Thursday, October 8, 2015

‘Freemasonry: The World’s First Global Social Network’

As reported here yesterday, Bro. Richard Berman, the 2016 Prestonian Lecturer, will chair a session titled “Freemasonry: The World’s First Global Social Network” at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta in January, and will present a paper then also. The meeting will run from January 7 through 10, and this period on Freemasonry is scheduled for January 8, from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

To attend, register here.

From the publicity:

In the 1700s, Masonic lodges and Freemasons could be found from the East Indies to the West Indies, to Indian country of the North American frontier, all across Europe, and throughout the farthest flung colonial possessions of the British, French, and Dutch empires. By the end of the century it had become an important organizing tool and intellectual force in the African Atlantic diaspora as well.

Freemasonry was an emergent, self-created social movement of the 18th century Enlightenment that boasted its own faux history, republican ideology, international diplomacy, meta-economy, and extensive organizational structures. Within a few decades of the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 there were Masonic lodges and grand lodges throughout the Americas, the Caribbean, India and in some parts of Africa. Ideologically and socially, Freemasonry connected men across political, ethnic, racial, religious, and class borders. It served as a vital fraternal link in the lives of Atlantic seafarers, soldiers, planters, and craftsmen, and formed a vast network of overlapping networks that greatly impacted social and commercial relations both within and between far-flung communities in every corner of the globe where European culture had penetrated.

This panel will seek to explore the role of Freemasonry as an international phenomenon, elucidating the nature and implications of the overlapping social, commercial, and intellectual networks created by Freemasons, white and black, on both sides of the Atlantic.

The presenters:

Hans Schwartz
Clark University

Navigating the Republic of Masonry:
Print Culture in Masonic Communication
and Connection
in the 18th Century Atlantic and Beyond

Within a few decades of the foundation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, the Masonic fraternity could be found from the East to the West Indies to American Indian country and was a major social movement of the Enlightenment throughout Europe and the European colonial world. In a speech before Paris’ Lodge of Nine Muses, Benjamin Franklin referred to this international brotherhood as “The Republic of Masonry.” One of the most fascinating and little understood elements of Freemasonry’s successful spread is the manner in which Masons, often merchants or sea captains, were able to arrive in ports of call from Batavia to Boston and beyond and easily locate the meetings of this “secret” society. This investigation demonstrates how various types of print culture were created or adapted to the purposes of Masonic. Specifically, this presentation will focus on Masonic almanacs and lists of lodges printed and distributed by Grand Lodges in Europe and reprinted in a wide variety of pamphlets and books; the use of colonial newspapers, particularly in Boston, the most prominent hub of British Masonry in the Americas to circulate Masonic news and contact information; and the highly detailed Tableaux of the French Caribbean Masonic network centered in Saint Domingue. This will include the use of print culture in the early republic to promote black Freemasonry emanating from Boston. All of these sources were circulated, exchanged, and reprinted in a manner that linked the widespread Masonic networks of Bostonian merchants, French Creole planters, and European seafarers.

Richard Berman
Oxford Brookes University

Ancients or Moderns?
Reflections on the Genesis
of American Freemasonry

American Freemasonry was created in the mould of the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster, later the Grand Lodge of England, and initially reflected the pro-establishment mores of its founders, providing its affluent upper middling members with an exclusive blend of “ancient” ritual, fraternal association and drinking and dining. But from the late 1750s and 1760s, the organization split, a division not based more on social differences than political differences: loyalist against patriot.

Dr. Richard Berman
Dr. Berman’s paper traces the debt American fraternalism owes to the more egalitarian and inclusive Irish form of Freemasonry, pushed not only by the Grand Lodge of Ireland but by the more aggressive Antients Grand Lodge, formed in London in 1751 and shaped by London’s Irish diaspora, especially Laurence Dermott, its pioneering and long-serving Grand Secretary and later Deputy Grand Master.

Antients Freemasonry became a locus for the aspirational lower middling rather than the incumbent social and political elites, and developed a powerful social and economic function, providing mutual financial assistance and an accessible social infrastructure for those seeking self-betterment. It extended formal sociability beyond the elites to create one of the first modern friendly societies and, in an American context, took over the mantle of revolutionary Enlightenment politics in the upswing to the War of Independence.

Eoghan Craig

Caliban and the Widow’s Sons:
Some Aspects of the Intersections and Interactions
between Freemasonry
and Afro-Caribbean Religious Praxis

After Freemasonry spread across Europe in the 18th century, it was inevitable that its influence should reach the Caribbean. Masonic lodges were founded in France’s colony of Saint Domingue as early as 1738. It was not long before men of African descent entered the fraternity. Some of these men went on to hold leadership positions in the Haitian Revolution. It was inevitable, given the wide distribution of African inspired religious practice in the Caribbean, that Freemasonry would interact with African religions. Elements of Masonic symbolism reflect back from the graphic systems employed in Haitian Vodou and Afro-Cuban Palo, a religion of Congo origin. Hand gestures and ritual movements in the Asson tradition of Haitian Vodou have been credited with Masonic influence, and significant elements clearly identifiable as being of Masonic origin, comprise parts of the intiation rituals of Quimbisa, a religion of Central African origin in Cuba. Such exchanges do not reflect a single direction. Recently a Grand Commander General was appointed to the Scottish Rite for Cuba, who is a practicing member of the Abakuá, a tradition originating in the Cross River area of Nigeria, and also one of the founding Babalawo’s of Cuba’s internationally recognized Yoruba annual divination committee, which is viewed as religious guidance on three continents. In Haiti, a Masonic Rite was founded which invokes certain Lwa or spirits of Haitian Vodou, which are recognized throughout the international community of Vodou religious praxis as Masonic spirits. One of Vodou’s most iconographic spirits, Baron Samedi, the lord over the dead, unmistakably combines Masonic regalia with the iconic skull used in the initiatic Chamber of Reflection. Even in Brazil, the temples of Umbanda, a modern Afro-Brazilian faith, are replete with Masonic elements, and it is not uncommon for Freemasons in Brazil to also be initiates in Umbanda.

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