Monday, February 27, 2012

‘Tree of Life Seminars’

The brethren of the Scottish Rite of Washington, DC and the fratres of the Masonic Rosicrucians of DC will co-host a series of seminars beginning next month, featuring knowledgeable speakers offering eight approaches to learning about the Tree of Life as a “Pathway to Enlightenment.”

More great news: one need not be physically present in DC. These sessions will be available via the web. Admission to all eight seminars, whether in person or via the internet, costs $90, but those who register before Saturday, March 10 will benefit from a discount, bringing the total cost to $75.

You can’t go to the movies eight times for $75. Or $90.

The schedule: All sessions will take place on Sundays, from 4 to 6 p.m. Panelists for discussion: TBA.

March 25 – Kabbalah and the Tree of Life, Pathway to Enlightenment, presented by Dr. Darryl Carter.

April 22 – Sufism and the Tree of Life, Pathway to Enlightenment, presented by Dr. Julianne Hazen, Director of Sufi Studies, Sufi Center, Medina, New York.

May 20 – Vedanta Yoga and the Tree of Life, Pathway to Enlightenment, presented by Ill. George R. Adams, 33°, GC.

June 17 – Science and the Tree of Life, Pathway to Enlightenment, presented by Dr. Pierre Gaujard, Physicist.

September 16 – Buddhism and the Tree of Life, Pathway to Enlightenment, presented by Ven. Bhante Katugastota Uparatana, Buddhist Chaplain, American University, Washington.

October 7 – Esoteric Christianity and the Tree of Life, Pathway to Enlightenment, presented by Fratre Marcel Derouches.

October 21 – Taoism and the Tree of Life, Pathway to Enlightenment, presented by Dr. Darryl Carter.

November 11 – Freemasonry and the Tree of Life, Pathway to Enlightenment, presented by Ill. George R. Adams.

Read about the presenters here.

‘Masonic Week 2012: The Badge of a Mason’

“...more ancient than the Golden Fleece
or Roman Eagle; more honorable than
the Star and Garter, or any other Order....”

We have it all wrong, you see. We Freemasons go about it backward. My own opinion of the Freemason's apron is that the youngest Entered Apprentice ought to be presented a lavish, gleaming garment, embroidered in bullion, bejeweled brilliantly; fashioned by “a man skillful to work in gold, silver, brass, iron, stone, and in timber; in purple, blue, fine linen, and in crimson.” But then, as the brother progresses through the degrees, along the path of places and stations, improving in his labors, his apron should lose these embellishments, gradually, until the time he deserves the white lambskin. When he has mastered his Craft.

Admittedly, this sounds laughably romantic—and I know it is unworkable and impossible, so I won't pitch the idea to anyone but you—but it would do us so much good.

In the meantime, belated Magpie coverage of Masonic Week 2012 continues with a quick stop at the table of The Craftsman's Apron, staffed by Bro. Patrick Craddock. The vendors at Masonic Week change every year, and most of those present this time are easily forgotten, thanks to their marked up mail order goods. And then there is Bro. Patrick. Despite photographing his wares and chatting with him here and there, I managed to forget to shoot a photo of him, but the following is a display of his work. (Pardon the watermark on each shot.)

Bro. Craddock custom makes aprons, designing them to the clients' specifications, but look under the flap, and you'll see what makes the apron unique to he who wears it. INSET: Another variation on the personalization under the flap.

About a month ago, I started a discussion in my mother lodge's Yahoo! Group about aprons. I had been perusing the new catalog from one of the overpriced mail order companies, when I got to thinking about plain white aprons, and how the brethren in New Jersey do not own their own. It's some kind of absurd custom that Masons here, when attending their lodges or visiting others, wear whatever regalia is provided in the anteroom. Many lodges do not give the matter much thought, resulting in aprons that should have been retired ages ago still being made available for use. Past Masters and grand lodge officers own, care for, and carry their own regalia. All Master Masons should. They should buy themselves white aprons, and the carry cases needed for proper care. It's a matter of respect and responsibility for oneself and for the Order.

Anyway, it didn't take long for that discussion on-line to go off-topic. I complained about our grand lodge's endless laws and rules that, in this case, needlessly require everyone here to wear the exact same regalia. (The inspiration for this, I suspect, is the same mentality that stifles other aspects of individuality and creativity, namely there are those who cannot bear to see someone enjoy what they themselves cannot. As a past grand master told me one night near the end of his term of office years ago, governing New Jersey Masons requires treating us like children.) But my main point still stands: Master Masons should exercise choice and responsibility by acquiring their own regalia, and having it ready to wear when needed. Like adults.

