit:

I don’t know who Capt. C.A. Mathisen was, but he must have taken his Freemasonry very seriously. In addition to the Square and Compasses on the front of his mausoleum, there are leaded stained glass windows showing other Masonic symbols on all sides.

Not every Mason’s gravesite was so grand. Here are some more “normal” headstones, but keep scrolling to the end for a special sight.

The name on the mausoleum reads Van Ness Parsons. No indication of a Masonic affiliation, but one would think a man entombed inside this pyramid surely was a Rosicrucian of some kind! Although some websites say he was an Egyptologist, but without saying anything more certain.

Of course that is a sphinx on the right. Flanking the entrance is Jesus as an adult, holding a lamb; and Mary holding the infant Jesus.

I do not know what type of stone this is, but the sphinx is eroding.

A winged solar disk, above the entrance of the pyramid.

Not far from the main entrance of the cemetery is this sort of Tree of Life mural on the side of a building on 18th Street at Fifth Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.


‘Number 9’

Issue No. 9 of The Journal of the Masonic Society is in the mail to Society members now.

Contents include:

“The Way Less Traveled” – Stephen M. Osborn on some of the intangibles of Masonry.

“A Possible Cabalistic Explanation for the Point within a Circle” by Leon Zeldis.

“Down the Path of Proper Research” – President Michael R. Poll on the benefits of solid scholarship, and the perils of the alternative.

“Our Esoteric Odyssey: How We Resurrected a Long-Lost, 220-Year-Old Masonic Oddity” – a literary labor of love by Randy Williams and Stephen Dafoe.

“A Trip to Cuba: One Man’s View of a Masonic Journey” by Gerald Connally, who went with his lodge brethren to Cuba on a humanitarian mission... only to become honorees in a historic fraternal celebration.

“Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler at Etoile Polaire Lodge No. 1” – Let the good times roll! The Masonic Society at Polar Star Lodge by Marc H. Conrad.

“Masonry in the Mountains: 2010 Masonic Spring Workshop in Kananaskis, Alberta” – Reportage by Editor Randy Williams.

“Alchemy and the First Degree of Freemasonry” – A take on symbolism by Donald J. Tansey.

“Hallowed Halls” – Poetry by Jason E. Marshall.

“The George Washington Masonic Memorial Freemasons’ White House Stones Exhibit” – News from Alexandria by Mark A. Tabbert.

“Cryptic Council of Research” – A York Rite variation of the research lodge model by Jonathan Horvath.


President’s Message: “Come on Down and Find Out” – Michael Poll on the great city of New Orleans, where the Society will host its Semi-Annual Meeting, September 24-25.

From the Editor: “Tooting Masonry’s Vuvuzela” – Editor-in-Chief Christopher Hodapp on why the Masonic Order should be clear about its own identity... and not be bashful about it.

Book Reviews:

The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners For The Modern Man, by Brett and Kate McKay.

Haunted Chambers: The Lives of Early Women Freemasons by Karen Kidd.

Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions by Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney.


Masonic Treasures: Mendocino Lodge No. 179’s Past Master Jewel from 1868, and:

News of the Society

Conferences, Speeches, Symposia & Gatherings

Masonic News from around the world

...and Old Masters Scotch Whisky.

The cover shows “Silence,” by Beaux-Arts sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, located at the Grand Lodge of New York’s Tompkins Chapel in Utica. (Photo by Christopher L. Hodapp.)

Membership in The Masonic Society costs $39 per year, and I promise it will be the best 39 bucks you’ll spend in Masonry.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

‘Mythology and Mysticism’

Mythology Cafe, the New York City chapter of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, met for its monthly dinner-lecture last night, despite the disruption in the neighborhood caused by the visit of President Obama across the street. Our topic was “Mythology and Mysticism” in a conversation capably led by Morrin Bass, one of the principals of the New York Awareness Center.

The understanding of mysticism presented at Mythology Cafe causes me to concentrate especially intently to follow what is being said, as one might if conversing with a person whose primary language is foreign. It is a language barrier I encounter almost every time I attend these meetings. This is not because I’m any kind of ascetic follower of a messiah (I am far more interested in the messages than the messengers), but because I think I see the group’s terminology as the product of modern innovating; it is mostly a pastiche of Jungian psychology and what I can only call “New Age” self-improvement. I am not complaining – and it must be remembered we’re part of the Joseph Campbell Foundation! – but I always think there is a larger context that goes unmentioned or even missed.

In leading our discussion, Dr. Bass explained the purposes of mythology and mysticism, saying, in part, that both are necessary in the communication between the subconscious and the conscious, a process that is essential to those who want to change themselves, which she said is the essence of spirituality. Myths are stories that transcend space and time, using universal archetypes to reach each person on an individual level.

Mysticism, if I understood her correctly, offers a means to affect reality.

