Sunday, May 29, 2016

‘From the clay grounds between Succoth and Zeredatha?’

I’m always happy to turn the discussion to pipe smoking. Part of the unsung work inherent in being the Magpie Mason is assisting archaeologists identify clay pipes from centuries ago that they unearth in their digs by decoding the Masonic symbols displayed on the clay. It’s not that this happens every day, but it’s often enough that I would remark on it.

Click to enlarge.

Clay itself figures prominently in Masonic symbolism. In the First Degree rituals in many (most?) lodges in the United States, clay—formerly called “earthen pan”—is grouped with chalk and charcoal as symbolic of the Entered Apprentice’s qualifications. Chalk is said to be the freest of substances, thanks to the ease with which it can leave a trace. Charcoal is dubbed the most fervent, because when ignited the most obdurate metals will yield. And clay is called the most zealous because it is constantly employed in man’s service, and also ever reminds us that from it we all came, and to it we must all return.

Clay also is discussed ritually in lodge when it is explained to the Apprentice how GMHA fabricated sacred vessels for the Temple, as well as the two pillars in the porch.

Because of the mouth-to-ear transmission of ritual from one Mason to another that prevailed for generations before the introduction of official ritual ciphers, errors and anomalies made their way into the work. If I remember correctly, the ritual in New Jersey requires that “clay” be misspoken, with a superfluous second syllable, as “clay-ay.” Thus, the line is delivered: “From the clay-ay grounds between Succoth and Zeredatha.” (Taken from 1 Kings 7: “In the plain of the Jordan did the king cast them, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zarethan.” The Zeredatha vs. Zarethan thing is a whole other story.)

Anyway, this is about pipe smoking. Clay pipes were the ubiquitous standard for several centuries before French villagers discovered the superiority of briar, and began making pipes of that lightweight but durable wood. We’ve all seen the woodcuts and paintings from the Netherlands, England, and elsewhere depicting people of all ages smoking their luxurious tobacco leaves in clay pipes of various lengths. The churchwarden had a length of 16 to 18 inches, ideal for sparing your fingers the dangerous heat of the bowl. Other pipes measured a more convenient seven or so inches. Communal pipes made available in public houses started out at about 18 inches, but had a short section of the stem amputated to afford the next user a relatively clean section to put into his mouth.

So the clay pipe artifacts brought to my attention in this case are shown here. This pipe bowl was found in St. Mary’s Church in Mold in North Wales during renovations. (Photos courtesy M. Jones.)

We can discern most of the Masonic symbolism, but between the condition of the pipe piece, and the quality of the photos, and the artistic license taken in the design, some of the designs leave one guessing.

Click to enlarge.
Here we’re looking at the pipe’s bowl from the rear. The stem is broken and gone, but we understand this is the view of the pipe the smoker would see while puffing away on his New World tobacco. No question about the compasses at top. Perhaps that is meant to be a square at bottom, or a second compass, the two tools forming a frame inside of which is the radiant sun.

Click to enlarge.

On this side is shown three towers, a trio very commonly seen in English and Scottish (and maybe other) Masonic crests. No doubt about the square below the castles. Below that, however, are a few items I cannot decipher.

Click to enlarge.

On this side we have the crescent moon with Pleiades at the top. A very common pairing seen on tracing boards and other art. Below them is what I’ll say is a level. Below that is something I cannot guess at.

On the front of the bowl (seen only in that group photo above) is something from the vegetable world. Not tobacco leaf, but what seems to me to be a sheaf of wheat.

And finally, here is a photo that depicts a similar clay pipe, shown on a page of Les Francs-Macons et la Mer de la Loge au Quai, published last year to accompany an exhibit at the Grand Orient of France’s museum, in which the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library provided some assistance.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

‘Chemical Wedding: The first book of science fiction?’

On Monday, The Guardian published a story on the The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz, one of the three Rosicrucian manifestos published four centuries ago, thanks to the pending publication of a new version of the story. At issue is whether the original, penned by Johann Valentin Andreae, is the first sci-fi novel ever published, as contended by the writer who is producing the new edition. The following is copyright © 2016 The Guardian.

Work from 1616 is
‘the first ever science fiction novel’

A fantastical story of Rosicrucianism
by Johann Valentin Andreae pioneered the genre,
says author who has written a new version

A 400-year-old story about a man who journeys to a mysterious royal wedding is “the first science fiction novel,” long predating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and other, later writers considered pioneers, according to the award-winning writer John Crowley. In his opinion, the genre starts with Johann Valentin Andreae’s 1616 work The Chemical Wedding, a new version of which he is publishing in November.