It saddens me to know New Jersey Masons never will have the freedom
to wear regalia of their own design.

Look at the potential for greatness here! Where lodges have the freedom to adopt their own regalia, they may devise a design of their own, or work with Bro. Patrick on a design, or just select an appropriate symbol or two with their lodge name and number. To do something unique is a great privilege, brethren, don't pass up the opportunity!

Bro. Craddock makes the regalia of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee.

And, as you'll see on his website, Bro. Patrick
offers a variety of personal items too.

Coverage of Masonic Week will continue with Knight Masons, Allied Masonic Degrees, and, of course, The Masonic Society!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

‘Lunch with Trevor’

Bro. Trevor Stewart in the spotlight.

One of the changes made at Masonic Week this year was the addition of a Friday luncheon. It was hosted by the Grand Council of Knight Masons, which seems determined to liven up things a bit. Like an idiot, I slept through the Grand Council’s annual meeting at eight in the morning (in all fairness, I had just driven down to Virginia, arriving at the hotel at 6 a.m., and I was bushed), which included degree work and other “must see” attractions. But I wasn’t about to miss lunch, especially with Trevor Stewart slated to speak!

(If you haven’t attended a Grand Council of Knight Masons annual meeting at Masonic Week before, then you cannot appreciate how necessary the changes wrought at this meeting are. It was at the 2011 meeting, approximately three-quarters through an intricately detailed financial report of some 30 minutes, that I cried out “Eli, Eli lama sabachthani?”)

This luncheon was a success, as shown by the production value from start to finish. The officers entered the dining room in a formal procession, led by a bagpiper. (Knight Masonry originates in Ireland, and our degrees are dubbed “The Green Degrees.”) A talented harpist provided perfect music for ambiance. Dull formalities were minimized. Host and guest exchanged presents. And of course there’s Trevor.

He spoke on the nature and history of knighthoods, mentioning some—it probably is not possible to list them all—of the knighthoods among the many colorful titles in Freemasonry, before explaining the more general and historical purposes and meanings of various knighthoods. I didn’t take notes, but I did shoot some photos:

From left: our harpist, Past Great Chief Kevin Sample, Trevor, Cousin X, and Cousin Aaron.
Our bagpiper. (Sorry, didnt catch his name.)

The exchange of gifts: Kevin gave Trevor a beautiful fountain pen, and Trevor reciprocated with a copy of his book Looking Back, Looking Forward.

Trevor Stewart is one of the best speakers on the Masonic scene today.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

'Grand College of Rites 2012'

Hard to believe it has been two weeks since Masonic Week, but time flies. I think that's why a certain depiction of the hourglass shows the icon of time as having wings. Anyway, before more time slips away and I forget what happened, I'd better get on with the coverage of Masonic Week 2012.

I must begin with the annual meeting of the Grand College of Rites, not only because it's at least a decade-long tradition of mine to extol on-line this interesting little band of brothers, but also because Aaron was dogging me yesterday for pictures. It's the least I can do, so let it never be said I don't do the least I can do.

Collectanea is the annual publication of the Grand College of Rites. It contains rituals, jurisprudence, and other literature of rites that are dormant or otherwise unknown to Masons in America. The new book is out. Volume 21, Part 2 continues the archiving of highly unusual German rituals. (Read about Part 1 here.) Its title is Rituals of the Flaming Star: German Esoteric Bricolage from Der Signatstern and Other Sources.

Grand Archivist Arturo de Hoyos, the researcher, editor, and translator behind each edition of Collectanea, describes this text:

The following Masonic rituals have been translated from a 20th century German typescript formerly in the possession of Frederic Mellinger (1890-1970). Mellinger was a pre-World War I associate of Rudolph Steiner and later a disciple of Aleister Crowley. After the latter's death, Mellinger had extensive contact with Hermann Metzger, the leader of the Ordo Illuminatorum, a Swiss confederation of Masonic, Gnostic, and Rosicrucian orders under Metzger's direction. The rituals are composed as a bricolage of sources, the primary one being Der Signatstern... a 16-volume work published in Berlin, 1803-21 (and in) 1866 in parts, in three editions; its first five volumes contain important documents which are, however, thrown in unordered disorder. These parts contain the posthumous Masonic papers of the Minister von Wollner; it was arranged and verified by Friedrich L. Schroder, whence all belonged and from whence taken.

