Wednesday, December 28, 2011



A very late night at The American Lodge of Research, but most of the officers were installed safely, with a few by proxy. Our new Worshipful Master is Gil Ferrer, of Shakespeare Lodge and Kosciuszko Lodge. I'm Senior Deacon.

The Master's inaugural paper concerned the origins and evolution of Freemasonry in India. Inspired by Gil's travels there, this paper tells of the first lodges in India, and the first initiations of Indian men into the Craft, which opened my eyes to a few things. Also the various religious beliefs took some time to define. A very informative presentation. Look for it in the next book of transactions.


Monday, December 26, 2011

'It's all in the balance'


There are huge plans afoot in New Jersey Scottish Rite Masonry that will reverberate throughout the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction in 2012, and these plans all concern teaching Scottish Rite Masons what it means to be Scottish Rite Masons. (The event advertised in the graphic above is not one of them. It's only a hint of what's to come. A far more substantial, but still inconclusive, clue is found here.)

Sounds simple, right? Like it might be the primary reason and most frequent activity of the fraternity? Nah, didn't work out that way. Teaching Scottish Rite Masons what it means to be Scottish Rite Masons actually is a pursuit that has to be pitched, lobbied for, protected, and seen to fruition flawlessly, so that a follow-up effort even can be worthy of discussion. It's a sad state of affairs for what used to be called the College of Freemasonry, but after so many decades of the Shrinerization of Freemasonry, this is where we are. For now.

This Stated Meeting of New Jersey Consistory will be the first meeting convened since our initiation of about twenty brethren in November. In fact, it is inspired by one of those new 32° Masons. He exited the auditorium after the completion of the Camp Scene explanation, and asked Bro. Mohamad a question about the numerology of the Camp. The two then approached me at the secretary's table, where I was stamping passports and handing out membership packets, and put the question to me. I was mortified. Engrossed in the humdrum of stamping this passport, stuffing that envelope, and otherwise administrating the minutiae, I couldn't answer a simple question on the spot.

And so, the inspiration of this event on January 10.

It will be a tiled lecture for 32° Masons only, but not just for New Jersey Consistory brethren. In fact, the guest list includes several Scottish Rite Masons from Pennsylvania already.

The bad news is the lecturer will be me. If you can withstand that, please join us for a philosophical exploration of the allegorical story of Constans, which some have not even seen yet, and a more temporal definition of the Camp Scene, which at the very least will answer that brother's question.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

'PHA research lodge to meet'

New Jersey Prince Hall's Lodge of Research and Education No. 2006 will meet next week.

The info, as it appears here, is:

Stated Communication
Thursday, December 29
at 8 p.m.

Hiram Lodge No. 5
143 Warwick Road
in Lawnside

Attire: Masonic Dress

Any Master Mason recognized by the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of New Jersey may attend. For more information, call Worshipful Master Eubert G. Brown at (609) 332-0959.

Usually, I don't catch these announcements until after the meeting date, but I tried to be vigilant this time. Unfortunately it is too far a commute for me, but I've alerted the brethren at LORE 1786, many of whom reside not too far away, so hopefully some will visit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'A study in symbols'

The M.E. High Priest and I have this personal thing. When he is installed in the East of a Masonic society, he invites me to lecture at his first meeting. We did that in 2009 at Fairless Hills Lodge, and again in 2011 at Kensington-Kadosh Commandery, and we'll give it another go next month at Abington Royal Arch Chapter.

Hanukkah having begun only a short while ago -- best wishes for a happy one, to all who celebrate -- I thought it a good time to announce this event. (Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the subject of Kabbalah or other aspects of Jewish mysticism, therefore I have defined the limits of this talk very narrowly. Yet there still is a lot to discuss.)

Within the realm of Kabbalistic learning, there is a vast body of literature named Zohar, which I'll describe essentially as esoteric commentary on the Pentateuch and other Jewish Scripture. When I say "vast," I refer, for example, to my own copy, 23 large hardcover volumes, which resembles a set of encyclopedias. It is far much more than commentaries, but if I try to explain that, I'll only sound ignorant and a little crazy.