Andreae’s story opens as a winged woman, “so bright and beautiful, in a sky-colored robe,” invites Christian Rosencreutz—the real-life founder of the philosophical secret society of Rosicrucianism—to a “Royal Wedding.”

“If God Himself decree it, Then you must to the mountain wend Where three stately temples stand. From there you’ll know Which way to go. Be wise, take care, Wash well, look fair, Or else the Wedding cannot save you,” says a letter which sends Christian on a seven-day journey to serve the Bridegroom and the Bride, in Crowley’s new version of the text.

The book was published in Germany in 1616 as if it were the work of Rosencreutz, and was part of the widespread excitement over Rosicrucianism. Andreae later admitted he was the author. Crowley, winner of a world fantasy award for lifetime achievement, has written a new version of the story, drawing from extant English translations and working with a German scholar. His is the first new version of the story in at least 25 years, according to publisher Small Beer Press, which will release a paperback version in November illustrated by Theo Fadel. Crowley first discovered it in the writings of Frances Yates, who thought it was a political allegory—something Crowley disagrees with.

“It’s not a tract, and I actually don’t think it’s an allegory. I think it’s a ‘Thrilling Wonder Tale,’ taking the most extreme possibilities of the alchemy of the day and deploying them in a story as though they are actual happenings,” Crowley said. “Science fiction works the same way—[to] take the farthest-out science possibilities and embody them in stories.
“When Andreae confessed late in life to writing it he called it a ‘ludibrium’—a Latin word that can mean a joke, a skit, a jeux d’esprit or a hoax. I don’t think he was trying to disown it, but he certainly didn’t seem to want it taken with full seriousness. And it’s the fun, the outlandish incident, the surprises, and the wonderful main character—Christian Rosenkreutz, an old self-doubting, curious, kindly, horny guy—all that’s what I wanted to bring to new readers.”

Published in 1616, The Chemical Wedding predates Johannes Kepler’s novel Somnium, which was written in 1608 but not published until 1634 and “which usually gets the nod” as the first science fiction story. But as Crowley writes in his introduction to The Chemical Wedding, Somnium “is more of an illustrated example or thought-experiment than a real story,” and while “the astronomy underlying it is new … it doesn’t carry the thrill of wild but just-around-the-corner possibilities that SF ought to.”

He says that the science of The Chemical Wedding “is late Renaissance alchemy, which had the same fascination for readers of the time as the scientific possibilities of classic SF did in its last-century heyday.” Crowley admits that “alchemy is not science if by science we mean only what is now included in that accretion of tested knowledge that still holds up as true even if primitive or inadequate.” Nonetheless, he argues, “alchemy is science … in the sense that it had a general picture of the material world and a rational scheme for formulating hypotheses and proceeding with investigations of it.”

“So that’s why The Chemical Wedding is the first science fiction novel: unlike other contenders, it’s fiction; it’s about the possibilities of a science; and it’s a novel, a marvelous adventure rather than simply a parable or an allegory or a skit or a thought experiment,” writes the author, adding that “like SF, it probably appealed to a self-selected readership of geeks and enthusiasts.”

Experts in the field were delighted at the news of the book’s reissue, but are not entirely convinced by Crowley’s claim. “If the modern novel as such is 17th century and is a ‘thing,’ then it cannot qualify as the first SF novel. If, on the other hand, any lengthy tale is a novel, surely Utopia [published in 1516] is the first SF novel,” said Professor Farah Mendlesohn, a science fiction academic. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating.”

“There are lots of 16th-century utopias and dystopias, which I’d say have a better claim to being SF than Chemical Wedding. Thomas More’s Utopia was first published in 1516 after all,” said Adam Roberts, professor at Royal Holloway and science fiction novelist. “Alchemy isn’t science, it’s magic: so it’s a stretch to call it ‘science fiction.’ Nor is this the first ‘alchemical novel’ and it certainly isn’t the first magical story. There are plenty of alchemical and magical romances throughout the medieval period and further back.”

“There is a qualitative difference between stories of magic, which go back through medieval romance to Beowulf and the Odyssey, and stories that extrapolate from the new discourses of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, which we call ‘science’ The Chemical Wedding doesn’t extrapolate anything; it’s a Biblical allegory and magical fable.”

SF author John Clute’s entry for Andreae in The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction notes Crowley’s argument, adding that “in terms of its complex narrative register, the tale might also be described as a ludic fiction for its combination of burlesque, satire and deadpan elevatedness.”