We lack any certain information on the dating and the authorship of these adaptations from Der Signatstern and other Masonic rituals. It is likely that the texts have been edited by more than one hand and they may have been employed or intended for use in more than one esoteric group. The choice of 'Minerval' and the symbolism of the owl in the Neophyte degree are taken directly from the historic Order of the Illuminati. The references to the 'Mizraim-service' point to the influence of Rudolph Steiner, who had a co-Masonic group by this name....

There are also a multiplicity of references in the texts to the fraternal ventures of the German Masonic bricoleur Theodor Reuss. Among his numerous endeavors, Reuss was co-founder with Leopold Engel of a late 19th century German revival of the Order of the Illuminati, an associate with Steiner in the German Section of the Theosophical Society, an English Freemason and Masonic Rosicrucian, and the founder of the co-Masonic Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). Crowley's claim that 'Reuss was in the habit of initiating people with the merest skeleton rituals boiled down from those of Continental Masonry' is a fair description of the following texts. Although Crowley attempted in 1921 to usurp control of the OTO from Reuss and rewrote a majority of the rituals to fit within his new religion of Thelema, Reuss firmly rejected Crowley's leadership and innovations....

And these rituals in Collectanea themselves? Skeletal rituals of Continental co-Masonry is a good way to put it.

The Minerval Degree is recognizable to those who know Scottish Rite Craft work. It's not synonymous in content because it is a bare bones ritual, but it certainly is congruent in theme and style. I suppose it is called Minerval because the candidate (male or female) aspires specifically to search for Truth (as opposed to enlightenment), so there is the logical fit with the Roman goddess of wisdom. There is a Dark Chamber, as in the Chamber of Reflection, outside the temple (not lodge) itself. I don't want to give away too much, but I cannot resist sharing this one detail: Imparted in a charge from the presiding officer to the candidate, and reiterated in the obligation, is this demand, one that is most foreign to mainstream Anglo-American Masonry.

You will, in fact, be asked to consecrate yourself, and your present and future private, social, civic and state influences and powers, to the service of our Order; to use them only to the advantage of, and never to the detriment of, the Order.

Considering this ritual's origins, it is not hard to understand that those initiated into this order were not your neighborhood plumbers and shoe salesmen. German Masonry of this period was reserved to the titled and influential.

Following is another First Degree, that of Apprentice of the Veritas Mystica Maxima Freemasonic Lodge. And a lodge it is, unlike in the previous ritual. Herein is a Worshipful Master and Wardens, and ritual language that is very similar to what was predominant in England and America at that time. In fact, these sayings are entirely recognizable to your ear today. But overall, this ritual is more akin to Scottish Rite or Continental Masonry in most of its content. Upon the lodge's Opening, all the brethren invoke unmistakable Kabbalist prayer. Where Anglo-American rituals allude to Kabbalah fundamentals (if that indeed is what happens), there is nothing oblique about this ritual's intention, going as far as to employ certain Hebrew terms.

Also odd is how the candidate, while required to divest himself of clothing and be attired in a new way, is allowed to retain any jewelry he/she might have. I suppose this is another accommodation of royal, noble, ecclesiastical, and other titled personages, with their signets of office, seeking admission.

This ritual is not quite skeletal. There is meat on the bone and marrow within. Before the candidate undertakes a ritual journey, the Worshipful Master says to him:

Man is blind from the cradle to the grave, and however fervent may be his ardent desire for the Light of Truth, yet he is unable to find it, whether by his own efforts or with the assistance of friends. We belong to a community that has, from antiquity, devoted itself to this Light, and whosoever joins with us must enter upon the journey to seek this Light. Thrice must you travel from morning until evening and again until evening; and that you may not stumble, a Sister or Brother who has gone this way before you will conduct you.

During the first leg of this journey, the element of water is introduced in a rite of purification. "This is the way to self-awareness," says the Senior Warden. "Man believes he knows himself, but your restriction  demonstrates that you are blind and captive in self-deception."

Then, while traveling south, where the element fire awaits the candidate, the Junior Warden says "This is the way to self-control. The fires of passion blaze around you and threaten your corruption. Whoever emerges unhurt from this fire is near the Light!"

And finally, headed east, the element of air is applied, at which time the Senior Warden says "Hail to the air! This is the way to Truth! Be true to yourself, O Seeker, or you will fall into an abyss from which there is no escape!"

I can only imagine it in the original German.

The journey is not all. Before being brought to light, the candidate takes a certain libation to simulate the bitterness of life. The obligation, taken on the Gospel of Saint John, is free of admonishment of temporal penalty, and instead warns that the soul may "wander aimlessly without peace in space for time immeasurable" should the vow be broken.