From this library, I'll share with the Companions the esoteric contexts of a number of aspects of ancient Jewish spirituality which appear to have relevance to Royal Arch Masonry. The High Priest and the Ark, to name only two obvious examples. Believe me, it will be a learning experience for myself as much as anyone else.

As you can see in the graphic above, this will take place Tuesday, January 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jenkintown Masonic Temple in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. This is a wonderfully situated Masonic space, nestled amid a very charming downtown area. There's just something very "Simpkins' Store" about it, if you know what I mean.

I'll wind up missing a pretty big event at my Scottish Rite Valley that night. Sorry about that, but I committed to this years ago.

As you also can see in the graphic above, there is an illustrated text in the background. Here is a better view:

The two pages shown are not from the Zohar, but are from, of all places, the first Calvinist vernacular Bible printed in Poland. This holy text was printed in 1563 under the auspices of Prince Mikolaj Ridziwil (1525-65), one of the great religious reformers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and a defender of Lithuanian sovereignty. The illustrations are woodcuts. They were to help the Christian reader understand Jewish ritual of the Temple period. At left is the Altar of Burnt Offerings; at right of course is the High Priest in full ceremonial vestments.

In addition to the obvious good fit, I chose to use this image for the graphic because this very copy of this Bible once was owned by a certain son of England's King George III. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) is the very same man who, as the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, solidified the union of the Moderns and Ancients beginning in 1813, and served as ex-officio Grand First Principal of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, holding both offices for the last 30 years of his life.

He should be remembered fondly by Masons everywhere for his open-mindedness regarding religion and Masonry. As MQ Magazine puts it: "His liberal attitude towards religion (he was in favour of Catholic Emancipation and had many Jewish friends), influenced the creation of a more inclusive, less obviously Christian Grand Lodge." His influence permitted men like me to become Freemasons at a time in England when non-Christians enjoyed no civil rights.

Happy Hanukkah!

'ALR to meet next week'

From the Secretary's Desk:

The 352nd Stated Communication of The American Lodge of Research will be held in the French Ionic Room of Masonic Hall, 71 West 23rd Street, City of New York, on Tuesday Evening, December 27th, 2011 at Eight O’Clock, for the Presentation of Annual Reports, Adoption of the 2012 Budget, Unaffiliation of Members in Arrears, Proposed By-Law Changes, the regular business of the Lodge, the Public Installation of Officers for 2012 and the Public Inaugural Address:

The Beginnings of Indian Freemasonry
by W. Gilbert Ferrer, Incoming Master

The Master and Wardens summon your presence and invite other Master Masons to accompany you. At Six O’Clock, following the usual custom of the Lodge, members and their guests may dine together at their own expense at the Outback Steakhouse, across 23rd Street from Masonic Hall.

W. Bro. Ferrer is a Past Master of Shakespeare Lodge No. 750.

The proposed amendment to our by-laws concerns the meeting schedule, specifically changing one meeting from St. John Evangelist Day (December 27) to St. John Baptist Day (June 24) to avoid holidays and the inclemency of the winter season.

'A new look at ye olde Bible'


Magpie file photo
A King James Version of the Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, the 'George Washington Inaugural Bible' was printed in the 1760s, and has been owned since then by St. John's Lodge No. 1 AYM in New York City. On April 30, 1789, George Washington took his first presidential oath of office upon this Bible, his hands resting at Genesis 49-50.

I had the good fortune to be in the presence of a certain Bible on Friday night, one that has been discussed here before. A cherished, priceless document we in Freemasonry call the George Washington Inaugural Bible was brought to a local Masonic lodge in New Jersey to display during a ceremony.

I just want to offer a quick post on this now to share a perspective that is new to me. Two, actually, but I'll begin at the beginning.