“In the Science Fiction Encyclopedia we use the term ‘proto SF’ for most texts before Mary Shelley, and even some after,” said Clute. “Working out the first SF novel is not easy, a bit like looking for the source of the Nile in an alternate world where there is no Lake Victoria to discover.”

‘Hermetic Rite, Fratres Lucis, Fiery Heart, and more’

I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you’re a thinking Mason but not yet a member of the Grand College of Rites, then you leave me skippin’ and jumpin’ like a needle on the hi-fi. The primary benefit of membership—well, maybe it’s second after improved posture and clear skin—is receipt of the annual volume of Collectanea, which transports you to another world through the portal of a retired, unknown work of Masonic (or other) ritual. The initiatory thinking of generations past springs to life for your profit, giving you a seat on the sidelines to learn not just the unique lessons of a particular rite or order, but also to enjoy the often beautifully crafted language of the rituals.

But if you’re a regular Magpie reader, you know that already. I’m writing today simply to forward the message sent this afternoon by our Grand Registrar, R.I. Gerald Klein, who announces the new availability of four Collectanea reprints. Here’s what he says:

We are very proud to announce that four volumes of Collectanea have been reprinted for our members.

Courtesy Grand College of Rites
1972 - The Royal Oriental Order of Sat BHai

1º Mute
2º Auditor
3º Scribe
4º Herald
5º Minister
6º Courier
Ceremony of Installing an Arch Censor

1961 - Le Coeur Enflamme

Le Coeur Enflame (The Fiery Heart)

Courtesy Grand College of Rites 
1978 - Fratres Lucis

1º Knight Novice of the Third Year
2º Knight Novice of the Fifth Year
3º Knight Novice of the Seventh Year
4º Knight Levite
5º Knight Priest

1957 - The Hermetic Rite 

3º Knight of the Black Eagle, or Rose Croix
4º Chevalier of the Sun—Prince Adept, the Key to Masonry
Courtesy Grand College of Rites
5º Knight of the Phoenix
6º Sublime Philosopher—Chevalier Rose-Croix
7º Chevalier of the Rainbow
8º True Mason
9º Chevalier of the Argonauts
10º Chevalier of the Golden Fleece

These are being made available to our dues-paying members for the first time in many years. Supplies are limited. Please take advantage of this opportunity. Use the order form you recently received with your 2015 volume. If you do not have an order form, please e-mail the Grand Register here.

Gerald Klein, KGC
Grand Registrar

Saturday, May 21, 2016

‘The Mystery’

The Mystery

I was not; now I am—a few days hence
I shall not be; I fain would look before
And after, but can neither do; some Power
Or lack of power says “no” to all I would.
I stand upon a wide and sunless plain,
Nor chart nor steel to guide my steps aright.
Whene’er, o’ercoming fear, I dare to move,
I grope without direction and by chance.
Some feign to hear a voice and feel a hand
That draws them ever upward thro’ the gloom.
But I—I hear no voice and touch no hand,
Tho’ oft thro’ silence infinite I list,
And strain my hearing to supernal sounds;
Tho’ oft thro’ fateful darkness do I reach,
And stretch my hand to find that other hand.
I question of th’ eternal bending skies
That seem to neighbor with the novice earth;
But they roll on, and daily shut their eyes
On me, as I one day shall do on them,
And tell me not the secret that I ask.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar
I did not know Dunbar (1872-1906) was a Freemason when I decided to share his poem here, but Bro. Google reflects light in all directions, and it turns out not only was Dunbar a brother, but there’s a remarkable story about his initiation and his lodge. In Along this Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson (1933), the author writes of the time he and Dunbar were made Masons. Excerpted:

Paul returned to his home in Washington early in the spring. He always spoke of his stay in Jacksonville in high terms. Before he left, the Negro Masons decided to organize a lodge of young men, and in honor of Paul, name it the Paul Laurence Dunbar Lodge. The lodge was organized, and Paul and twenty-five or thirty more of us were one night initiated and carried through the first three degrees of Masonry. The Negro Masons of that day in Jacksonville were a horny-handed set. The Odd Fellows lodges were made up of white collar workers, but the Masonic lodges were recruited largely from the stevedores, hod carriers, lumber mill and brickyard hands, and the like. The initiation was rough, and lasted all night. One of our young friends was lame for a number of weeks on account of a fall to the floor while being tossed in a blanket. I was made Worthy Master of the lodge, but it did not take me long to see that being a good Mason demanded more time than I should be willing to devote to it. The first time that I had to “turn out” with the lodge, arrayed in regalia, settled the question definitely.