It's beautiful material. What follows is an Opening of a Chapter of Rose-Croix, heavily Christian,  and a truncated Knight of the Rose-Croix Degree. The initiate is a Scottish Chief Master and Knight of Saint Andrew, indicating a different sequence of degree progression from what Scottish Rite Masons know, but the AASR Knight of Rose Croix will have no difficulty following this ritual. Where the archangel Raphael is mentioned insufficiently once in the current AASR-NMJ Rose Croix Degree, here he is properly ritualized as the candidate's conductor. I think it is okay to say Raphael is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek Hermes, Roman Mercury, and Egyptian Thoth: messenger of the gods.

And indeed the word of the degree, while the same spelling as our AASR degree's, has an entirely different true meaning that reorients our attention to the element fire, and recalls to our minds the "occult science after the manner of Hermes."

And finally, this edition of Collectanea offers the VIIº of the Grand Council of the Mystic Templar Magus of Light: Companion of the Graal and Theoretical Rosicrucian of the Brothers of Light of the Seven Churches in Asia.

Spoken to the candidate following his obligation:

Beloved Brother of Light! In this degree you cease to be a Mason. Now commences your course and study as an esoteric Rosicrucian. You are a Companion of the Graal, a Magus of Light and now receive the first instructions concerning the true purpose of the Rosicrucian and mystic symbols and hieroglyphics....

In presenting the work to the Fellows assembled, R.I. de Hoyos remarked that in preparing this edition of Collectanea, he received assistance from a brother officer for the first time. I didn't catch who that is, but I take it as a sign that good people are being appointed to the officer line.


Other highlights of our meeting.

Outgoing Grand Chancellor Martin P. Starr, left, asks Fellows Gary Ford
and Sean Graystone to take a bow, upon receiving the Knight Grand Cross.

M.I. Martin P. Starr, our retiring Grand Chancellor, delivered his allocution, recapping the events and concerns of the past year. Along the way he invited Sean Graystone and Gary Ford to the altar to receive  the Knight Grand Cross. Congratulations brethren!

The GCR is looking to incorporate to attain tax-exempt status as an educational foundation, in part to make it easier to receive bequests.

If I heard correctly, 2011 ended with the GCR having 1,256 Fellows on the rolls. If I may say so myself, I take a little pride in that number, having used a number of Masonic on-line forums over the years (long before this blog and the GCR's website existed) to encourage brethren to seek membership, and to encourage their patience when, in the old days, some time would elapse between initiating contact and receiving a reply. I always say it is the best $15 you can spend in Freemasonry. Collectanea is a treasure every year and, admit it, you want to tell your buddies in lodge that you're a Fellow in the Grand College of Rites.

In finance matters, I think Grand Treasurer Gary Hermann said there is $117,000 in the bank. That is a stunning sum, all things considered. Legend says a cache of GCR literature and records are being held, I think, in California, without an easy way to recover them. I say cut a check and buy those papers back, if in fact their true disposition is known.

Past Grand Chancellor Reese Harrison displays a vintage Grand Chancellor
jewel recently discovered, which will be the model used for all future jewels.

David L. Hargett, Jr. is the new Most Illustrious Grand Chancellor
of the Grand College of Rites of the United States of America.
He is the tenth native of North Carolina to attain the office.

Past Grand Chancellor (2007) Reese Harrison introduced and installed our new M.I. Grand Chancellor, David L. Hargett, Jr., dubbing him "the Indiana Jones of North Carolina Masonry" for his relentless search for knowledge.

R.I. Aaron Shoemaker, Grand Mareschal, takes to the podium to deliver his report
as the GCR's webmaster. He does notice you guys aren't visiting the
website's History and Story of the Innovators pages, so check 'em out.

M.I. Starr greets our Past Grand Chancellors in the East.

Part of the sizable New Jersey contingent at Masonic Week. From left:
Richard, Mohamad, Michael, and John.

This and the entire Masonic Week program will relocate in 2013 to the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Virginia. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

'Starting our second decade'

On this date in 2002, New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786 met for the first time, creating a safe haven in our jurisdiction for the thinking Mason. At the research lodge (known informally as LORE), we don't waste potential on simply memorizing Masonic ritual. We use ritual as a kind of map to guide us on a quest to find the meaning of Masonry. Beyond the written or spoken word of ritual lies another world of deeper understandings and contexts. There is search and research, and neither has much to do with whether the Masters of Ceremonies know when to ground their rods.

