Monday, December 30, 2019

‘Landmark Freemasons teaser is posted’

The pilot episode of a YouTube show titled Landmark Freemasons, that will explore Elias Ashmole the Freemason, is coming, and a teaser of about a minute in length has been posted. Looks like episode one will address Ashmoles personal Bible, owned in more recent centuries by the local lodge.

And heres a look at the introduction:

Cant wait to see more!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

‘A Masonic side of the Priestly Blessing’

At the communication last Saturday of New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education 1786, Bro. Howard brought up, during a miscellanea part of the meeting, what he described as a Masonic understanding of the Priestly Blessing from the Book of Numbers.

The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.

Detail from Resurrection of Lazarus by Marc Chagall, 1910.
Chagall was a Freemason of the Grand Orient of France.

He began by describing it is a prayer that can benefit people of any faith, and not only Jews. Then he explained, how in Hebrew, it is delivered in a trio of phrases, first of three syllables, then of five syllables, and then of seven syllables.

In conclusion, he said this sentence structure is the basis for a certain aspect of the lecture of the Second Degree.

As we are into the first hours of Hanukkah, I extend my sincere wishes for a safe and happy time for all who celebrate!

‘A beacon within the crush and hub of NYC life’

The Anthroposophical Society of New York City will resume a full schedule of activities spanning the twelve Holy Nights of Christmas. Unfortunately, there seems to be no information on the individual events, but there will be something to do nightly between Tuesday the 24th and Sunday, January 5. From the publicity:

The twelve Holy Nights of Christmas are symbols for the twelve forces of the soul that live in us. On these darkest nights of the year, we are closest to the Sun’s Spirit. We are invited to contemplate and reflect on the past year, and to envision the coming year.

Anthroposophy NYC adopted Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhône (1888) to help communicate its Holy Nights messages. (Not to be confused with his The Starry Night, 1889.)

For the Holy Nights this year, we have selected a series of contemplations inspired by indications given by Rudolf Steiner to Herbert Hahn, who met Steiner in 1919, and became a class teacher at the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart, where Steiner also asked him to give “free religious lessons” to the children.

Each evening, along with our traditional annual Holy Nights activities of candle lighting, tree adorning with roses, and Eurythmy, we will read together each short contemplation for that day and share thoughts about it. Each discussion will be facilitated by a member of Anthroposophy NYC. Our goal is to experience with others in these contemplations the deep spiritual significance of this special time in the year.

As we approach the dark night of winter and the Holy Nights, which celebrate the birth of a new Light into that darkness, we can also bring confidence and hope for a new light that is awakening in the seeming societal darkness of our times. Truly, programs and policies alone will not be the solution, but rather the conscious awakening of the light of truth and a renewed sense of brotherly and sisterly love for all humans. Of all the works offered by Rudolf Steiner, his central call is to our awakening to this spiritual light that has entered the world and to the practice of love for all of creation as we realize our full humanity.

This is the core work of Anthroposophy NYC—to offer tools for this path toward truth and love—through the work of Rudolf Steiner. Our goal is to be a beacon within the crush and hub of New York City life, where humanity expresses its struggles and triumphs most vividly in all its diversity. There are many seekers of spiritual truth in this city. We aim to be a home for their seeking.

May these very potent days of Christmas be full of meaning and inner light for your path.

All are welcome to all gatherings.

Anthroposophy NYC is located at 138 West 15th Street, between Sixth and Seventh. Make sure you visit the bookstore when you visit!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

‘National Grotto Day 2020’

I know what some of you are thinking: “The Grotto?!

Yeah, that’s right, the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm.

There should be local places where the purely convivial and even frivolous impulses in Freemasonry can be exhibited, and a Grotto offers the best venue.

After 22 years in Freemasonry, I have come to see that the Masonic family tree needs a robust pruning. There are too many groups—and most of them are relics from the 19th century—that serve little, if any, purpose today, other than to strain the capabilities of the guys who keep all these groups afloat. I don’t want to offend, so I won’t name names, but when I’m grand master of the world, there will be:

  • the Craft lodge, for philosophical Freemasonry;
  • the Royal Arch Chapter, for spiritual Freemasonry;
  • the research lodge* or similar venue, for additional intellectual work; and
  • the Grotto for the social, charitable, and funny stuff.

Courtesy Duluth Masonic Center
The Grotto for raucous dinners, cigar nights, beer/wine/liquor tastings, ladies nights, trips to see concerts/plays, etc. Let’s free the lodge from the off-topic and extracurricular, like the softball games against the Elks, and the all kinds of parties, and that stuff. As the social media meme says (I paraphrase): “George Washington didn’t join for that crap!” Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Anyway, the Empire State Grotto Association announces that National Grotto Day 2020 will be observed Saturday, March 21! I don’t know what that will entail yet, but it’s on my calendar. If you want to join the most laid back fraternity in Freemasonry, that would be a great day for it, so I’ll keep you posted when the details are made available. You’ll look good in a fez! (Well, maybe not you, but you guys generally.)

