Saturday, January 31, 2015

‘Masonic Week 2016’


The Masonic Week festivities next year will take place at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia from February 10 through 14.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

‘That Religion in Which All Men Agree’

Looking into spring, and venturing beyond my usual orbit, is this speaking engagement in Boston in April. Dr. David G. Hackett, Associate Professor of American Religious History at the University of Florida, will discuss his book That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture.

Wednesday, April 8
8 p.m.
Boston University
College of Arts and Sciences
685-725 Commonwealth Avenue
Room 211
Boston, Massachusetts

Presented by the American and New England Studies Program, Hackett will speak on “Enlarging the Field: Freemasonry in American Religious History.”

Admission is free and open to the public, courtesy of both Boston University Lodge and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

I don’t think I will be able to attend, but I expect to review the book and share those thoughts here.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

‘Webb Chapter of Research to meet’

You know about Masonic lodges of research, which have proliferated wonderfully in the past ten or so years, but what are not at all common are chapters of research: Capitular chapters set to labor to research, accumulate, and present Royal Arch Masonry education for discussion and publication. Thomas Smith Webb Chapter of Research No. 1798, warranted by the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the State of New York, will meet Thursday, March 5 at 4 p.m. at Wolf Road Holiday Inn (205 Wolf Road in Albany, New York) during the Grand Convocation weekend of Grand Chapter.

Paper(s) to be presented: TBA. Business: election and installation of officers. More information to come.

M.E. Piers A. Vaughan's two books on Royal Arch Masonry,
available through lulu.

In the meantime, I just received and soon will dive into the two books published last year by M.E. Piers A. Vaughan, Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of New York. The thought of a Grand High Priest authoring books on Capitular Masonry sounds positively nineteenth century to me, but we always can rely on Piers to labor for the elevation of the fraternity. I will review his books, Introduction to Capitular Masonry and Capitular Development Course for the March issue of The Working Tools magazine, which should be out a few days after the Grand Convocation, and will be shared here then.

‘W.B. Yeats, Magus’

I wanted to mark the anniversary of the death in 1939 of William Butler Yeats, and, while I didn’t set out to reproduce anyone else’s words, I could not come close to matching Jamie James’ piece in Lapham’s Quarterly from three years ago in which he considers the poet’s relationship with spiritualism and the occult. The following is copyright © Lapham’s Quarterly 2012.

W.B. Yeats, Magus
For W.B. Yeats, poetry was a kind of magic

By Jamie James

If the paramount project of W. B. Yeats’ professional life was the perfection of the art of poetry, it was intertwined with a personal preoccupation, the study and practice of magic—not in any metaphorical sense, but the dedicated pursuit of supernatural powers based upon the ancient traditions of alchemy and necromancy, which began in his youth and persisted to the end of his long life.

Yeats wrote frankly about his vocation as a magician in several memoirs and in A Vision, a dense astrological treatise he labored over for twenty years. A Protestant Irishman in Victorian Britain, Yeats as a young man was pulled in conflicting directions, but the occult always trumped worldly concerns, because it was so deeply connected with his poetic craft. In 1892, when the Irish patriot John O’Leary admonished the twenty-seven-year-old poet for his devotion to magic at the expense of the Cause, Yeats answered:

Now as to magic. It is surely absurd to hold me “weak” or otherwise because I choose to persist in a study which I decided deliberately four or five years ago to make, next to my poetry, the most important pursuit of my life…If I had not made magic my constant study I could not have written a single word of my Blake book [The Works of William Blake, with Edwin Ellis, 1893], nor would The Countess Kathleen [stage play, 1892] have ever come to exist. The mystical life is the center of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.

That’s plain speaking, which admits no ambiguity. If one would understand the works of the poet often described as the greatest of his age, it might seem necessary to come to terms with this lifelong passion. Yet apart from the prose works mentioned and a handful of supernatural tales in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe, Yeats never directly addresses the practice of magic in the poetry and plays upon which his magisterial reputation rests. He alluded to it only rarely, with ambiguous metaphors and a select hoard of words charged with esoteric meanings.