After ten years and 135 papers, LORE begins our second decade. Our next Regular Communication will take place Saturday, March 17 at 10 a.m. at Palestine Lodge No. 111 in Princeton.

In an upcoming post, I'll share the details of several unusual occurrences and developments being planned here in New Jersey. They're all good things, which, frankly, is what makes them unusual. One of them involves our lodge of research, and it is a long overdue project that adequately marks the start of our second decade. Until then, I'll leave you with the essay I wrote seven years ago for the Knights of the North Masonic Dictionary. I was reminded of this last week when I happened upon it in, of all places, the website of Golden State Chapter of Research. The Masonic Dictionary site is maintained by Stephen Dafoe, despite his exit from the Craft. He has mine and many others' gratitude for keeping these websites alive.

Education: The Unspeakable Masonic Word

When we speak of "Masonic education," we are needlessly redundant. Freemasonry is education, simultaneously moral instruction, spiritual enlightenment and intellectual growth so that a man may come to know and improve himself. But this isn't supposed to be a solitary activity; Freemasonry also is a brotherhood. The Master Mason Lecture explains the symbolism of the Beehive: "He who will not endeavor to add to the common stock of knowledge may be deemed a drone in the hive of nature, a useless member of society, and unworthy of the care and protection of Masons." Together the brethren seek "that which was lost." What was lost? Truth. It is that search after Truth that makes Freemasonry philosophical, and where there is a love of wisdom, education is the act of courtship.

Because Freemasonry's teachings intentionally address the fundamental and perpetual curiosities of man, it accurately can be said that it is education without limit in both appeal and scope. Truly any wholesome field of study or discipline intersects somewhere along Freemasonry's path of learning, and much of Masonic teaching coincides with the Humanities. Masonry reveals itself through ritual. These centuries-old ceremonies are a framework or, more accurately, a map that each Freemason may follow in his search for Truth. To summarize just one aspect of this process, as an Apprentice, the newly initiated Mason is taught to subdue his passions while letting the Four Cardinal Virtues guide him toward candid self-awareness. From this ceremony one finds commonality with Plato and Aquinas. The former saw these virtues as a recipe for a perfect society; to the latter they were for the betterment of an individual's attitudes, values and behavior. Next, as a more experienced Mason called a Fellowcraft, he is shown the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences: Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy guide the Masonic student as they had the thinkers who gave Western civilization its Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment, with all the culture contained therein. A proper understanding of the Arts and Sciences empowers Masonic man to make his mind the rational master of his primal Five Senses of hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting, and so this progress builds upon the Platonic-Thomist foundation. In the Third Degree of Freemasonry, the Master Mason is sufficiently aware of his place in the universe so as to fear no danger, not even death itself. Ultimately, upon exiting the Holy of Holies for the final time, the Master Mason goes gamely "into that good night" knowing that there is no sting of death nor victory of the grave, but only eternal life.

We've dubbed Education "The Unspeakable Masonic Word" because it seems like no one ever talks about it. In my experience, research lodges, study groups and the like are treated like red light districts where only the furtive venture in search of the forbidden. So at first you're pretty much on your own. To get started, think about what you most desire to know about Freemasonry, and then go find the answers. Easy? No, but it shouldn't be. Depending on the subject, a researcher can spend months looking for a long out-of-print book; even years can pass before inadvertently coming across a needed factoid in an unexpected source. Naturally the internet delivers limitless information but, as with books, one must exercise discriminating choice. Again, let the ritual be your map. Choose an unfamiliar word, an odd phrase, a seemingly antiquated idea. Then define it. Identify its Masonic significance and apply that meaning to a broader context of how it could benefit others; and then translate that idea into your own words so that you take possession and internalize it. Once it is yours, it is there as a tool for use in your growth, and it's there for good. Repeat the process, as needed, for life.

That education is interwoven in Freemasonry is a reality that predates modern Masonry itself. In the Old Charges - the dozens of manuscripts penned over the course of more than three centuries prior to the start in 1717 of the Masonic Order we know today - are found clear procedures on how new members of the building trade were to be schooled in their craft over long spans of time. In the Halliwell Manuscript, believed written in the 14th century and the earliest of these documents, are found the "Fifteen Articles for the Master Mason," including:

3. He must take apprentices for seven years, his craft to learn.
11. He must be both fair and free and teach by his might.
12. He shall not disparage his fellow's work.
13. He must teach his apprentice.