*I am mentally drafting a future edition of The Magpie Mason that will explain why there is a superior alternative to the Masonic lodge of research and education.

‘Congratulations to QUEST for 40 years!’

While my own understanding of what comprises Masonic education differs, I have to congratulate the organizers of Queens United Education Seminar Today on reaching their 40th anniversary. QUEST XL will take place next March. This flier says it all:

Click to enlarge.

‘New website at the MLMA’


It looks like some modernizing changes are afoot at the Masonic Library and Museum Association, including a new website. Click here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

‘All You Can Hold for 150 Bucks.’

They’re back in business! Historic Mariners Lodge 67 will host its legendary Beefsteak Banquet again next month after an interminable absence of, I think, a year. Don’t disappoint yourself by missing out. Tickets are on sale now.

Courtesy Mariners 67
This is not a colorized photo from the 19th century.
This is the real deal: the Mariners Beefsteak Banquet.

(The title of this edition of The Magpie Mason is borrowed from the great Joseph Mitchell’s piece in The New Yorker from 80 years ago in which he traces the history and describes the heavenly joys of the New York beefsteak dinner. Click here, but do as I did decades ago as an optimistic journalism student (ha!) and get a copy of his anthology Up in the Old Hotel, which also includes his “McSorley’s” story. “All You Can Hold for Five Bucks” and others even mention a few Freemasons. Buy yours today!)

From the publicity:

Mariners Lodge 67
Maritime Festive Board
and Beefsteak Banquet
Saturday, January 25, 2020
Masonic Hall, Grand Lodge Room
71 West 23rd Street, Manhattan
Tickets here

A Uniquely New York,
Old-School Masonic Event
Seating Begins at 6:30
Opening Gavel at 7:30
Dress is Tuxedo (preferred)
or Business Formal

All Attendees Receive
a Butcher's Apron
to Wear and Take Home

Prepaid Reservations
Are Required to Attend
Reserve and pay online here

Five Course Menu

First Course
Iced Shrimp
The Ancient Mariner’s Cured Salmon
House Pickles

Second Course
House-Smoked Brisket Pastrami with Rye Toast
Roast Pork with Rolls
Tomato-Braised Lamb Meatballs

Third Course
Memphis-Style Dry-Rubbed Pork Ribs
72-Hour Braised Beef Short Ribs
Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing

Fourth Course
Strip Steak
Lamb Chops
Roasted Potato Wedges

Fifth Course
Assorted Dessert Platters

The Festive Board is a feature of the Masonry that extends back to our very beginnings. Operative stonemasons’ lodges would gather upon important occasions around tables laden with food and drink to celebrate in fellowship with the tangible fruits of their labor. Most common were feasts on St. John the Baptist’s Day and St. John the Evangelist’s Day, which were not coincidentally right around the time of the Summer and Winter solstices. These traditions have been part of our Craft ever since. Indeed, one of the reasons given for forming the first Grand Lodge in 1717 was to hold an annual feast.

In the days before Masons had their beautiful purpose-built Masonic temples and lodge rooms, members of the Craft often convened their lodges in taverns and restaurants. The tables were pushed back and Square and Compasses might be scratched out in the sawdust covering the floor while the brethren performed their Masonic work. Before too long the idea arose of taking advantage of what the tavern had to offer, and a practice was born whereby the brethren would take food and drink on a Masonic form and while conducting the work of the lodge.

Over time, various ritual practices of the Festive Board evolved, especially among military officers, who incorporated various elements from their formal dining traditions. These historic rituals and traditions have been resurrected in the modern day, and the Masonic Festive Board with its multiple courses of food, toasts, responses, and giving of “Masonic Fire” has become one of the most popular special events among Masons.

The Mariners Lodge Maritime Festive Board is a unique form of these table ceremonies, which invokes certain early Masonic legends and incorporates elements of historical naval practice and seafaring tradition.

About the Beefsteak Banquet

The Mariners Lodge Maritime Festive Board and Beefsteak Banquet incorporates elements from the rich New York tradition of the Beefsteak Banquet – those famous celebrations of gluttony where men gathered to eat massive amounts of aged steak, lamb chops, shrimp cocktail, pork belly and mini-burgers washed down with bottomless schooners of beer. Forks and knives are strictly prohibited, but you will be provided with a butcher’s apron and plenty of napkins!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

‘Lecture Tuesday: Chamber of Reflection’

Click to enlarge.

The indefatigable RW Bro. Rafael Preza will speak Tuesday night at Pelham Lodge in the Bronx. As you can see, his topic will be the Chamber of Reflection and, while New York Freemasonry has a Chamber of Reflection as part of its initiation rite, I suspect RW Preza will discuss the European-style Chamber of Reflection. I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend, but I’m sure it’ll be a great night, so get there.