Magic imbrued Yeats’ thinking so profoundly that it’s nearly impossible to disentangle the strands without rending the garment. Kathleen Raine, a poet deeply influenced by Yeats, offered a useful formula: “For Yeats magic was not so much a kind of poetry as poetry a kind of magic, and the object of both alike was evocation of energies and knowledge from beyond normal consciousness.” The salient word there is “evocation,” casting the poet as a magus conjuring verbal spirits, not from his imagination but from a higher, or a deeper, place.

When Yeats arrived in London in 1887, the vogue for spiritualism was at its height, and the young poet was immediately sucked into the vortex. The implications of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had sunk in and were undermining basic assumptions of the established social order. In 1867 Matthew Arnold had heard the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the Sea of Faith in retreat, and cults sprang up to fill the gap, to satisfy those who, like Yeats, were searching for something to believe in beyond the material world.

Yeats was already familiar with the basic occult narrative: the magical wisdom of antiquity, predating even the civilizations of Egypt and Babylon, was preserved by an elite brotherhood of seers that handed down intact the doctrines of alchemy, astrology, and the path to eternal life. Belief in this hermetic revelation had flourished at least since the early Renaissance. One of the principal motives of the humanists who ransacked the cloisters of Europe for classical manuscripts was the quest for the treatises of Hermes Trismegistus, first among ancient magi, often identified with Olympian Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth (and from whom the word hermetic derives). Cosimo de’ Medici, fifteenth-century patron of the humanists, hoped to cheat death with the aid of scripture more ancient than that of Christian religion.

The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli, c. 1790.
Goethe House, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

The Rosicrucian societies that formed in Germany in the early seventeenth century were based upon this principle of the unbroken transmission of the prisca theologia—the one true faith of which all organized religions are but pale, debased reflections—by a succession of necromancers. Yeats would have known by heart the description of the magician’s powers from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus:

These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly;
Lines, circles, signs, letters, and characters;
Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.
O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honor, of omnipotence,
Is promised to the studious artisan!

The hermetic tradition enjoyed a burst of vitality in the second half of the nineteenth century, beginning in France. Eliphas Lévi, the pen name of Abbé Alphonse Louis Constant, described the basic pitch in melodramatic terms, setting the tone for the esoteric groups that soon found a wide following. His first book, translated by Arthur Edward Waite as Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual, hooked readers throughout Europe with its phantasmagoric opening sentence, emphasizing images over ideas:

Behind the veil of all the hieratic and mystical allegories of ancient doctrines, behind the darkness and strange ordeals of all initiations, under the seal of all sacred writings, in the ruins of Nineveh or Thebes, on the crumbling stones of old temples and on the blackened visage of the Assyrian or Egyptian sphinx, in the monstrous or marvelous paintings which interpret to the faithful of India the inspired pages of the Vedas, in the cryptic emblems of our old books on alchemy, in the ceremonies practiced at reception by all secret societies, there are found indications of a doctrine which is everywhere the same and everywhere carefully concealed.

The occult movements in the fin de siècle and the early decades of the twentieth century were furiously debated and attracted many public figures. The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was an enthusiastic convert whose reputation as a scientist was damaged by his public advocacy of mesmerism and seances; later Arthur Conan Doyle was a fervent believer in spiritualism and a champion of the reality of the fairy world.

Yeats’ involvement in the occult movement had begun two years before his move to London—the same year he published his first poems—when, at the age of twenty, he chaired the first meeting of the Dublin Hermetic Society; the agenda that day was “the wonders of Eastern philosophy.” Soon after his arrival in the capital, he joined the Theosophical Society, a group led by a Russian journalist and world traveler named Helena Petrovna Blavatsky that sought to unite the esoteric tradition of the West with Eastern mysticism. Madame Blavatsky, as she is usually known, claimed to have visited Tibet, where she met a brotherhood of supremely enlightened lamas who preserved the prisca theologia in their mountain fastnesses. Communicating with Madame Blavatsky by telepathy, these sages divulged their arcane knowledge to her and entrusted her with the task of disseminating the Secret Doctrine, as she called it, to the world.

When Yeats met her in London in 1887, Madame Blavatsky had already been exposed as a fraud: rebellious servants at the Theosophical lodge in Madras took a skeptical investigator from London on a tour of the secret panels and other tricks Blavatsky used to hoodwink prospective disciples. She was now living in a house in south London, rebuilding her movement with just three faithful followers. “I was admitted,” Yeats wrote in his memoir, “and found an old woman in a plain loose dark dress: a sort of old Irish peasant woman with an air of humor and audacious power.”