Nor is there anything extraneous about the grave consequence awaiting the unskilled, untested, and unlucky operative builder in the ancient world. The pre-Biblical Babylonian ruler Hammurabi set down a legal code that included:

If a builder has built a house for a man and has not made his work sound, so that the house he has made falls down and causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death. If it causes the death of the son of the owner of the house, they shall kill the son of that builder.

Clearly the importance of education in the building arts is indisputable. (Remember that the funny-looking cap you wore at graduation is called a mortarboard.) Today Freemasonry's instruction is all presented in allegory and symbolism, but the education is no less crucial to the Speculative Mason's life. Tragically few seem to understand or want to understand, and this power goes neglected in the quotidian realities of contemporary Masonry. Why? Because it is hard work! In mastering his Craft, Masonic Man spends his life relentlessly scrutinizing himself, the condition of his fellow man and of the world, and the role of the Great Architect of the Universe in it all. It is not by accident that the hard labor of constructing in stone is the metaphor through which Masonry's instruction is imparted. Nor is it by chance that the seeker of the degrees of Freemasonry is repeatedly tested for his willingness to proceed further.

While the teachings of Freemasonry are universal - "Every human being has a claim upon your kind offices." - it was never intended for every human being to enter its temples, and yet its doors have been flung open for many years allowing practically any man to enter. Consequently, the libraries that once were busy beehives have been converted to other, more simple purposes, their books locked away in storage, forgotten. (Indeed the word "temple" itself, as in a place for conTEMPLation, has been abandoned for the monotonous "Masonic center.") Simultaneously, the discussions that once compelled Masons to reconsider their opinions, to re-examine their very lives, and to improve their world have been replaced by charity walk-a-thons and other activities that, while helpful, should be entrusted to our neighbors in the Lions, Kiwanis and Elks organizations. While organizing and staging a charity fundraiser is a big job, it is child's play compared to the vital challenge of metabolizing Masonic thought, and achieving that state of being where the heart of Jerusalem meets the mind of Athens.

In the fundamental duty of educating oneself and one's fellow Masons, we today are not negligent. We are uninformed, and the craziest thing about it is that the ritual tells us what to do. Remember the advice imparted to you upon your first knocks on the Inner Door: "Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." One's search is a personal endeavor, but there are friends to help you along the way. When enough of us start speaking aloud about Masonic education we can restore to its rightful place the paramount purpose of Freemasonry: to labor together in replenishing the "common stock of knowledge" in our pursuit of Truth.

Brethren, lodges of Masonic research have been proliferating across the United States in recent years, with some jurisdictions having more than one at labor. Go get involved. If your Masonry induces you to see beyond the knife and fork, and through the misguided corporate charities, and above the pointless pageantry of saluting this and that popularity contest winner, then you'll derive profit and pleasure from a research lodge. Me? I'm a Past Master of one, and Senior Deacon of another. It is in these places where you meet a special kind of Mason. The guys who, to invoke Dafoe again, "get it."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

‘200-year-old French engravings’

While exploring with the Searchers’ Club last night in the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, I had the chance to see the exhibition of the French antique engravings that everyone is talking about. They hang next to the door, so when you enter the library, turn around and check them out.

These were difficult to photograph. The lighting in the room comes from chandeliers, which is tricky; the engravings are framed behind glass, so please pardon the reflections; and to mitigate reflection, I shot the photos from odd angles while trying to make the best of the available light and not use a flash. I think they look okay.

The text below comes from the explanatory captions accompanying the illustrations.

Since its beginnings, Freemasonry has been labeled by its detractors as a “secret society.” While some of that accusation focuses on the use of Masonic modes of recognition, most of the opponents of Freemasonry also raise questions about what might be happening behind the closed lodge doors during degree ceremonies. For the past three hundred years, foes of the Craft have speculated about the nature of the ritual that has meant so much and continues to mean so much to Masons around the world.

Freemasons living in a free society know that the privacy maintained around lodge work exists for a number of very important, but relatively harmless, reasons. First, the degrees are used to set a state of mind in the candidate that is conducive to the learning of lessons not just on a level of logic, but at a level of emotion. By clouding the degrees in mystery, the candidate approaches the degree ceremony with a pre-existing state of wonder, which intensifies the overall experience, and hopefully establishes the lessons firmly on his conscience.

Second, Masons maintain privacy because of tradition, and frankly, Freemasonry values tradition sometimes just for the sake of tradition. In the case of the ritual, the tradition had long been that the ritual was taught mouth to ear, and not written down, not even in cipher or code. This practice existed to a large extent because of the limitations of literacy in eighteenth century Europe. On the other hand, privacy also existed to maintain the mystique, and thereby the impact, of the ritual. But from early on, probably from the morning after the first Masonic lodge meeting, people have been writing accounts of what they suspected took place during Masonic degree ceremonies.