‘Upcoming book: Long Island Freemasons’

And speaking of Long Island Freemasons (see post below), another Arcadia Publishing “Images of America” book, titled Long Island Freemasons, is due for release next April.

These books are paperbacks of archival photographs of their subjects. One on New Jersey lodges was published recently, and there are others, like one on the Detroit Temple. (Years ago, I wanted to make one devoted to New York Freemasonry, as a fundraiser for the Livingston Library, but couldn’t get a green light on that from the library trustees.) They typically run 128 pages, but I see this one will span 160 pages.

From the publicity:

Long Island Freemasons
by Ron Seifried
Due April 6, 2020

Courtesy Arcadia Publishing
The first Masonic lodge in what is today Nassau and Suffolk counties was constituted in 1793. For more than 200 years, more than 70 lodges were founded and have flourished in various locations from Amagansett to Great Neck. In this book, some of the secrets of the Masonic fraternity are revealed for the first time. Recovered from dusty lodge attics and closets, this selection of long-forgotten photographs and artifacts gives the readers a brief glimpse of what was taking place behind the closed doors of their local lodge. Long Island was the Masonic home of Theodore Roosevelt of Oyster Bay and, 30 years later, was honored by a visit to the Huntington Masonic lodge by his fifth cousin and fellow Mason Franklin D. Roosevelt. Masons continue to support the community through charitable endeavors, including the Masonic Medical Research Institute, Masonic Safety Identification Programs, Shriners Hospitals, and many others.

Author Ronald J. Seifried was first introduced into Masonry by his mentor in 2003. Elected as master of his lodge, the author is a member of several Masonic concordant bodies, including the Royal Arch, Cryptic Council, and Scottish Rite, and is a recipient of the Dedicated Service Award. As historian and trustee of his home lodge, he is responsible for the conservation and maintenance of the historic lodge building and its artifacts.

‘What are you doing for St. John’s Day?’

How will your lodge celebrate St. John’s Day this time? I hope you’re planning something cool like this:

Suffolk Lodge 60 will host “a traditional English Festive Board or Table Lodge” on the EA° this Thursday.

(Okay, I think they mean Table Lodge. Many Masons think the two terms are synonymous, but they are not. If, for example, a degree is involved in any way, you’re at a Table Lodge, because it’s a lodge.)

Starts at 7 p.m. Menu: roast beef, roasted turkey, potatoes, vegetables, apple pie à la mode, with, of course, powder for the canons. Also a cash bar. The “tariff” for the affair is only $20.

Contact the secretary here to book your seat.

The lodge just marked its 223rd anniversary on December 7. Vivat!

Brethren, don’t forget the tobacco. And don’t forget to sing this:


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

‘Weird Fact Wednesday: Sir Walter Raleigh Lodges!’

It’s time for another Weird Fact Wednesday!

You know that some lodges constituent to the United Grand Lodge of England are “affinity lodges” (once called “class lodges”), meaning how, additionally to the center of union, the members share a commonality of profession, education, hobby, etc., but did you know there have been lodges comprised of Masons in the tobacco business? In a few cases, they adopted Sir Walter Raleigh’s name for their own!

Granted, that’s not statutorily a weird fact. I just like tobacco, and this is my website.

There was Sir Walter Raleigh Lodge 2432 in London. I stumbled across this information last weekend in a book from 1909 titled Sidelights on Freemasonry: Craft and Royal Arch: “We might have thought that the tobacco trade would have found itself at home in any Masonic assembly, but nevertheless they have a Lodge of their own, the Sir Walter Raleigh.”

Click to enlarge.

The January 1, 1896 issue of the trade publication Tobacco reports: “This lodge, which was established in 1892 for the convenience of gentlemen engaged in the tobacco business, held its fifth annual meeting for the installation of a new Worshipful Master on Thursday, the 26th ult., at the Inns of Court Hotel, London.”

The story continues in surprising detail about the installation of officers, presentation of a Past Master jewel, and the “customary loyal and Masonic toasts,” including to the visitors, to the Past Masters, to the Treasurer and Secretary, and to the Officers, before “the Tyler’s toast concluded a most enjoyable evening,” as it should.

This lodge was warranted June 3, 1892 and consecrated on July 28, according to Lane’s Masonic Records. Alack, an internet search a minute ago reveals the sad news that this lodge went dark and was stricken from the rolls by Grand Lodge three years ago. Another victim of the National Health, maybe.

Its meeting place was that aforementioned hotel in Holborn; I do not know if it is the very same location as the Fuller’s pub that goes by the same name today. Lodges in London now, I think, all are centralized inside Freemason’s Hall on Great Queen Street—and, really, who wouldn’t want to meet there?—just as we do at Masonic Hall in Manhattan. I can only wonder what it must have been like generations ago, when lodges were local to neighborhoods throughout those cities.