Madame Blavatsky invited Yeats to join the inner circle of the Theosophical Society, the Esoteric Section, and groomed him for a high position in the hierarchy. Yeats’ main interest, however, was conducting magical experiments. He replicated one he had found in the works of an eighteenth-century astrologer; it involved burning a flower to ashes, then placing them under a bell jar in the moonlight for a certain number of nights. If the experiment was successful, “the ghost of the flower would appear hovering over its ashes.” Yeats formed a committee, which “performed the experiment without results.” When he finally parted ways with the Theosophists it wasn’t because of doubts about Madame Blavatsky’s sincerity—in his journal, he rejected the “fraud theory” because it was “wholly unable to cover the facts”—but because the society disapproved of his experiments.

The Theosophists expelled him in 1890, but Yeats had already joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an even more exotic cult, which claimed direct descent from the hermetic tradition of the Renaissance and into remote antiquity. When Yeats first met the order’s leader, MacGregor Mathers, in the British Museum reading room, Mathers, “in a brown velveteen coat, with a gaunt resolute face and an athletic body,” struck him as “a figure of romance”; later Yeats described the seer’s house in Forest Hill, London, as “a romantic place to a little group,” which included at various times Algernon Blackwood, Aleister Crowley, Bram Stoker, Arthur Edward Waite, and William Westcott, Coroner of the Crown.

Yeats joined the Golden Dawn after witnessing impressive displays of Mathers’ magic powers, particularly his ability to stimulate visions. On one occasion he gave Yeats a cardboard symbol and told him to close his eyes. “There rose before me mental images that I could not control: a desert and black Titan raising himself up by his two hands from the middle of a heap of ancient ruins.” Mathers told him that he had seen “a being of the order of Salamanders.” Members took Latin mottoes as cult names; Yeats styled himself Demon Est Deus Inversus, the Devil Is God Inverted.

The Order experienced a crisis early in the new century after it was revealed that the Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscripts (said to have been found in a cupboard), the basis of its rituals and dogma, had been forged by William Westcott. The cult was disgraced, Mathers was expelled, and Westcott resigned to save his position with the Crown. In 1902 the order changed its name to Stella Matutina, “Morning Star.” Yeats was undeterred by the controversy and remained active in the cult as Imperator, a high grade of wizard, until it dissolved in 1922.

It makes more sense to see Yeats’ participation in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as one origin of his career in the theater rather than contributing anything of intellectual value to his poetry. The order performed rites using props such as wands, cauldrons, and daggers, medievalist baggage straight out of the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting. In W. B. Yeats, Twentieth-Century Magus, a study of the poet’s magical activities based upon his diaries, Susan Johnston Graf describes the rituals of the Golden Dawn in terms that make them sound very much like the ceremonies of a college fraternity: “Members wore traditional robes and symbolic regalia while they intoned elaborately staged dramatic liturgies that they had practiced and memorized. The rituals invoked deities like Isis and Osiris and sometimes involved staged hangings or entombments.”

By the time the Golden Dawn was in its final decline, Yeats had made a major breakthrough in his quest for communication with the spirit world, which took precedence over ritual magic and experimentation. He described this turning point in his life and art:

On the afternoon of October 24, 1917, four days after my marriage, my wife surprised me by attempting automatic writing. What came in disjointed sentences, in almost illegible writing, was so exciting, sometimes so profound, that I persuaded her to give an hour or two day after day to the unknown writer, and after some half dozen such hours offered to spend what remained of life explaining and piecing together those scattered sentences.

On an American tour in 1919, in a sleeping compartment on a train in Southern California, the spirits manifested themselves to Georgie in a new way, when she began to talk in her sleep. From that point on, Yeats wrote, “almost all communications came in that way. My teachers did not seem to speak out of her sleep but as if from above it, as though it were a tide upon which they floated.” Sweet perfumes sometimes filled the room when the instructors spoke, “now that of incense, now that of violets or roses or some other flower.”