Imagine being initiated, passed, and raised in a single night, and having a lodge named in your honor! That is Paul Laurence Dunbar Lodge 219 under the MW Union Grand Lodge in Jacksonville, Florida. Another lodge named for Dunbar is found in Brockton, Massachusetts.

Google also shows how Dunbar’s poetry was included in several publications of several mainstream grand lodges. In the January 1916 edition of the Grand Lodge of Iowa’s Quarterly Bulletin, an all-around delight to read, we see the last stanza of his “The Poet and His Song”:

Sometimes the sun, unkindly hot,
My garden makes a desert spot,
Sometimes a blight upon the tree
Takes all my fruit away from me;
And then with throes of bitter pain
Rebellious passions rise and swell;
And so I sing and all is well.

Amid the Report on Foreign Correspondence in the pages of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska’s proceedings for 1922, there is a report from the Grand Lodge of New Mexico that makes the point of specifically recording how its grand master “quotes Paul Lawrence [sic] Dunbar’s lines, on ‘The Lord Had a Job for Me.’” But it seems the actual title of that poem is “Too Busy.” This is found in the anthology titled The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar edited by Joanne M. Braxton (1993).

Ever on the lookout for pipe poetry, I can’t resist concluding this edition of The Magpie Mason with Dunbar’s “A Companion’s Progress,” also found in the Braxton book, which puts its first publication at August 21, 1901 in a periodical called St. James Gazette.

My stock has gone down and my tailor has sent
To request that I settle my bill;
My landlady asks with a frown for her rent,
And there isn’t a cent in the till.
The governor storms and my mother’s in tears;
There’s a coldness betwixt me and Nell,
But I’m utterly dead to regrets and to fears,
For my meerschaum is colouring well.

At first I had fears of what looked like a crack,
And my breath came in gasps of alarm,
But oh, how the joy of my heart flooded back
When I found that ’twas nothing to harm.
And so ever since I have nursed it with care,
With thrills that my heart cannot quell,
And I’ve bored all my friends to relate the affair
That my meerschaum is colouring well.

Magpie file photo

A meerschaum pipe I saw at the New York Pipe Show in 2014. It was colored artificially, but true meerschaum pipe lovers prefer to turn the white mineral into progressively darker hues of brown by patiently and personally smoking the pipe over a long period of time. It is a delicate substance, ergo the poets fear of cracks.

Gotta share this one with my pipe club on Facebook.

Friday, May 20, 2016

‘Book your MRF reservations now’

I won’t be able to make it this year, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t attend the Masonic Restoration Foundation’s symposium this August in North Carolina. A letter from MRF President Andrew Hammer yesterday advises against procrastination in registering for the weekend of events, and I share it here in the hope of nudging some of those who need to learn about the Observant model of Masonic lodge off the fence. I had the pleasure of attending the previous two symposia (even presenting a talk last year in Philadelphia), and I highly recommend the experience if you are committed to, or even just curious about, the Observant movement, which I believe advances the most beneficial suite of lodge practices today.

Now, I just have to persuade the MRF to come to New York City.

Anyway, here is Andrew’s note to those who attended last summer:


That time of year is here again. The Masonic Restoration Foundation will be having its Seventh Annual Symposium in Asheville, North Carolina from August 19-21, and I wanted to send out a special message reminding you to register early if you would like to attend. Please take note of the following points:

This year the registration is capped at 200, with a limit of 137 on the Harmony/Festive Board on Friday night.

Full registration is proceeding at twice the speed of last year, so early registration is the best way to guarantee your place at the event.

The Harmony on Friday night is now halfway booked, three months out from the event.

Asheville, North Carolina is one of the prime tourist destinations in the South. We have secured a block of rooms at the Sheraton nearest the Temple. Don’t procrastinate in making your arrangements.

To find out everything you need to know about the Seventh Annual MRF Symposium, go here.


Andrew Hammer
President, Masonic Restoration Foundation

Friday, May 13, 2016

‘A Way of Life’

An update on some Grand Lodge news from last week and this week.

Courtesy Frank Gaskill
Jeffrey Williamson was elected and installed Grand Master of Masons
in the State of New York at Masonic Hall in Manhattan May 3.

Courtesy Frank Gaskill
Past Grand Master Bill Thomas and wife Susan Taylor Thomas
unveil his portrait at Masonic Hall.

Courtesy Jason Sheridan
Every Grand Master commissions a lapel pin to herald his term in office,
and MW Williamson will distribute these at St. John’s Weekend in Utica next month.