I suppose that term “tobacco trade” could encompass a number of endeavors including the agriculture of tobacco; import/export; making of pipe mixtures, snuffs, and cigarettes; wholesaling and retailing of the same; advertising; and maybe more. Which brings me to Sir Walter Raleigh Lodge 2837 in Liverpool.

Of course London, essential nexus of so much of what transacts on earth for centuries, would have been central to the commerce of tobacco, and Liverpool—another maritime power—is equally renowned for the tobacco goods it served the world. That city’s tobacciana heyday is long gone—both the Ogden’s factory/headquarters and the gigantic Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse are converted to residential uses—but a century ago, tobacco enjoyers knew Liverpool as a mecca. (St. Bruno and Gold Block pipe tobaccos are still available, but now are made by Mac Baren in Denmark.)

Sir Walter Raleigh Lodge 2837 was warranted November 5, 1900, was consecrated July 12, 1901, but was erased from the rolls of Grand Lodge March 8, 2000 due to “decreased membership,” according to Lane’s.

Volume 40, No. 1663 of The Freemason: The Organ of the Craft, a Weekly Record of Progress in Freemasonry, Literature, Science and Art, from 1901, reports the following:

“With the object of fostering an interest in Freemasonry among those connected with the wholesale tobacco trade in Liverpool, a new lodge was consecrated on the 12th inst. At the Alexandra Hotel, Dale-street, by Bro. the Right Hon. the Earl of Lathom, P.G.W., Prov. Grand Master of West Lancashire. Appropriately enough the title of the lodge is the Sir Walter Raleigh, this bringing the total of the lodges under the rule of the West Lancashire Province up to 127. The consecration ceremony was very numerously attended. The Prov. Grand Master presided, and at his request Bro. the Hon. Reginald B. Wilbraham, P.M. 2682, acted as I.P.M. Bro. J.J. Lambert, P.G.D. Eng., and Bro. P.T. Shann, P.J.G.W., occupied the Senior and Junior Wardens’ chairs respectively; and Bro. G. Harrison, P.P.G. Treas., discharged the duties of I.G.”

The story continues with a list of the eminent brethren who were present, both as founders of the lodge and as visitors. Too many names and titles to transcribe here. And then:

“At the conclusion of the consecration service, the Prov. G. Master proceeded to install Bro. Alderman John Houlding as the first W.M. of the lodge.

“In the course of a few observations subsequently, the W.M. mentioned that the lodge started under very favorable auspices. The founders and officers to be invested had presented the working tools and regalia, and they hoped by the end of the year to be not only out of debt, but in a position to hand something over to those magnificent Charities belonging to the Order.”

And in conclusion:

“At the close of the lodge, the brethren sat down to a banquet, when the usual loyal and Masonic toasts were honoured.

“Lord Lathom, in responding to the toast of ‘The Consecrating Master’ proposed from the chair, said he trusted that the Sir Walter Raleigh Lodge would prosper for many years to come, and that the members would look to their first Master for help and guidance. He also wished every success to the tobacco trade of the city with which, he understood, many members of that new lodge were connected.

“A capital musical programme was contributed by Bros. Geo. Platt, D.L. Davies, Henry Fairfield, H. Bayard Harrock, J. Lane, and C. Jones, and Master Guilbert.

“The collars, jewels, founders’ jewels, &c., were manufactured by Bros. George Kenning and Son.”

That first Worshipful Master of the lodge was a previous Lord Mayor of Liverpool, a Past Provincial Senior Grand Warden of West Lancs, a 33º Freemason, a brewer, a hotelier, and founder of Liverpool Football Club!

Another Sir Walter Raleigh Lodge, this one, No. 2958, is still extant in Devonshire. My query via social media to the Provincial Grand Lodge there about that lodge possibly being related to the tobacco trade yielded a more interesting answer: The legendary Raleigh himself was a Devonshire man! (A brother with St. Johns 328 says Raleigh drank at a pub in Exeter named The Ship.)

This lodge was founded in some commemoration of the 350th anniversary of Raleigh’s birth. (Warranted February 27, 1903 and consecrated April 28.) Its earliest meeting spaces were within Odd Fellows lodges. And the brother from the PGL there sent this photo of a book page:

Click to enlarge.

Brown and Williamson brought the classic pipe mixture named for Raleigh to market in 1927, and it is still available today, although now made by Scandinavian Tobacco Group, which seems to make just about everything in pipe tobaccos these days that Mac Baren does not. It remains a mixture of burley tobaccos from the United States.

One prolific reviewer of pipe tobaccos writes in 2012 how he has smoked Sir Walter Raleigh samples from the past 70+ years, and that the taste is consistent throughout. Higher praise I cannot imagine.