The George Washington Inaugural Bible, a King James Version containing the Old and New Testaments, has been owned by St. John's Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, in New York City since the lodge purchased it from Baskett printers in London in 1767, for use as the lodge's altar Bible. It earned its nickname because on April 30, 1789, George Washington took his first presidential oath of office with his hands resting on the pages of this Bible, opened to Genesis 49-50, in a ceremony on Wall Street.

In a fraternal order that cherishes its history and its artifacts, this holy text enjoys a unique standing; whereas those Founding Fathers who were members of Masonic lodges left this world long ago, this Bible serves as a portal that grants us today the chance to touch them in their day. Well, almost. The Bible is handled only by select members of St. John's Lodge when they travel with it on the very few occasions it is allowed to travel. But it does travel, unlike so many other pieces permanently encased in glass or locked in vaults, never to reach their full value as educational tools and cultural touchstones.

One of those guardians on Friday night was VW Bro. Piers Vaughan, who addressed the audience of approximately 150 to tell the history of this Bible, and his own thoughts on why this particular text came to hold its singular significance.

Piers Vaughan, in Masonic regalia, exhibits 
a miniature replica of the historic George
Washington Inaugural Bible, one that
features the autograph of George H.W. Bush.
Piers spoke of how the preparations for Washington's inauguration were planned to the most minute detail, even down to the quantities of hay and water required to refresh the horses in the procession. How could it be that the very instant of inauguration could be bereft of a Bible? It is a depth of thoughtlessness that seems too improbable to be taken seriously. Instead, argues Piers, the president-elect himself fashioned "an elegant solution" to a potential political and religious misstep. With the new American states characterized by different sectarian beliefs, the choice of one holy text over another in the performance of this swearing-in ceremony could have had repercussions throughout the land. But because of the very high esteem in which the public regarded Freemasonry, Washington's choice of a "Masonic Bible" would have been appreciated as the best obtainable ecumenical solution to the ceremonial dilemma.

And the second point that caught my ear Friday night was the ranking in which Piers placed this Bible in political and civic importance: third, after only the Declaration and the Constitution.

His reasoning is because Washington was created president of the United States with the assistance of this Bible, the Executive Branch of U.S. government was thereby embodied by him that very moment. Enlightened by this view, I now see the aspiration of the Declaration of Independence as prelude to the covenant of the Constitution, rendered in the flesh as a civilian, temporary, and elected chief executive.

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In other New York City news, I repeat the info on an upcoming lecture at Fraunces Tavern Museum on Thursday, January 19 at 6:30 p.m.

From the publicity:

Most people are aware that Freemasonry is a centuries-old society cloaked in mystique, its brethren ever present in the sweep of history, but what exactly do Masons profess? Did Freemasonry inspire the War of Independence? Were all the Founding Fathers members of the Masonic fraternity? Drawing from period literature, and with an insider's understanding of how Masonic lessons are imparted, Jay Hochberg, an officer in New York City's only Masonic lodge of research and education, will define and contextualize the Colonial Freemason's bond to his neighbor, his government, and his god.

Seating is limited to about 60, and no advance reservations are taken. Tickets are sold, at $10 per person, at the door.

'Wendell K. Walker 2012'

Every year, Independent Royal Arch Lodge No. 2 hosts its Wendell K. Walker Lecture, an event to allow us all a day's advancement in Masonic knowledge together. The 2012 lecture will be held Thursday, March 15. Lecturer: no stranger to the pages of The Magpie Mason ... W. Bro. David Lindez!

Bro. David's presentation is titled "That Which Wendell K. Walker Held Most Dear." 7 p.m. in the Empire Room, 12th floor, of Masonic Hall. 71 West 23rd Street in Manhattan. Open to Apprentices and Fellows. Attire: business suit.

Collation to follow at Aleo, 7 West 20th Street. Fixed price menu at $60 per person. Reservations no later than 5 p.m. on March 9 are required. Contact Bro. Charles Henry George at charlesgeorge252(at)

The Wendell K. Walker Lecture is an annual event in memory of Bro. Walker, a beloved leader in the field of Masonic education. He led in the establishment of the Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library and The American Lodge of Research.