Tapping into a modern story to illustrate how transcending time and space can alter contemporary reality, she reminded us of the more serious implications of Back to the Future.

The very popular comedy is a fun movie, for sure, but also one that depicts a youth, with the aid of a wizard-figure, who journeys back through time to “tweak” the character of his father and reshape the present. “It’s up to us what to take as reality,” she said. “Our past can be our future. Our future could be our past.” Persephone, Orpheus, Beowulf, and others were cited as examples of ageless stories of transcending existence.

My own understanding of mysticism is best expressed by the great F.E. Peters, a favorite professor during my university days. From his book Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: The Works of the Spirit, excerpted:

Mysticism is sometimes taken as the esoteric understanding of God and His works given to a few chosen souls, or as the immediate apprehension of, and even identity with, God Himself. In either case, mysticism found a profound, if occasionally troubled, place in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The sources of the trouble are not far to seek. For one thing, such a privileged understanding seemed to create ‘a church within a church,’ an elite group of believers who, if they did not often trouble those latter members of the flock, certainly troubled their shepherds. And among some of the adepts, their special understanding, their ‘gnosis,’ which they at least thought was more profound, and perhaps even more authentic, than that possessed by the ordinary believer, had the effect of reducing what might be called ‘ordinary revelation’ to an inferior status and, as an occasional corollary, of freeing the adept from the ‘ordinary observance’ prescribed by that other, public revelation. And finally, the mystic’s intuitive leap into the neighborhood, or even the very bosom, of God seemed to violate one of the most profound and strongly held beliefs of the three monotheistic faiths, that in the utter transcendence, the absolute otherness, of God.

Professor Peters’ take on mysticism surely is not foreign to Freemasonry, certain avenues of which are traveled by brethren who discern in its rituals and symbols secrets they appropriate for themselves. I admit to being guilty of this to an extent, but the position held by myself and those like me is not necessarily of our own making. When a member of a private society that exists to explore morality, eschatology, and other adult concerns always is surrounded by fellow members who offer nothing but “kid tested, mother approved” frivolity, even his simple sincerity in studying the rituals and lectures can make him look like an isolated hermit by comparison. He may resign himself to that identity, or embrace it, but it is not entirely of his own creation.

If a man knows more than others,
he becomes lonely.
C.G. Jung

Everybody should be actuated by both an acknowledgement of a need for self-improvement, and by a strong desire to work toward and achieve that development. I have to do a better job of understanding that there are different methods and language others employ toward that end.

The next meeting of Mythology Cafe will take place Wednesday, August 11 at 7 p.m. at Ciao Stella, located on Sullivan Street, between Bleecker and Third. The topic will be “The Evolution of Religious Belief.” Click here for a description of the topic.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

‘Yes! We’ve got a video!’

Just brought to my attention: a video for the York Rite written and produced by Hodapp.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

‘Elbow Square’

At New Jersey’s 2010 AMD Ingathering today, the ritualists who conferred the Degree of St. Lawrence the Martyr, joined by the brethren who presented papers, rally around Grand Superintendent Paul Ferreira (wearing collar) at the end of the day. Forty-three AMD Masons attended this celebration of Masonic culture at J. William Gronning Council No. 83 in Freehold. Next year’s Ingathering will be hosted by DaVinci Council in Westfield.

On behalf of the Master, Wardens, and brethren of J. William Gronning Council No. 83 of Allied Masonic Degrees, I thank all who contributed to the great success enjoyed today at the 2010 Ingathering. We had three deeply thoughtful papers presented – one meticulously researched academic paper, one cathartic personal essay, and one speculative paper delving into spiritual symbolism – all provocative and gratefully received. Then a Lodge of Saint Lawrence the Martyr was opened on “Elbow Square” to admit dozens of candidates into the Order of St. Lawrence.

Brethren came from across New Jersey, plus Pennsylvania and Upstate New York. Right Venerable Matthew Dupee, Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Council of Allied Masonic Degrees, joined us, as did New Jersey’s new Grand Superintendent, RV Paul Ferreira, both praising the scholastic and ritual work on display.

Gronning Council’s own Bro. Ben Hoff presented his well tested thesis titled “Possible Common Origins of the Royal Arch and Master Mason degrees” (with his trademark hand-outs). Excerpted:

Ben Hoff.
“It is often said that the Royal Arch Degree is the ‘completion’ of the Master Mason Degree. This seems apparent from the stories or legends told in the degrees, where the Royal Arch legend focuses on the recovery of the Word whose loss was the principle point of the legend in the Master Mason Degree. The story of Solomon’s Temple and its builders continues. But the word ‘completion’ implies far more than mere connection and continuation. It implies finality and the restoration of essential unity….