Raise your pipe or cigar or whatever is handy to the memory of Sir Walter Raleigh, who brought tobacco to England, and to all the brethren of these historic Masonic lodges.

EDIT: Bonus Fact—I just (July 2020) learned that Sir Walter Raleigh was Jim Tresner’s choice of pipe tobacco!

Monday, December 9, 2019

‘Rosicrucian symposium on the solstice’


Mark your calendar for Saturday, December 21 at 1 p.m. when the Rosicrucian Order will host a symposium in New York City. From the publicity:

Spend the Winter Solstice with us!

Learn more about the Rosicrucian Tradition as well as other manifestations of the Perennial Philosophy. Topics will include:

  • Spiritual Principles for Enhancing and Healing Relationships
  • The Master Within
  • The Divine Power of Visualization
  • Concept of Property - The Illusion of Ownership

The day will conclude with one of the most important rituals in the Rosicrucian Tradition: The Festival of Light Ceremony!

There is not a cost for the event and we would love it if you could donate a coat (or more!) for our annual coat drive. All coats will be distributed through New York Cares.

The Rosicrucian Cultural Center is located at 2303 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard in New York City.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

‘Caring for Your Masonic Treasures’

Somehow there still is a Masonic Museum and Library in Lexington, and the good people there have revised their old brochure Caring for Your Masonic Treasures, Jeff Croteau recently reported to the Masonic Library and Museum Association. Info includes:

  • The kinds of materials you might encounter in your collection
  • The ideal conditions in which to store your collections
  • The types of storage enclosures (boxes, folders, etc.) to use when storing your collections
  • How to contact and hire a professional conservator to repair damaged documents and books

The guidelines in this booklet will help you feel confident that you are doing what you can to help insure the long-term preservation of your documents, photographs, and books.

There is a PDF for download here, and there is a digital booklet format here.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

‘Winter wisdom classes coming soon’

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Irrefutable words of wisdom, from most likely the only philosopher ever named Ralph! Winter is near, so it must be time for the School of Practical Philosophy’s Emerson Study Group. That’s five classes, on Tuesday evenings, from January into March. From the publicity:

The teaching of Ralph Waldo Emerson is an expression of the highest spiritual knowledge—the philosophy of Unity. Drawing on the wisdom from Plato and the East, Emerson knew from direct experience and observation that Unity is the true reality. He spoke of “one mind common to all” and of “one soul which animates all things.” His writings are both revolutionary and reflective, and can help inspire our work toward self-realization.

Join in an in-depth study of his essential writings. No prior study is required.

School of Practical Philosophy
12 East 79th Street
January 14 and 28
February 11 and 25
March 10, all at 7 p.m.

$75 for any student currently enrolled and attending a Philosophy group in the School of Practical Philosophy.

$150 for others not enrolled who wish to join and attend.

Register here. And hurry.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

‘Back in print (sort of): The Exemplar’

The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania held its quarterly communication yesterday, where the grand master announced the release of an updated version of the classic text The Exemplar: A Guide to a Mason’s Actions. The lamentably long out-of-print book from 1985 by Past Grand Master William Carpenter can be read as a PDF. Click here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

‘Advancing the classical tradition in architecture’

Pellettieri in a demonstration of the art.
This just in:

An operative stone mason will be the guest speaker at a lodge in Brooklyn soon.

Master Carver Chris Pellettieri will present “The Stone Mason Way” at Amos-Fort Greene Lodge 922 on Monday, February 3. This event, part of the lodge’s Community Lecture Series, will be open to Masons, their families and friends, and free of charge too. That’s 8 p.m. Dinner will be served afterward, and reservations are a must. Contact the lodge secretary here.

From the publicity:

Chris Pellettieri was trained as a stone mason at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine apprenticeship program in 1989, an experience that enabled him to understand the relationship between ornament and architecture from a design point of view. He is a Master Carver who continues the stone mason tradition today.

Pellettieri will give a lecture about his journey and the stonemason craft. His presentation will include a demonstration that Speculative Masons hear so much about, but rarely see. Join us and experience the connection of the Operative to Speculative traditions for yourself.

In 2009, Pellettieri was the winner of the Arthur Ross Award in Artisanship from the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. The ICAA and its chapters nationwide honor the achievements of those advancing the classical tradition in architecture and related fields. The Arthur Ross Awards were created to recognize and celebrate excellence in the classical tradition.

Amos-Fort Greene Lodge 922 meets in the Midwood Masonic Temple, located at 1348 East 64th Street in Brooklyn.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

‘Oh Lord, my God, is the rest of this text available?’

Oh Lord, my God, is the rest of this text available?


‘Royal Arch revival?’