Independent Royal Arch Lodge No. 2 is one of the oldest fraternal and social institutions in continuous existence in the City of New York. Chartered on December 15, 1760, “Old No. 2,” as it is popularly styled, has, for two-and-a-half centuries, exerted a civilizing and fraternal influence in New York.

'Save the date: May 19'



Saturday, December 17, 2011

'Deep Purple'

Ambassadors Jason, Piers, and Steven traveled to Atlas-Pythagoras Lodge No. 10 Friday night, bringing with them the historic George Washington Bible. The holy text has been owned by their lodge, St. John's No. 1 Antient York Masons, since the 1760s, and it is in fact the Volume of Sacred Law upon which George Washington took his first presidential oath of office on April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City.

I can't even remember the last time I was in a Craft lodge, but Friday night was the installation of Moises Gomez into the Solomonic chair. Wasn't going to miss that. And besides, he asked me to take pictures.

They came from all over New Jersey, from New York City, from the Hudson Valley, Delaware, New Hampshire, maybe elsewhere too. About 150 of us met to salute a Mason who I think is the hardest working Brother I've ever seen. We all know guys who excel in a million things in lodge, or in Scottish Rite, or the Shrine, or wherever, but Moises is everywhere. And without neglecting family and career.

Of course now that he is Master of his lodge -- oh, did I mention it's Atlas-Pythagoras Lodge? The Provincial Grand Lodge of Union County? -- I imagine he'll have to change some of his habits and scale back the extra-curricular stuff. Or at least that would be my strong advice to him.

It was a grand evening. Plus I got to see Piers, Jason, and Steven from St. John's No. 1. I hardly get to see those guys any more.

The Rampant Lion Pipe Band set the tone by opening the festivities with a Scottish march.

The George Washington Inaugural Bible with Square and Compasses.

The banner of the lodge. I'll try to decode the coat of arms. Clockwise from top left: Atlas and Pythagoras; three plows denoting New Jersey heritage; three S&Cs representing Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty; and the cornucopia, because this lodge has everything in abundance. "Ex tenebris lux" can be understood as "From darkness, light." 

Grand Master William L. Morris, Jr. reads the Charges, as
Installing Master Glenn R. Trautmann, Deputy Grand Master, looks on.

The appointed officers for 2012. Thurman, at left, is the Historian.

Not easy zooming in to get this shot of the new Master's gavel,
presented to him by Junior Warden Mike.

It's almost a crime to cut into this cake.

Very Worshipful Brother Piers Vaughan presents Worshipful Brother Moises Gomez a miniature replica of the George Washington Inaugural Bible, a memento from St. John's Lodge No. 1 AYM.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'The Magpie and the Tavern'


As you may have guessed from the slowdown of traffic here on The Magpie, I have stepped back from almost all of my Masonic activities this year to attend to other important things in life, but I hope to be back in 2012. In fact, I'll be back with a vengeance in January, with three speaking engagements in three states in two weeks. (I've been assured this is not illegal.)

I wasn't even going to publicize this event myself, except for a subtle clue at left you probably never noticed, a quick mention on Facebook, and the use of the touchscreen in the lobby of Masonic Hall , but I cannot rely on the museum to get the word out. The Sons of the Revolution e-mailed its newsletter to subscribers, but printed the wrong date and other errors that were minor but still annoying. Fraunces' website still lists events that have passed, and there is no mention of this one yet. And I didn't want to publicize it myself because the point of the lecture is to reach the public, not a bunch of my friends who already know what I'm going to say. Anyway, the museum's newsletter, which did get it right, can be read below, and hopefully it will be linked to its website soon.

In the ten or so years that I have been speaking on Masonic subjects, I have done so only to Masonic audiences, with one exception this April, when I discussed ritual elements, philosophy, and history at the New York City Chapter of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. I broke my own rule because I've been active there for a number of years, and I know the people there to be serious thinkers and students of mythologies, religions, and similar paths of wisdom, so I don't even consider that a general audience. It was more like speaking to a college-level class on a subject they want to know, and I anticipate the same kind of audience at Fraunces Tavern Museum.

