Wednesday, June 26, 2013

‘HuffPo visits GWMM’

Halle Eavelyn, manager of Spirit Quest Tours, published a column on The Huffington Post today hailing the George Washington Masonic Memorial as a "great stop" on a tour of Washington, DC. (Of course the Memorial is located in Alexandria, but close enough.)

There is nothing surprising in the column, if you are familiar with the Memorial, but it is an unusual place to find Masonic publicity. And this piece of information will catch your eye: "the Freemasons have kept women successfully out of the ranks until recently."

At the bottom of the piece, she plugs the "Esoterica America DC tour" scheduled for September 17-22 and offered by her company. Click here for info.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

‘A Deeper Dive’

Click to enlarge.

The Grand Lodge of Connecticut’s Committee on Masonic Education will host its second Symposium on Esoteric Freemasonry next month.

A Deeper Dive
A more in depth look at the mysteries of Freemasonry
Saturday, July 27 at 9 a.m.

W. Bro. Cliff Porter, author, lecturer, and founding member of Enlightenment Lodge No. 198 in Colorado, will be guest speaker.

Topics for three break-out sessions to include:

  • The Mystery of the Philosopher’s Stone
  • The Magnum Opus
  • Rosicrucians
  • The Symbolism of the Tarot and its Meditative Use for Masons

Click to enlarge.

You decide which sessions to attend. Lunch to be served in the Ashlar Village dining room.

$20 per person includes WB Porter’s presentation, choice of three break-out sessions, lunch, and the unique brotherhood found among those who seek.

Make your check payable to Grand Lodge of Connecticut, and mail to:

Ben Isaacson
108 Wellington Heights Rd.
Avon, CT 06001

Seating is limited. To secure your ticket, contact any of these Masons:

Andrew Warren at arbiter(at)
Roger Cole at rogejoan(at)
Ben Isaacson at bisaacson(at)

Monday, June 24, 2013

‘Increase and Decrease’

I wasn’t going to write anything about Saint John the Baptist Day, but inspiration—if that’s the right word—sometimes comes unexpectedly, and the Mad Men episode broadcast tonight, the finale of season six that ended just minutes ago, got me thinking.

It’s not the plot or the characters, but only the wardrobe that got me started. The suit and tie Don Draper wears while exiting (for the last time) Sterling Cooper & Partners reminded me of the promotional art that appeared on the web in the weeks before the start of the season three months ago. To wit:

Courtesy AMC

As advertising goes, this is an enigmatic message that, of course, suits the complexity of the program’s dramatics. Duality. Coming and going. Past versus future. Draper, briefcase in hand, walking away but to work; and Don walking toward the viewer, holding a woman’s hand. The two Dons are aware of each other, metaphysically interdependent even, but they cannot interact as though they occupy extremes in a cyclical motion.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John 3:30

In a darkly humorous scene in this episode that appears to draw from John 3, a minister accosts Don, absent from the office and drinking in a bar again, to deliver some helpful ministry, promising that Jesus can give not only eternal life, but relief from pain in this earthly existence. “I’m doing fine,” says Draper in dismissive retort. “Nixon is president. Everything is back where Jesus wants it.” The minister goads Don, provoking one of his kid-in-the-whorehouse flashbacks; he slugs the minster, and winds up in the Tombs to sleep it off. In the morning, he goes home to Megan and tells her he needs to get out of New York. He wants to go from East to West. To Los Angeles.

Courtesy Trevor Stewart
The Gospel of Saint John Chapter 3 is laden with dualities that echo the As Above, So Below foundation of the Western Mysteries. The verse quoted here can be interpreted as comment on the summer solstice, how the potency of one season surrenders to another. The two solstices are connected by their significances and their positions on the calendar. Significance: there are two Christian feast days that commemorate nativities – John the Baptist’s on June 24 and Jesus of Nazareth’s on December 25. (All other feasts mark deaths, if not martyrdoms.) Calendar dates: both of these feast days approximate the solstices. The summer solstice brings the peak of daylight embodied by the longest day; the winter solstice conversely is the shortest day that begins the lengthening of daylight hours for six months. Each solstice knowingly chases the other in perpetual increase-decrease. They cannot catch each other any more than the two parallel lines flanking the Point Within a Circle can connect.

The closing scene of this Mad Men episode shows Don, newly deposed from his agency and simultaneously acknowledging his alcoholism and looking for a new way forward, as he tries to connect for the first time with his three children, the oldest of whom, Sally, recently had complained about not knowing anything about him. Clearly, one of Don’s dual lives must increase, and the other must decrease, and not cyclically either, if he ever is to achieve harmony and peace in his earthly existence. He brings his daughter and sons to the closest thing he had to a childhood home, that whorehouse, which now in 1968 is a prominent part of the decay of what son Bobby calls “a bad neighborhood.” Don shoos them out of the Cadillac and onto the sidewalk, and explains this was where he grew up. Cue the music: Both Sides Now by Judy Collins.