How is Royal Arch Masonry faring in your locale? At my chapter, nearly 40 miles from home, things aren’t looking so good. In fact, jurisdiction-wide, it’s bleak generally. There are 18 chapters with an aggregate membership far south of 1,300 and, of that, maybe 20 percent are active in any meaningful capacity. But the real problem cited here and there concerns how those who are active are not getting the work done.

Ergo the crisis in gaining new members and getting them engaged in the labors, to wit:

I like to put myself into the shoes of this hypothetical, but not fantastical, Master Mason who recently was exalted into Royal Arch Masonry. He’s about 35 years old and has a wife and young child. He is upwardly mobile in his work and, with his spouse, shoulders the financial responsibilities inherent in maintaining a home and keeping the family safe and healthy while also managing money with an eye on the future and permitting leisurely pursuits. He may have parents, in-laws, or other relatives who are advanced in years and who rely on him for various forms of assistance. He’s very busy with important things practically all the time.

But there is time for lodge. Two nights, maybe more sometimes, each month. It is part of his social life, but it is unique in that he recognizes the sight of masculine maturity with intellectual and spiritual elements. It’s far apart from going to the bar with buddies for beer and big screen TVs. The decorum wrought by ritual, regalia, and tradition gives the effect of turning back the clock to a larger time. The prescribed language clearly is from an earlier century. One’s words and actions convey dignity: learning to listen, when to speak, where and how to move, what to see. Having gone through life without religious culture, he appreciates being exposed to the Craft’s God-centered psychology while absorbing the elements of Masonic language that originate from the Bible, and is amazed upon discovering the many ritualized sayings that are not obviously biblical, but that derive from Scripture nonetheless. He has revealed, cautiously, some of this to select friends, but they show little comprehension, much less interest in hearing more. They ask when he’s available again to ride quads and bikes in the woods.

Through the social media used by area Masons, he hears of a Royal Arch festival. That word—festival—is intriguing. What do they mean by that? From reading about Freemasonry since his initiation, he has an idea of what Royal Arch is: It’s part of the York Rite, and something to it involves completion of the Master Mason’s story. Joining is inexpensive and done in a day, finishing before two in the afternoon on a Saturday, even with time for lunch. He signs up.

Just an item currently for sale on eBay.
Material culture used to be a thing.
Several weeks later comes the night of his first chapter meeting. He arrives for dinner and is disappointed to see the store-bought salads, cold cuts, and other fare arrayed sloppily on a weak table. It’s not what he’s looking for after a long day, which he can forgive, but the conspicuous lack of effort nags at him. He sits and chats with his new companions, some of whom he knows already, and others he recognizes from nearby lodges. He is asked what he thinks of the degrees presented to him on that recent Saturday, and he admits it’s mostly a blur, but that he was impressed with the point of the Mark Master Degree and with the lecture of the Royal Arch Degree. He is thanked for coming because, it is explained, there now is a quorum to open the meeting. Everyone heads upstairs to set up the room where he observes some confusion about which officers wear which jewels, and the correct order of banners. He sees the box of aprons, but is shocked to find yellowed and stained relics to wear instead of clean, white garments. He is seated in the GM3V chair and handed a page of ritual so he may read his part in the opening. In fact, all of them are reading their parts. The grouping into threes would be great—if everyone knew what to do. The chapter handles its business matters, just as is done in lodge, but that doesn’t make it any more interesting. He is hoping for discussion of what Royal Arch means—those degrees, the symbols, that word—but it is not coming. The companions take turns announcing lodge social events. One older gentleman, speaking proudly, tells of additional degree dates for a council of something and the Templar group. The meeting is closed very quickly by a grand officer. Our new Royal Arch Companion will not be back. He’ll continue as a dues-paying member—after all, what’s 40 bucks a year?—but this activity does not measure up to other things he would, could, and should be doing that night. On the drive home, he thinks regretfully of his wife and child having supper without him.

So what is to be done?

For most of my 22 years as a Freemason, I personally have been an enthusiastic proponent of what currently is known widely as Observant Masonry, the embrace of best practices for the lodge that instills meaning and motive into the Craft. The ideas are not mine, but have been advanced by independent groups like the Knights of the North and the Masonic Restoration Foundation; by lodges named Epicurean (Australia), St. Alban’s (Texas), and Vitruvian (Indiana); and by eminent individuals like John Mauk Hilliard of New York, and Andrew Hammer of Washington, DC. If you read this blog with any regularity, you likely know what it’s about, but the key elements include:

  • exclusivity in membership
  • elegance in dress, including regalia
  • expertise in leadership, including ritual work
  • education in the practical and esoteric
  • excellence in dining

There are other points, but let’s unpack these five.