Or I would if the museum would kindly tell its members and supporters about it.

In the meantime, here is the Magpie announcement. The major details are in the graphic above. In addition, you should know seating is limited to about 60, and it is not at all unusual for this venue to sell out. NO advance reservations are taken; tickets are sold at the door at $10 per person, so I recommend arriving no later than six o'clock. I take to the podium at 6:30.

By the title of the talk, an informed Mason would know where I'm headed, but I'm hoping this will be news to the public. Drawing from Masonic literature of the Colonial/Revolutionary period, I'll explain what it is that Freemasons mean by our "profession." In addition, I'll sketch a historical picture to clarify the role Masons played, on both sides, of the Revolutionary War, which I suspect will be surprising to those who have the popular notion that all of America's Founding Fathers were Freemasons, and they all were good guys.

Afterward, I'll be downstairs at the wonderful Porterhouse Brewing Co. drinking.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Finding YOU'

"A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life."

Joseph Campbell

This evening was the only New York City area screening of a new film titled "Finding Joe," a documentary about the work of Professor Joseph Campbell, the scholar at Vassar who delved into the world's mythologies and religious stories, discovering what he believed to be the single unifying theme found in all those morality tales: the Hero's Journey.

Arguably the most apt example of this is that first Star Wars movie from 1977. Consider the plot and you'll have the Hero's Journey concept, because George Lucas very deliberately assembled the story in accord with Campbell's teachings in his book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." Luke Skywalker, a boy of uncertain parentage, suffers a life-changing shock which propels him, reluctantly, forth into the dangerous world (or galaxy, as this story has it). He meets with an older figure, someone to mentor him, and together they travel to places unimaginable. The mentor equips his apprentice with special tools, and schools him in their esoteric uses. The apprentice suffers the loss of his master, and must continue the adventure without him, relying on himself and what he has learned. He does battle with an enemy thought unbeatable, and even is swallowed whole by a monster, before conquering the enemy, achieving his goal, and returning to the world he had left in the innocence of his youth.

To strip this theme to its skeleton robs it of much of its appeal, but think of how many of man's stories adhere to that very formula. It's the life of Jesus, the dream of Dorothy, the quest of Frodo, the lessons of so many Greek myths. There's no limit to its application, because a story's time and place are only incidental; what matters is the story is true to each of us. Your psychology or my psychology or anyone's can be grafted onto the fundamental theme of the Hero's Journey to tell our own unique epics. Each of us has a paralyzing fear to confront and defeat as a necessary part of growth, and indeed achieving happiness. At the end of this film, it is explained that "Finding Joe" is not the documentarian's search for this famous man named Joe, but as a title, "Finding Joe" is only a rhetorical device synonymous with you finding yourself; you identifying your fundamental purpose in life, and then surpassing all internal obstacles (fear and other emotions that produce our excuses and procrastinations) to achieve your goals.

The tagline in the film's marketing quotes Campbell saying "We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." An urgent lesson for anyone, but especially for those who have come in the same way and manner as all others before.

The various people interviewed in the film phrase these concepts far more creatively than I have here, and so I urge you to see "Finding Joe," and even to arrange to screen it for your brethren. This edition of The Magpie Mason is a rare commercial endorsement, so click here to purchase the $20 DVD. (My movie ticket at Symphony Space cost me $22!) The running time is only 80 minutes, but the impact of the wisdom imparted will leave you with a different understanding of any number of Masonic rituals, from the Sublime Degree to Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret. All of those rites in which Masonic Man is sent forth on a quest owe their existence to this amazing anthropological dynamic Joseph Campbell discerned in the world's religions and mythologies.

"A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life."

Don't let Campbell's Hero's Journey displace any of the moral and esoteric understandings of Masonic degrees you hold already, but just make some room for another shelf amid your stock of knowledge.