Yeats and his bride, née Georgie Hyde-Lees, made a strange match; he was fifty-two, she was twenty-five, and both presumably were virgins. Yeats had been obsessed throughout much of his adult life by a romantic infatuation with Maud Gonne, a charismatic beauty who zealously advocated the cause of Irish nationalism. She joined the Order of the Golden Dawn briefly, but resigned because she feared it would distract her from the Irish cause. Yeats proposed to her four times without success, though she did consent to a “spiritual marriage”; after she definitively rejected his suit in 1916, he redirected his passion toward her daughter, Iseult. It was only after Iseult refused him that Yeats proposed to Georgie.

Her revelations filled more than fifty notebooks, by Yeats’ count, and served as the basis of A Vision, the summa of his metaphysical thinking, which set forth what he called his “public philosophy.” It propounds an extraordinarily convoluted system that aims to integrate the human personality with the cosmos, a poetical astrology supplemented by charts and diagrams that look like figures in a geometry text. Yeats elaborates a scheme of the lunar phases to classify and categorize the human personality. For phase nineteen, that of the Assertive Man, Yeats chooses as his exemplars “Gabriele d’Annunzio (perhaps), Oscar Wilde, Byron, a certain actress.” According to Yeats biographer Richard Ellmann, “Ezra Pound was originally in the highly subjective phase twelve, but Yeats moved him among the humanitarians of the late objective phases after seeing him feed all the cats at Rapallo.”

The Spell, by William Fettes Douglas, 1864.
© National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland.

It was, obviously, a highly subjective system, which has found few adherents. Yeats claimed that he wrote A Vision “very much for young men between twenty and thirty,” yet it reads more like a book written for an audience of one: the author. As Ellmann comments in his analysis of “The Second Coming,” a poem more overtly indebted to Yeats’ theory than most, “an awareness of the system was more useful for writing than it is for reading the poem.” Harold Bloom’s study of A Vision, virtually a book within his book Yeats, published in 1970, begins with the withering comment that A Vision “is nothing if it is not wisdom literature, yet it is sometimes very unwise.” Helen Vendler makes a spirited defense of it as a work “primarily about poetry, about the nature of and value of symbolism in poetry,” worthwhile for its insights into Yeats’ views on poetic inspiration and literary history, but she sets the bar so low as to damn with faint praise: “I do not claim greatness for A Vision, but I do deny that it is absurd.”

Yeats’ magical avocation presents a paradox to contemporary readers: how could this supremely disciplined poet, a Nobel laureate, the founder and first director of the Abbey Theatre, a senator of the Irish Free State, ever have attached himself to such transparently bogus cults? Specifically, why would this undoubted genius dismiss the “fraud theory” about Madame Blavatsky after the debunking she had received in Madras?

Vendler offers a plausible answer: “Our present discomfort in imagining Yeats at Madame Blavatsky’s arises from our feeling that there are more respectable ways of approaching the esoteric, forgetting that a concrete encounter is the only one likely to appeal to a mind peculiarly attuned to words and visual symbols.” The magnetic drawing-room seer’s “air of humor and audacious power” inflamed his imagination. No one reads the poetry of Yeats for its lucid logic; he despised rationalism. The principal source of Yeats’ power as a poet was his fabulous rhetorical gift. From the beginning he could turn an unforgettable phrase as deftly as a ballet dancer takes a leap. He devoutly believed that words were magic charms, endowed with an innate, transcendent power to raise poet and reader directly into a higher realm, just as the dancer may believe that the music lifts him soaring from the stage.

Many great minds before and after Yeats have espoused beliefs and engaged in activities that appear false and foolish centuries after the dust has settled, as the passionately disputed controversies of the past have become homework for undergraduates. The closest analog to necromantic Yeats may perhaps be found not in literature but in the figure of Isaac Newton, alchemist. The perennial symbol of rationalism, creator of differential calculus and formulator of the laws of universal gravitation, Newton devoted more than thirty years to the study of alchemy, a fact that disappeared down the memory hole until the twentieth century. After Newton’s death, his alchemical papers were labeled “Not fit to be printed” and dumped in the attic of the Royal Society. In 1936 his alchemical writings were finally catalogued and auctioned at Sotheby’s, provoking a reassessment of his thought.