Exclusivity in membership – Our grand lodges are slow to realize it, but it’s true that not every man is right for Freemasonry. My grand lodge (New York) gets it, but the compulsion to reveal the mysteries of Freemasonry to every man who can fog a mirror persists generally. Similarly, not every Master Mason is a benefit to Capitular Masonry. Once the petition is received, it becomes very difficult to enforce selectivity, so don’t blanket recruit. Put a lot of thought into who you approach. Look for the one who seeks advancement in Masonic knowledge, who has a talent for ritual work, and who is a pleasure to be with. Those guys who just want to become Knights of the Whatever? Let them join another chapter.

Elegance in dress, including regalia – It’s self-explanatory. I don’t think black tie is absolutely necessary all of the time, but everybody should make certain he is wearing a conservative suit that fits. If your personal apron has a lot of gold, good for you, but if you are serving as an officer, best to leave it inside your apron case and instead wear a chapter officer apron for uniformity. If the aprons at your chapter look like they’ve been used to check engine oil, replace them with new ritual garments, and keep those clean and dignified.

Expertise in leadership, including ritual work – One who sits in the East of a chapter must have a head for business and a heart for fraternity. We need smart and organized men who can communicate. There actually are guys out there who think wearing a PHP apron will help them get the 33º. (Worse, sometimes they are right.) Maybe it will be necessary to coax a few PHPs into serving as officers until the chapter rights itself, but in the meantime, only accomplished Masons who take an interest in the chapter’s success need to hold officer positions. I won’t touch on the secretary’s desk, because it goes without saying. In ritual, be patient. Not everyone can handle large speaking parts, but practically everyone can do something. Place talent where it makes the most sense, and if someone isn’t working out, replace him. Do not permit him to advance to more complicated parts. If you cannot confer a degree, don’t. Get help from outside.

Education in the practical and the esoteric – Okay, so there isn’t a lot of literature on American Royal Arch Masonry available, despite the Order being pregnant with educational and spiritual heft. Fortunately, Piers Vaughan, a Past MEGHP of New York and a Mason with an international reputation, authored two books in 2014 to help us. Introduction to Capitular Masonry is an easy-to-digest 46 pages that covers the basics. Piers explains the fundamentals of rituals, symbols, chapter structure, history, and a lot more. The Chapter Walkabout is meant to benefit the newly exalted, but in truth it probably would benefit all of us. Your chapter should be giving this book to all new Royal Arch Masons.

Piers’ other Royal Arch book is titled Capitular Development Course. Not a sexy title but, weighing in at a substantial 153 pages, it delivers highly useful education and is very approachable. Like a workbook you used in school, this has a quiz after the chapter of each degree. Let’s face it, modern man is largely ignorant of the Bible. This leaves him in precarious darkness in a Masonic setting, particularly the Royal Arch chapter, but this book (keep a Bible handy for reference) is immensely helpful in decoding what these rituals are about. Give this to your new and old companions too!

Excellence in dining – I concede odds are there must be a few Masons whose idea of the perfect Masonic meal differs from mine (mutton, Bordeaux, sautéed spinach, mushrooms, fries the size of a corona gorda, brandy, tobacco, tawny port, dark chocolate of some kind, coffee, a lush whiskey, and tobacco), but surely it’s pretty easy to provide a good meal everyone can enjoy. See what your local restaurants can cater. Or maybe you all can eat there. Whatever it is, make sure it is enjoyable. Our English word “companion” originates in the Latin (com = together with, and panis = bread) for “breaking bread with another.” But don’t eat just bread. Make every meal special. Together.

I realize I am omitting a lot, but I have seen it is difficult to instill even these modest concepts into a lodge. We all want everything to be perfect, but the definition of perfection varies from place to place, and from man to man. One’s biases, formed by repetitive experience and comfortable habit, can inhibit learning and understanding so that suggesting new practices to an existing lodge often causes defensive friction. Meanwhile, building a lodge on a foundation of the “Observant” ideas frequently produces a new lodge of only frustrated refugees from those fractious lodges, with no candidates for initiation in sight. Rarely is there a “Goldilocks Lodge” wherein everything feels just right.

But in the Royal Arch chapter, things can be very different. These are locally managed items. You don’t need to secure anyone’s permission to buy new aprons, upgrade the meals, and master the ritual. Just do it, and you’ll see success breeding success in time. There’s a smallness in Royal Arch that permits both intimacy and portability. If your chapter has a membership of, say, 40, and about 15 attend convocations, your chapter is doing well. If the chapter has 75 companions and, say, 22 attend regularly, that’s good, even if maybe it doesn’t look so mathematically.

And with the smallness comes less bureaucracy. You’re not making Masons, so there isn’t a need for so many moving parts. Sure the secretary has to file annual returns in December, but there is far less time wasted for the rest of us in, what I’ll call, genuflecting during the rest of the year. And there probably are fewer meetings per year for your Royal Arch chapter as compared to your lodge. Maybe your chapter doesn’t even meet monthly, like mine, which holds convocations every other month. All that time to prepare can let you focus on excellence if you want. If you don’t, then the time spent between meetings will breed neglect.