“The author of this paper proposes that, at one time, there were two different, competing versions of the Master Mason Degree. One was the Hiramic Legend version disclosed by Samuel Pritchard [in his Masonry Dissected exposure], which continues to this day as the Master’s degree. The other survives, just barely, as the Past Master Degree, with its left over pieces included with an unrelated story in the Royal Arch Degree.”

Bro. Ben draws from a number of embryonic Masonic rituals to illustrate how the MM and RA degrees we know today came to be. It is a dizzying exploration of Masonic history rendered comprehensible thanks to Ben’s finely detailed explanation of it all.

Next, Venerable Howard Kanowitz, Past Sovereign Master of J. Howard Haring Council, asked the stimulating question “So How Come You’re Not a Templar!” Excerpted:

“There are amongst the infinite number of Masonic bodies one I choose to single out amongst several, which outright demand of their members advocacy of a religious point of view. Off and on these several decades since I became a Mason, not many times but enough, I have been asked the same question ‘So, how come you’re not a Templar!’ The answer to that question is the subject of this paper and will call upon all my skills as a whitewater navigator, for I can find no way to address the issue other than to point out the differences between Christian and Jew, and how in the presence of the same God, we got that way.

Howard Kanowitz.

“The object of this paper is not to criticize, nor to advocate. Rather, despite the discomforting words to follow, I write this in the Masonic spirit, as an effort to promote an understanding of a minority view of the religious side of Masonry; to aid in the appreciation of who we are, Christian and Jew.

“As an Entered Apprentice, again as a Fellowcraft, and finally as a Master Mason, I was told – I was assured – that there is no conflict between Masonry and the duty I assume in my understanding of God. I have long held that since there is only one God, the God of us all, that it is only our understanding of God that separates us. The truth as to who got it right and who got it wrong will be revealed to us when God is ready, and I’m willing to take my chances on my chosen religion. You see, I’m not worried about who got it wrong, because I’m not prepared to say that any of the other monotheistic religions got it wrong.”

Venerable Bro. Howard borrowed from various literary works, history, his own experiences, and other sources to explain to the brethren how identification with the Crusades by some Masons can be antagonizing to other Masons, and he did so convincingly and diplomatically.

Along the way, Gronning Council turned itself into a Lodge of Saint Lawrence the Martyr for the purpose of conferring the Degree of St. Lawrence the Martyr, a ritual that is centuries old, and was used by Operative Masons in the shires of northern England. The degree teaches fortitude and humility. A candidate in this degree is said to be “introduced, received and admitted as a Brother of Saint Lawrence.” After the degree, Bro. Ben explained to the brethren that many of the ritual elements of this degree are borrowed directly from English Craft ritual. In fact, the ritual of this degree states that a candidate is “a worthy brother of a lodge dedicated to Saint John,” a serendipitous foreshadowing of the next paper presented.

Bro. Matthew Riddle, a new AMD Mason from the newly chartered DaVinci Council in Westfield, continued the religious theme with his speculative interpretation of the importance of Masonic lodges being dedicated to the Holy Saints John. Excerpted:

Matthew Riddle.
“In the opening of lodge, in the exchange between the Worshipful Master and the Senior Warden, we hear it is our obligations that make us Masons. We learn a new obligation for each degree, where we are given new responsibilities and penalties. However, there are a few elements which are found in each of the obligations which too often are passed over; we hear the phrase ‘in this lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, erected to Him and dedicated to the Holy Saints John.’ But what does this mean?”

Bro. Matthew ventures into the New Testament, explaining his understanding of the Gospel of Saint John (“In the beginning was the Word….”) as a path to wisdom and virtue.

He writes: “If John the Baptist represents the Entered Apprentice, the one who wears his apron with the flap turned up, then it is St. John [the Evangelist] who is representative of the transformed man, the Initiate who has been raised and wears the apron with the flap turned down. The ways in which we wear our aprons as the degrees progress is very significant when we understand that the equilateral triangle has always been a symbol of deity and the square has always been a symbol of the manifest world. When the flap is turned up as the Entered Apprentice wears it, our perception and experience of divinity is of a transcendent deity: God is above and outside of us. However, when as a Master Mason, the flap is turned down it is a symbolic gesture of the transformation of our experience of deity. Divinity now is immersed in the manifest world, God is imminent in his Creation and we experience the ‘Divine Indwelling,’ where the Word has become flesh which is one of the main points of emphasis in the Gospel of John.”

In fact, there were common elements found in all the papers presented, and in the degree as well, that unified them as though there was a theme for the day. It was only happenstance, but the harmony of it radiated warmly and brightly for the betterment of the fraternity. (A fourth paper was scheduled for presentation, but the hour was late, and the writer, Bro. Steve Burkle of Cushite Council, graciously offered to withdraw his “The Masonic Ashlar and the Kabbalistic Cube of Space.”)

The 2011 Ingathering will be hosted by DaVinci Council next summer on a date to be announced.