Newton worked for years on an unpublished revision of his major treatise, the Principia Mathematica, which would have promulgated his belief that God revealed the eternal truths of the cosmos, the prisca theologia, at the dawn of civilization to a chosen handful of sages, and that this knowledge was subsequently lost and obscured until he, Newton, rediscovered it. His student David Gregory revealed in a journal of his private discussions with Newton that the mathematician planned to prove that his laws of gravity had been adumbrated by “the most ancient philosophy,” finding proofs in Egyptian religion, “hieroglyphics and images of the Gods.”

To buttress his primeval pedigree, Newton studied the fragments of magical books attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, and translated one of them, the Emerald Tablet. A basic text of alchemy, it begins, “’Tis true without lying, certain most true; that which is below is like that which is above, that which is above is like that which is below, to do the miracles of one only thing.”

If the greatest mathematician of postclassical times believed himself to be the modern exponent of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, and performed alchemical experiments in his laboratory in Cambridge, then readers of Yeats may wonder the less at the poet’s passionate devotion to hermetic revelation. Yeats’ credulous acceptance of the incredible is at the core of inspiration. The relationship between poet and muse is sometimes mysterious and sometimes simple, or at any rate direct. Love poetry has always been inspired by the beloved; when Sappho sings, “That man seems to me an equal to the gods,/Whoever he is, sitting across from you,/Listening closely to that/Sweet voice of yours,” the reader doesn’t doubt that she is describing an actual encounter with a living man.

William Wordsworth lived amid the sublime landscape of rural Cumberland, populated by poor people who scratched a poor living from the land; his best poetry is rooted in his observation of nature and his experiences with country folk. In his case, the correlation between inspiration and work is precise, thanks to the journals of his sister Dorothy. For example, she describes how William and she met an old man gathering leeches in the course of a country ramble in 1800 (October 3, to be exact); two years later the experience was transformed by the poet’s imagination into “Resolution and Independence,” a little masterpiece that will always find readers.

In the case of Yeats, however, the relationship is far from simple. Following hermetic teaching, the correspondences between the word and the ideal it reflects are mystical: the symbol has a life of its own, outside the mind. Yeats needed magic not for his thematic material but for the power to accomplish this alchemy, to transmute the wisdom from above into verbal formulas comprehensible here below. Marlowe’s Faustus ponders what task to set for the spirits obedient to his omnipotent will: “I’ll have them fly to India for gold,/Ransack the ocean for orient pearl.”

Yeats set his sights higher: the treasure he sought was not metal gold but the gift of a golden tongue. He was attracted to Madame Blavatsky not because of her feeble, shopworn ideas but rather by her “audacious power”; likewise what drew him to MacGregor Mathers was his miraculous ability to conjure a vision of a fire-dwelling Titan with a cardboard symbol. Yeats’ vehement claim to John O’Leary that the mystical life was the center of all that he did and thought and wrote didn’t mean that he was fascinated by magic; he was getting at something essential. Yeats believed that magic gave him the power to write verses that would partake of the eternal. The proof is in his poetry, for the reader to judge.
Jamie James

In 1999, author and journalist Jamie James left his post as a staff critic for The New Yorker and moved to Bali, Indonesia, to concentrate on writing about Asia. His most recent book is Rimbaud in Java. His previous books include The Music of the Spheres, The Snake Charmer, and Andrew & Joey: A Tale of Bali. Since moving to Indonesia, James has written about travel and culture for many top American magazines, including The New Yorker, Men's Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, and major newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times.

Friday, January 23, 2015

‘Mongelli in Jersey’

Anthony Mongelli, Worshipful Master of LaGuardia Masonic Lodge in Staten Island, will visit Livingston Lodge No. 11 in New Jersey to speak. This graphic says it all:

And here is something he has planned for his lodge next month:

Canceled as of February 19.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

‘Washington’s birthday at DeWint House’

DeWint House in Tappan, New York.


DeWint House, the George Washington Headquarters historic site and museum—owned and operated by the Free and Accepted Masons of New York—has announced its 2015 Washington’s Birthday plans. From the publicity:

His Excellency George Washington’s
Birthday Celebration

The George Washington Masonic Historic Site
20 Livingston Avenue
Tappan, New York

Sunday, February 8
(Snow Day Sunday, February 15)

All are welcome to attend services at the Tappan Reformed Church. Services begin at 10 a.m.

A brunch will be served at Old ’76 House. Serving will begin at 11:30 a.m. Details below. Reservations required.