Smallness can help you move around the jurisdiction. If the lodge where your chapter is settled does not, for whatever reason, feed the chapter new members, then moving the chapter’s charter shouldn’t be that difficult. Changing meeting nights or times also should be simple, if that will help you. Your chapter should be meeting the needs of its companions; expecting the reverse to occur is not realistic.

Maybe small size chapters are part of our future. What is wrong attaching chapters to lodges in significant numbers? Instead of having one chapter serving 10 to 20 lodges, have 10 micro chapters serving 20 to 30 lodges.

What prompted this, the longest edition of The Magpie Mason in many months? My own chapter is facing its demise unless we reverse its most obvious problems. At our November convocation, the DDGHP visited to remind us that Grand Chapter will meet in March, and that we have until then to install a line of officers who can simply open the chapter without reading the ritual. That’s the basic requirement, but it’s enough so that our 162-year-old chapter will have a 163rd year. On the down side, we will have only one meeting (January 10) before March, and I don’t see evidence of the companions getting organized. For my part, I responded to a complaint made about the absence of Masonic culture from the chapter’s meetings by volunteering to attend every convocation of 2020 to speak on some aspect of Royal Arch Masonic Light, be it about ritual, symbol, history etc., and also to write something introductory about each talk for the bulletin going to the membership at the start of the month. No one does that, but it’s something I can do.

The day after our DDGHP informed us our clock is ticking, I began asking around to see what other chapters on the planet have done to achieve the successes that have eluded us. Hatrock (speaking of the Knights of the North!) sent me a link to his chapter, Norwood 18, in Alberta.

Click here. Behold the banner on the homepage: A Sanctuary for the Master Mason Seeking Further Light in Masonry. Yes, that’s it! That’s it in one phrase!

Look for the Chapter Principles, or “What sets Norwood Chapter apart?” Ten items:

  • Ritual Excellence
  • Enlightening Education
  • Elegance of Dress
  • Chapter Ambiance
  • Non-Traditional Timings
  • Festive Board
  • Two-Year Terms of Office
  • Fewer Meetings
  • Selectivity
  • Commitment

“Norwood Chapter offers Royal Arch Masonry at its finest.”

Peruse the entire website. It’s a little out of date, but the important information doesn’t age.

Last Sunday, the All Things Masonic blog shared the news of Iron Range Chapter 70 in Minnesota. A new chapter! It is chartered to travel about the area, serving a 30-mile radius.

Courtesy All Things Masonic
Iron Range Chapter companions in Minnesota.

The wonderful Midnight Freemasons (Todd Creason, Gregg Knott, et al.) site published a story several years ago about Admiration Chapter in Illinois. “We wanted a new chapter—a more regional chapter. We wanted a chapter with a particular focus on Masonic education and member development,” Creason writes in 2016. “We wanted a chapter that wouldn’t only thrive, but could serve as an education resource to other York Rite chapters and Blue lodges in the area. And the Grand Chapter liked that idea very much.”

Admiration Chapter companions in Illinois.

I followed up with Greg Knott (a fellow Masonic Society board member!) last week, who reports they’re “still going strong” especially with the education work.

One last, quick, funny/sad story: In asking around for ideas for reinvigorating Royal Arch Masonry in my jurisdiction, I contacted the Supreme Grand Chapter of England; I follow a number of its chapters via social media, and they appear to be doing well. I briefly explained why I’m seeking advice on what makes English chapters successful, and expressed hope that someone there might reply with a few examples of what works best and why. Instead, someone there complained about me to the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons International, which then complained about me to my grand secretary (who knows me all too well), and—long story short—alack, no information on Royal Arch success English-style would be forthcoming.

One concept from England I found: Introductory events!
Of course, Mark is its own order in England, but you get the idea.

I’ll conclude with a few Big Picture items:

Can we retire the Virtual Past Master Degree, please? I suppose this would require some legal work, like a few constitutional amendments—and I realize it would be a hard sell to those who say a motion to buy new aprons is a hot-headed idea—but it would be a smart way to lighten the ritual load on the chapters. And we shouldn’t reveal the secrets of the chair to whom of right they do not belong, yes? Canada, England, and most (all?) other jurisdictions around the world do not work a VPM Degree.

What is the General International thing? I mean I know basically what it’s about, but why do we still have it? What does it do? Why are we paying for it? I admit to not liking anything with “international” in its name—except maybe the pancakes restaurant—but if your grand chapter withdrew from the General, would you or your chapter even notice?

There was supposed to be an emergency meeting of my chapter’s PHPs on December 13 to plan our immediate future. It’s already the first of the month, but I haven’t heard a word about this meeting yet. It’s really a shame.