Friends, the days will get shorter now. The days will be hotter for a while, but the daylight hours will diminish until the next solstice. Inevitable transition. Cyclical reversal. It is a great time to examine our own dualities, if necessary, to affect some adjustment. I know I need that. Or maybe just to resolve to gain the most light from the shortening daylight hour.

Have a wonderful summer. The Magpie Mason will be updated as news demands, but the time of (temperate) Refreshment is here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

‘Cyrus Cylinder at the Met’

As reported a number of months ago in The Journal of The Masonic Society, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will exhibit the ancient “Cyrus Cylinder,” on loan from The British Museum for a tour of the United States with other artifacts of ancient Persia, beginning tomorrow.

From June 20 through August 4, The Met will show The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: Charting a New Empire. New York City is the third stop on the tour; the artifacts will go to San Francisco in August and Los Angeles in October before being brought back to Britain.

Courtesy The British Museum
The Cyrus Cylinder, the clay cuneiform artifact excavated in Iraq in 1879, dates to the reign of King Cyrus the Great in the Sixth Century BCE. The text includes the royal decree that allowed deported peoples to return to their homelands.

The Cyrus Cylinder often is called “the first charter of human rights,” to lend it a meaning that we in 2013 can appreciate comfortably. (It’s similar to how the First Charge of Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, which calls on Freemasons “to obey the moral Law” and to keep their religious opinions to themselves, is believed by many Masons today to represent the dawn of an ecumenical—or even multicultural—Freemasonry, when its reality was the far more practical goal of facilitating friendships among brethren of the various Christian denominations in 1720s London.) Scholars of the ancient Near East today recognize that rulers in that time and place began their reigns with proclamations and edicts to set a tone, and Cyrus continued a governing tradition we now know was more than a thousand years old.

And this is where Freemasonry ought to show its interest. Cyrus and his edict figure dramatically in the High Degrees of the Scottish and York rites of Freemasonry, and elsewhere, such as the Irish degrees of Knight Masonry. Different Masonic ritual tellings of the building of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, loosely based on verses of the Hebrew Bible, explain how Zerubbabel was permitted to lead his people out of the Babylonian Captivity to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and continue life in freedom, as decreed by Cyrus. Again, reality showers some cold water on Masonry’s romantic tales; Jews were not mentioned with any specificity by King Cyrus, who actually had established a general religious freedom to benefit a number of peoples who had lived in captivity in the empire.

Regardless, you Scottish Rite and York Rite Masons should charter some buses and visit The Met this summer. The Cylinder and the other pieces in this exhibit lack the fantastic resplendence of, say, the Tutankhamun dig (also exhibited by The Met, 35 years ago), but what will open tomorrow unquestionably possesses the greater spiritual and philosophical heft.

Additional programming is scheduled for June 20, June 25, June 28, and July 11.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

‘Birthday: W.B. Yeats’

“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”
- William Butler Yeats

Courtesy The Paris Review
Thoor Ballylee in County Galloway, once the home of William Butler Yeats.

On this date in 1865 was the birth of William Butler Yeats, of great poetry and proud Irishman fame. He also was co-founder, in his youth at art school, of the Dublin Hermetic Society, at which time he also became a passionate student of Irish mythology and folk stories, which would become evident in his poetry later.

In esoteric circles, he perhaps is best remembered—that is, aside from his occult poetry—as a co-author of the rituals of the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn. Prior to that, he had been a known member of the Theosophical Society, where study and synthesis of religion, philosophy, and science is pursued; Yeats proceeded into the Society’s then new Esoteric Section, which was devoted to concepts and practices of magic. Unsatisfied by the fruitless experimentation of that work, Yeats’ search for spiritual work continued. One brief biography on-line says:

William Butler Yeats
The Golden Dawn satisfied Yeats’ need to dig into his very core, and unleash what has been buried for so long. As Yeats soon discovered, the Golden Dawn incorporated traditional European cabalistic magic and astrology, as opposed to the wisdom of the East. In addition, the Golden Dawn encouraged exploration and wielding of power (over the material universe, unlike [Theosophical Society founder Helena] Blavatsky who constantly warned students against the practice of phenomena and oftentimes discouraged it altogether.) This highly pleased Yeats, and allowed him to open his magical aspirations to as high as he would go.