The Annual Washington’s Birthday program at DeWint House will begin at 1 p.m. Program: Re-enactment of Revolutionary War Events by Gary Petigienne and Sean Grady.

Refreshments will be served following the program.


Monday, January 19, 2015

‘French orientation’

I enjoyed another great evening in Freemasonry at the Old Lodge, one of my favorites of all the lodges at the Grand Lodge of New York’s Masonic Hall in Manhattan. It was an education night, with two of the lodge brethren presenting histories for the benefit of Apprentices and others most likely to benefit from “a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge.” Don’t we all?

First, Bro. Mischa, a former Grand Orient of France Mason, spoke at length on the history and philosophy of, and some of his own experience in, the Grand Orient, which is the oldest and largest Masonic obedience in France. (You may have heard how two of the victims in the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris last week were Freemasons, both of the Grand Orient.) It is not the French Masonic authority we in the United States recognize due to the Grand Orient’s decision in the 1870s to drop the belief in God landmark.

Mischa spoke about more than the G.O. actually, offering insights into the “strange alchemy” of how one can find his way into the Craft. Leaving aside the more than twenty smaller obediences in France (feminine, mixed-sex memberships, and others), he addressed elements of the Grand Lodge of France and the National Grand Lodge of France, the latter being the one recognized by the grand lodges in the United States. Masonic membership typically is obtained through a personal relationship, he explained, specifically through a private conversation between two friends in which a Freemason suggests to his friend that he might be interested in the society of like-minded individuals who enjoy philosophical exchanges. It’s a subtle thing. The French brethren, of any lodge, do not practice the showmanship common to the United States; there are no billboards, bumper stickers, lapel pins, or rings. Mischa also explained that Grand Orient Masonry puts philosophy before philanthropy, another fundamental difference between our two cultures. I suppose it could be said that our not recognizing each other means more than the absence of political amity; it also says we wouldn’t know each other. Throughout France, even in small communities, it is common for lodges from the three jurisdictions to co-exist. It seems there isn’t competition for members because each grand jurisdiction has a different demographic. For example, the Grand Orient attracts education professionals and socialist party members, and the National Grand Lodge draws from among conservative thinkers and men with spiritual inclinations. It’s not that Grand Orient Masons have no interest in the metaphysical, but their concentrations in those matters are left to them, without any requirement set by the grand jurisdiction.

So, let’s say your friend the Mason has approached you in discreet conversation, suggesting you might want to consider being initiated into the mysteries of Freemasonry, and you agree. What happens then, Bro. Mischa continued, is an investigation by the Grand Orient lodge of this prospective newcomer. Three interviews are conducted, one to discover biographical information, another to identify the nominee’s political views, and the third to discuss religious and philosophical thinking. This is done in lodge. If I understood Mischa correctly, the prospective candidate is hoodwinked. And the brethren lob their questions at will. When it is time for balloting, a 75 percent majority in favor is required for election to membership by initiation.

Can you think of anything more foreign to the American Masonic experience? How many of us would survive?

For the Apprentice Degree, the aspirant is hoodwinked. He will spend his first year as a Freemason as an Apprentice, and a silent one at that. He will speak in lodge only to deliver his personal speculative thoughts on what the ceremony of initiation and its symbols mean to him. The Second Degree involves five perambulations and lessons in the Arts and Sciences, and the Physical Senses. No hoodwinking. No Orders of Architecture. And the Letter G is presented as emblematic of Geometry, Gnosis, Genius, Gravitation, and Generation (as in creativity). The Third Degree brings the Fellow Craft through the Hiramic legend, making a Master Mason.

The famous colored engraving depicting a French Masonic initiation. This and six other exposure images are displayed in the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, having been donated by a Brother from I.R.A. No. 2 three years ago.

In his closing remarks and during Q&A, Bro. Mischa shared more very interesting information. Old Number 2 has a sister lodge under the GLNF: Evangelist Lodge in Cannes. In Grand Orient Scottish Rite, the text placed upon the altar may be “any book of moral value.” That the split of the Grand Orient from the rest of the Masonic world also involved the G.O.’s relationship to “a nascent grand lodge in Louisiana that admitted black men.”