The Grand Master of Cuba visited the Grand Lodge of New York. (Grand Master Thomas had visited the Grand Lodge of Cuba late last year.) From left: Bill Thomas, Past Grand Master of New York; Lazaro F. Cuesta Valdes, Grand Master of Cuba; Jeffrey Williamson, Grand Master of New York; and Vincent Libone, Past Grand Master of New York.

Click to enlarge.
In consideration of the Tennessee and Georgia situations.

Friday, May 6, 2016

‘Admit him if properly clothed’

Just for fun, for a cause, and in time for summer, a sought after T-shirt displaying the names of all Masonic lodges constituent to the Grand Lodge of New York is available for sale via eBay. Proceeds to benefit West Point Lodge’s renovation efforts. Click here. From the auction description:

Courtesy West Point Lodge 877

Created by one of your fellow Brothers, this comfortable T-shirt is a great conversation starter, and it allows you to proudly display, and share in style, your fraternal ties with every Brother in the great state of New York.

Front of shirt: depicts an outline of New York State, overlaid with the words “New York Freemasons,” as well as the encoded message “2 B 1 ASK 1,” and the Master Mason’s Square and Compasses subtly concealed within. Note the intentional use of color to draw the viewer’s attention to the words “NEW MASONS,” communicating the revival of fraternal bonds that we, the modern Brotherhood of New York Free & Accepted Masons, share. Brothers wearing this T-shirt communicate to everyone “We are the future of our craft.”

Courtesy West Point Lodge 877

Back of shirt: is an all inclusive word-art mosaic containing the names of every district and every lodge under the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. The mosaic depicts the Master Mason’s Square and Compasses, and it is framed in a gold border with the words “Aude Vide Tace,” meaning hear, see, be silent.

Courtesy West Point Lodge 877

Shirt specifications:

  • soft, 65/35 cotton poly blend using 4.5 oz, 100% preshrunk ringspun cotton for comfort.
  • navy blue in color.
  • gold and white graphic design on both front and back applied using a modern, lightweight direct-to-screen method.
  • ¾-inch rib knit collar.
  • double needle stitched sleeves and bottom hem.
  • taped neck and shoulders.
  • available Sizes: S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL

Produced by the brothers of West Point Lodge 877 in Highland Falls, New York, this T-shirt is a fundraising endeavor to support the restoration of the lodge building. All proceeds from the sale of these shirts will go to the Building Fund.

Price of each shirt includes shipping and handling within the United States.

Monday, May 2, 2016

‘Grand Lodge 6016’


Just wishing everyone all the best at Grand Lodge today and tomorrow: sagacity in decision-making; fraternal regard in elections; and, ah, temperance during the hours of refreshment!

Wish I could be with you.

‘Anthroposophy to host Chekhovek this weekend’

Anthroposophy NYC will host two evenings of theater based on the short stories of Anton Chekhov this weekend. From the publicity:

Presented by Michael Chekhov Acting Studio
Friday, May 6
Saturday, May 7
7:30 p.m.
Anthroposophy NYC
138 W. 15th Street in Manhattan
Donations welcome

The Studio’s 2016 Art of the Actor students present Chekhovek, a comedy about desire, death, and foolishness based on short stories by Anton Chekhov, written by Melania Levitsky and directed by Lenard Petit. These two intimate performances are for friends of Anthroposophy NYC and The Michael Chekhov Acting Studio. They mark the end of a 20-week training in the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique led by teachers Lenard Petit, Bethany Caputo, Dawn Arnold, Mel Shrawder, James Luse, Akil Davis, Natalie Yalon, and Scott Miller.

Melania Levitsky
Melania Levitsky: (Writer), Associate Artistic Director, Walking the Dog theater; member, The Actors’ Ensemble; guest faculty of the Studio. She has taught workshops across the United States, Europe, and South Africa.

Her one-woman show Blue Arches, commissioned by Sunbridge College, has been produced numerous times in the States and abroad.

Lenard Petit
Lenard Petit: (Director), Artistic Director, The Michael Chekhov Acting Studio, is one of a handful of teachers trained by the original members of Michael Chekhov’s Theater School.

He has taught Master classes at the Moscow Art Theater, the Munich International School for Film and TV, Helsinki University, and workshops across Europe.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

‘Gurdjieff at St. Mark’s in the Bowery’

The Gurdjieff Foundation of New York will host an introductory discussion on the theme “Living the Gurdjieff Teaching: A Search in Contemporary Life” later this month.

That will be Saturday, May 21 at 3 p.m. in the Parish Hall of St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery (131 East 10th Street) in Manhattan. The afternoon will include practical exercises in attention.

For reservations (recommended) or further information, send an e-mail here.