It was ninety years ago when Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his award ceremony speech, Per Hallström, Chairman of the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy, said of the poet:

The soul of nature was to him no empty phrase, for Celtic pantheism, the belief in the existence of living, personal powers behind the world of phenomena, which most of the people had retained, seized hold of Yeats’ imagination and fed his innate and strong religious needs. When he came nearest to the scientific spirit of his time, in zealous observations of the life of nature, he characteristically concentrated on the sequence of various bird notes at daybreak and the flight of moths as the stars of twilight were kindled. The boy got so far in his intimacy with the rhythm of the solar day that he could determine the time quite exactly by such natural signs. From this intimate communion with the sounds of morning and nighttime, his poetry later received many of its most captivating traits.

There isn’t much on the record to support any claim of Masonic membership for Yeats. He certainly kept company with Freemasons, MacGregor Mathers may be the best known. Researcher and author Marsha Keith Schuchard, speaking in 2010 at the Livingston Library, says:

When the Yeatses resided in Oxford in 1921, they may even have attended a Masonic lodge. If so, it would be an Écossais or Rose Croix rite, which admitted women. In 1987, when my husband and I were living in Oxford, the eminent Yeats scholar Richard Ellmann confided to me that he had discovered a note in which George Yeats mentioned their Masonic attendance. Unfortunately, Ellmann became terminally ill and could not locate the note among his voluminous papers. He wanted me to examine her note, because I had been helping him with information on Oscar Wilde’s earlier initiation into a Rose Croix lodge in Oxford.

In his poem Meditations in Time of Civil War, Yeats seemingly writes to tantalize the Masonic ear. Excerpted:

An ancient bridge, and a more ancient tower,
A farmhouse that is sheltered by its wall,
An acre of stony ground,
Where the symbolic rose can break in flower,
Old ragged elms, old thorns innumerable,
The sound of the rain or sound
Of every wind that blows;
The stilted water-hen
Crossing Stream again
Scared by the splashing of a dozen cows;

A winding stair, a chamber arched with stone,
A grey stone fireplace with an open hearth,
A candle and written page.
Il Penseroso’s Platonist toiled on
In some like chamber, shadowing forth
How the daemonic rage
Imagined everything.
Benighted travellers
From markets and from fairs
Have seen his midnight candle glimmering.

And later:

I climb to the tower-top and lean upon broken stone,
A mist that is like blown snow is sweeping over all,
Valley, river, and elms, under the light of a moon
That seems unlike itself, that seems unchangeable,
A glittering sword out of the east. A puff of wind
And those white glimmering fragments of the mist sweep by.
Frenzies bewilder, reveries perturb the mind;
Monstrous familiar images swim to the mind’s eye.

‘Vengeance upon the murderers,’ the cry goes up,
‘Vengeance for Jacques Molay.’ In cloud-pale rags, or in lace,
The rage-driven, rage-tormented, and rage-hungry troop,
Trooper belabouring trooper, biting at arm or at face,
Plunges towards nothing, arms and fingers spreading wide
For the embrace of nothing; and I, my wits astray
Because of all that senseless tumult, all but cried
For vengeance on the murderers of Jacques Molay.

“Soon after writing these lines,” Schuchard says, “Yeats learned in November 1923 that he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

‘ALR Festive Board’

The American Lodge of Research will hold its 358th Communication Friday, June 28, the Annual Communication and Festive Board of Research for 2013.

VW Piers Vaughan, Past Master of St. John's Lodge No. 1, AYM, will present:

A New View on the Use of the St. John's Bible at George Washington's Inauguration, and Possible Masonic Influence on the Events Surrounding It.

Magpie file photo.
I gather this will be an expanded version of Piers' remarks on the CBS program Sunday Morning, when he and other St. John's brethren appeared January 20 as part of the program's coverage of the pending presidential inauguration.

The link seems out of order at the moment, but to see that broadcast, maybe, click here. To learn more about the St. John's Bible at George Washington's first presidential inauguration, click here.

The Communication, with installation of officers, will open at 7:30 p.m. in the American Room, on the 19th floor at Masonic Hall, located at 71 West 23rd Street in Manhattan.

The Festive Board with Piers' lecture will follow at 9 p.m., just around the corner at Sagaponack, located at 4 West 22nd Street.

The price per person for the Festive Board is $65.

One's reservation is secured only by remitting payment. Either use PayPal here or mail your check, payable to The American Lodge of Research, to:

The American Lodge of Research
Masonic Hall, Box M2
71 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10010

Attire: Black Tie.

Menu consists of three courses, and the entree choices are:

Filet au Poivre with brandy cream peppercorn sauce, roasted cauliflower, butternut squash and fingerling potatoes; or

Pan Seared Medallion of Chicken with artichokes and olives; or

Pan roasted Asian Sea Bass with edamame beans, corn and tomato succotash, and Israeli couscous.

Beer and wine included.