Mischa’s presentation was very well received by the brethren, all of whom had questions and insights, but this left little time for Bro. Michael’s discussion of lodge history, but he managed to share fascinating facts concerning early lodge brethren who played historical roles in spreading the Light of Masonry in the young United States, assisting the establishment of a lodge in Ohio, and a chapter in Connecticut. And the archives of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania hold more clues concerning Old Number 2’s authority to work the Royal Arch Mason Degree. Michael said he is still researching, and hopefully the fruits of his work will be shared before long.

(As always, any errors or omissions are attributable to me, and not to the speakers.)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

‘Voices of the Sacred, and Sculpture Immaterial’

Two events in New York City highlighting performing arts and fine arts I must tell you about.

In two weeks, on Saturday the 31st, New York University Global Spiritual Life will host “Voices of the Sacred” at The Brotherhood Synagogue. The concert will unite “artists representing three of the world’s great faith traditions all gathered together in one of New York City’s most historic religious landmarks. Since its founding almost 60 years ago, through its then unprecedented sharing of sacred space with a Greenwich Village church to its current home in a former Quaker meeting house, The Brotherhood Synagogue has always held as one of its core missions to create bridges of understanding across faiths, a mission that continues to this day.

The Brotherhood Synagogue is located at 28 Gramercy Park South. The concert will begin at 8:30 p.m. Click here for information about the event, videos of the performers, and tickets.

Next month, on the 20th, the Museum of Biblical Art will re-open with the start of a new installation: “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral” to run through June 14. On Saturday, February 21, MOBIA will host an all-day symposium in conjunction with this exhibit: “Material/Immaterial: A symposium on Fifteenth Century Sculpture.” From the publicity:

Courtesy MOBIA
Donatello, Saint John the Evangelist, c. 1409-11.

During this one-day symposium, nine speakers will engage issues around Renaissance sculpture. These talks will both enrich the understanding of the objects on display in Sculpture in the Age of Donatello and of the artists who created them, and also broaden the show’s horizons to encompass other chapters of the history of fifteenth century Italian sculpture.

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello

Courtesy MOBIA
Donatello, Saint John the Evangelist, detail.
Twenty-three masterpieces of early Florentine Renaissance sculpture—most never seen outside Italy—will be exhibited at MOBIA as the centerpiece of the museum’s tenth anniversary season. MOBIA will be the sole worldwide venue for this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. These works by Donatello, Brunelleschi, Nanni di Banco, Luca della Robbia, and others were made in the first decades of the fifteenth century for Florence Cathedral (“Il Duomo”), which was then in the last phase of its construction, and are figural complements to Brunelleschi’s soaring dome, conveying an analogous sense of courage and human potential. Like the dome, these statues of prophets and saints express the spiritual tension of a faith-driven humanism destined to transform Western culture.

The Museum of Biblical Art is located at 1865 Broadway, at 61st Street, in Manhattan. Tickets for Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral are available here.

‘Coming soon to the Pennsylvania Academy’

The Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge has announced its plans for March 21. From the publicity:

The 2015 Spring session of the Academy of Masonic Knowledge will be held Saturday, March 21 in the Deike Auditorium of the Freemasons Cultural Center on the campus of the Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Registration will open at 8:30 a.m. with the program beginning at 9:30. A lunch (requested contribution of $10) will be served at noon, and the program will be completed by 3 p.m. All Masons are welcome to attend. Dress is coat and tie.

The program for the day includes:

Professor Kenneth Loiselle will speak on topics from his research and his recently published book Brotherly Love: Freemasonry and Male Friendship in Enlightenment France in a lecture titled “From Enlightenment to Revolution: Masonic Friendship in Eighteenth-Century France.”

Kenneth Loiselle, Ph.D., is an associate professor of history and international studies at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Loiselle’s research focuses on the relationship between the Enlightenment and the political revolutions that unfolded during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the history of friendship and private life, and French colonialism in the Americas. He is presently conducting research on a book co-authored with Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire on Old Regime Freemasonry.

Brother George O. Braatz, PGM, Executive Secretary of the Masonic Service Association of North America, is a Past Grand Master and Grand Secretary Emeritus of the Grand Lodge of Ohio. The Masonic Service Association of North America, formed in 1919 and headquartered in Maryland, provides educational material, statistical reports, Disaster Relief and it administers a Hospital Visitation Program across North America. Bro. Braatz, has previously served for many years on the steering committee of the MSA’s Masonic Information Center and also as a member of the board of directors of the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia.