The practice of “exposing” Masonic ritual developed into a genre of Masonic literature called “exposures.” Masonic exposures gained popularity in the mid eighteenth century, featuring the full texts of lectures, recounted by “genuine and authentic past members” of some Masonic lodge or, later, concordant order. Exposures were often published to discredit Freemasonry, or to serve as documentation for charges of Masonic involvement in political, religious, and social subterfuge. The content of Masonic exposures often included material of dubious accuracy, perhaps to further the agendas of the publishers. For example, an exposure might include a script in which Masons say sacrilegious or treasonous things, intending to embarrass or indict Freemasonry.

Here in America, we are most familiar with the exposure credited to William Morgan from the early nineteenth century, the preparation of which led to his disappearance, and to a problematic time for the Craft. But Morgan’s book, and later versions, borrow liberally from exposures printed across Europe throughout the mid and late eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century.

The Livingston Masonic Library has always included among its thousands of books a substantial collection of Masonic exposures. The contents of exposures are generally of questionable accuracy, partly because of the sensationalist motives of the authors or publishers, but also because of the fact that Masonic rituals vary depending on time and geography. However, exposures are often the only written sources of information about the rituals from centuries past.

The engravings on display represent a series of seven illustrations of a variation that first accompanied Le Catechisme des Francs-Macons, an exposure printed in 1745, credited to French writer Louis Travenol under his alias Leonard Gabanon. The original illustrations in Gabanon’s book depicted the men in the garb of France in the 1740s. Our engravings date from 1809-12, and feature variations in the clothing and manner of dress of the individuals shown.

If you watch cable television, you will be familiar with the style and composition of Gabanon’s illustrations, since they are often used in documentaries exploring the history and symbolism of Freemasonry. The illustrations are provocative, in the sense that they cause Masons to reflect on what degrees might have entailed in Europe more than two hundred years ago. They may cause the general public to be curious and interested about the nature of Masonic ceremonies, just as the same images caused curiosity and interest when published throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We may never know if they are accurate representations of Masonic ceremonies of the eighteenth century. As with many things Masonic, we are left to wonder, question, and interpret, perhaps never to know the “true” answer.

'EA au français'

L'Union Française Lodge No. 17 will meet tonight to confer the Entered Apprentice Degree ...
in French.

Masonic Hall: 71 West 23rd Street in Manhattan.

Monday, February 20, 2012

'Finding Joe'

(With apologies to the makers of the recent film on Joseph Campbell.)

The Searchers Club held a very special meeting tonight, so special that the group required the Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library to serve as an appropriate setting. On the agenda was the unsealing of several mysterious parcels recently received from Japan, boxes containing Masonic treasures that excited our anticipation as we eagerly awaited the moment of unveiling.

Regalia, parchments, jewels, and ephemera of various kinds filled several cardboard cartons shipped to Bro. Darryl Perry in New York from his friend Diana in Japan, daughter of the late Ill. Joe Diele, a renowned Scottish Rite Mason in Japan.

Bro. Darryl & Bro. Earnest.
The medium-sized cardboard cartons were shipped by the daughter of the late Ill∴ Joe Diele, 33°, GC, a hard working Scottish Rite Mason of the Southern Jurisdiction who passed away in 2005. Not knowing what to do with so much regalia and ephemera, she sent them across the planet to her friend Bro. Darryl Perry of Joseph Warren-Gothic Lodge No. 934, who co-founded the Searchers Club with Bro. Earnest Hudson.

The group assembled included RW Tom Savini, director of the library; RW Bill Thomas, Grand Treasurer, RW Ron Steiner, public relations director; various club members; and other miscellaneous, curious Masons, like myself. None of us knew anything about our departed brother. All we had to go on was his obituary published in the May-June 2005 issue of The Scottish Rite Journal. It was up to the Mystic Tie to bring us together to share this moment of exploration and remembrance.

Please read about Bro. Diele here to get a better idea of his service to the Craft. For brevity here, I'll just let the photographs speak for themselves.

Ill. Diele received these jewels in recognition for presiding over three Scottish Rite bodies.