The great objective in Freemasonry is to gain useful knowledge, and the Academy provides a great opportunity for the brethren to learn and to understand more about the significance of the Craft. Plan to attend and bring a brother or two with you.

Pre-registration is required. Please send your name, address, lodge number and telephone to amksecretary(at)

Please recognize that a cost is incurred to the program for your registration. If you pre-register and subsequently determine that you will be unable to attend, please have the Masonic courtesy to cancel your reservation by the same method and providing the same information.

I notice there is no mention here of what Braatz will discuss, but at the October session, which I still have yet to write about here, it was said he will disclose the results of a recent nationwide survey of things Masonic.

‘Rosicrucian book sale and other news’

Michael Poll of Cornerstone Publishers offers the following tremendous sale on three essential Rosicrucian titles. From the publicity:

Rosicrucian Bundle
Originally $62.40
On Sale for $37.44

The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, by A. E. Waite
(6×9, softcover, 652 pages)

Photographic reproduction of A. E. Waite’s classic 1924 work on the Rosicrucian Order. Waite presents his view of the development and history of the Rosicrucians from the very early days in the Middle Ages and takes them through their various incarnations. A fascinating and detailed work. Many consider this the finest book on the Rosicrucians available.

The Masters and The Path, by C.W. Leadbeater with foreword by Annie Besant
(6×9, softcover, 252 pages)

C.W. Leadbeater offers an enlightened study of the Path of Discipleship under the Guidance of the Ascended Masters. While existing in our troubled world, we can see in this work the place of initiation and its role in both our spiritual and physical selves. Beautifully written in a manner to both guide and instruct, this classic book is of timeless value to all students of Initiation and Guided Wisdom.

The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians, by Magus Incognito
(6×9, softcover 156 pages)

This book provides a classic understanding of the teachings of the Rosicrucians as well as general Rosicrucian thought. Written by William Walker Atkinson, using the pseudonym “Magus Incognito,” this reprint of the 1918 edition is a valuable addition to any Rosicrucian student or those interested in their teachings. Includes: “The Soul of the World,” “The Planes of Consciousness,” “The Seven Cosmic Principles,” “The Aura and Auric Colors,” and much more.

If we do not buy books, there will not be books to buy, so take advantage of this generous sale price, and spread the word, and continue celebrating the Rosicrucian quadricentenary.

And speaking of esoteric books, in other news, the Esoteric Book Conference has digitized lectures from its recent annual events. Hear directly from Brian Cotnoir, Trevor McKeown, Paul Hardacre, Pam Grossman, and many more. Click here.

And there’s a new EBC lapel pin:

Not actual size.

Monday, January 12, 2015

‘The Quarry Project, Part II’


Exciting news from Bro. Jim Dillman, President of The Masonic Society:

The Masonic Society, the Masonic Library and Museum Association, and the Masonic Information Center are pleased to announce that Phase II of The Quarry Project will be held September 18-20 in Indianapolis. The conference will be held in a downtown hotel to be determined within a few weeks.

The Quarry Project is a continuing effort to promote Masonic research and preservation by providing instruction and guidance to Masonic writers, researchers, and editors both within and without the fraternity, and also to Masonic librarians and museum curators on the display, preservation, and cataloging of Masonic archives. Phase II will feature a third track on Masonic public relations sponsored by the Masonic Information Center, an arm of the Masonic Service Association of North America.

The format for Phase II will remain basically the same with a few tweaks based on feedback from Phase I attendees. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will begin with a general session featuring a keynote speaker. Attendees will then break out to the instructional sessions of their choice on Friday and Saturday with both days adjourning at approximately 5 p.m. Lunch on Friday and Saturday will be included in the registration fee. A banquet will be held on Saturday evening. Sunday will feature a roundtable discussion immediately after the morning keynote address and the conference will adjourn by noon.

We invite anyone, Freemason or not, with an interest in these topics to attend the conference. The programs are currently being developed and will be made available as soon as they are complete. Further information will be released as it becomes available. Registration will begin March 1.

In conjunction with The Quarry Project, The Masonic Library and Museum Association will hold its annual meeting prior to this event on Thursday, September 17. Please contact the MLMA for further details on that meeting.