The jewels shown above are past presiding officer jewels. From left: Venerable Master of a Lodge of Perfection; Wise Master of a Chapter of Rose Croix; and Commander of a Council of Kadosh. Diele presided over these bodies in Tokyo. In 1973, he received the Knight Commander Court of Honour, and in 1975 the 33°. The following year he was appointed Deputy for Japan and Korea, and served until his retirement, only several months before his death. In 2001, Supreme Council bestowed on him its top honor, Grand Cross of the Court of Honour.

Ill. Bro. Diele was not a mere office-holder or title-chaser. His leadership extended into the work from which true legacies are founded. Please do read that obituary for the details, but to offer a few highlights, Diele brought the Tokyo Masonic Center to fruition. He was honored with the Takashi Komatsu Distinguished Service Medal from the Grand Lodge of Japan, and even was an Honorary Past Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Japan, and was an Honorary Marshal of the District Grand Lodge of Scotland in Hong Kong. Honors such as these are not awarded frivolously or frequently.

From left: the jewels of the Thirty-Third Degree and Knight Commander of the Court of Honour, both Scottish Rite honors, and the Joseph Warren Medal from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

RW Bro. John Chang inspects a certificate awarded to Ill. Diele.

Obviously death figures largely in Masonic thinking and practice. How many other fraternal orders have their own ritualized funeral services? "To live respected, and die regretted" is how the ideal is phrased often.

And then there are all those things we leave behind. Maybe a bookshelf of Masonic literature. Carry cases full of aprons, caps, fezzes, and other clothing. White gloves. The leather-like snap cases containing highly ornamental gold medals. Gold always is valuable, especially today. Lapel pins by the score. Plaques, certificates, souvenirs. So much more. Where does it all go after we ourselves are gone?

Into the trash, mostly, except for the gold. Maybe for sale on eBay or somewhere. Perhaps occasionally given back to the brother's lodge, which already has an abundance of such inventory.

As explained above, the daughter of the late Ill. Diele, not knowing how to properly care for these Masonic items seven years after the death of her father, shipped them all to Bro. Darryl. During our enjoyable meeting to salute the memory of our late brother, Darryl decided to return everything to Japan, not back to Diana, but to the Tokyo Masonic Center, where the Masonic memory of Ill. Joe Diele deserves to serve others today and tomorrow as an inspiration. In that way, one overcomes the sting of death and robs the grave of victory. SMIB.

Bro. Earnest Hudson, RW Tom Savini, RW John Chang, Bro. Darryl Perry, and RW Ron Steiner.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Perspectives on American Freemasonry
and Fraternalism Symposium

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library

Lexington, Massachusetts

Saturday, April 28

From the organizers:

The symposium seeks to present the newest research on American fraternal groups from the past through the present day. By 1900, more than 250 American fraternal groups existed, numbering 6 million members. The study of their activities and influence in the United States, past and present, offers the potential for fresh interpretations of American society and culture.

Seven scholars from the United States, Britain, and Belgium will fill the day’s program.

Jeffrey Tyssens, Vrije Universiteit Brussel – The Goatee’s Revenge: A Founding Myth and a Founder’s Cult in American Fraternalism. (Nota Magpie: I don't know what "Goatee" is. This scholar has written previously about the goat in American fraternalism, so I'm not expecting a talk on facial hair.)

Yoni Appelbaum, Brandeis University – The Great Brotherhood of Toil: The Knights of Labor as a Fraternal Order.

Adam G. Kendall, Henry W. Coil Library and Museum – The Shadow of the Pope: Anti Catholicism, Freemasonry, and the Knights of Columbus in 1910s California.

Samuel Biagetti, Columbia University – A Prehistoric Lodge in Rhode Island? – Masonry and the Messianic Moment.

Alyce Graham, University of Delaware – Secrecy and Democracy: Masonic Aprons, 1750-1830.

Bradley Kime, Brigham Young University – Masonic Motifs in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Kristofer Allerfeldt, University of Exeter – The Significance of Fraternalism in Three Criminal Organizations of Late Nineteenth Century America: The Mollie Maguires, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Mafia.

All symposium attendees are invited to a public lecture by Michael Halleran, Independent Scholar, titled Gentlemen of the White Apron: Freemasonry in the American Civil War. 1 p.m. in the Maxwell Auditorium.

Registration costs $65 per person ($60 for museum members), and includes morning refreshments, lunch, and a closing reception. To register, click here and follow the instructions.

It will be great to be with Bro. Adam and Dr. Kristofer again. Both are veterans of the first symposium at Lexington two years ago, and they also lectured at ICHF last spring. I'm really looking forward to this day. I recommend it without any equivocation, mental reservation, etc.