Friday, December 31, 2021

‘Fire at Grand Lodge of Ireland’

UPDATE: Tuesday, January 4:

Courtesy Mr. Paul Gallagher

UPDATE: The Irish Times reports:

  • “Anti-vaccination graffiti” in blue paint was found on the sidewalk outside the building.
  • A man was observed breaking into the building and possibly lighting a Christmas tree afire inside the library.
  • The unidentified man, said to have fallen, is hospitalized with spinal injuries.
  • Police ask the public for any video recordings that may show the incident.

One unidentified man was reported injured seriously in a fire tonight inside Freemasons’ Hall, the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, located on Molesworth Street in Dublin.

News media have been reporting one room was damaged badly, and that arson is suspected. The site is being examined, and an investigation is underway.


‘And give us a hand o’ thine’


Finally, this year is done, but not before a teamwork of media and academia boasts of an achievement in historical research that you and I have known all along.

Today’s Evening Standard and a growing number of other outlets report how a Scottish scholar, who specializes in anthropological and sociological facets of music, has “discovered” that the tradition of locking arms while singing Bro. Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne” began with…the Freemasons!

Hmmm, you don’t say.

Read all about it here.

That’s it for me, brotherans. Signing off for 2021, and wishing all of you a Happy New Year that won’t suck nearly as much as did this annus horribilis.


Thursday, December 30, 2021

‘RW Thomas Jackson, R.I.P.’

Magpie file photo
Freemasonry’s most outspoken and indefatigable proponent for upholding standards of excellence from the West Gate to the Grand East has died. RW Thomas W. Jackson was a Pennsylvania Freemason, but he was lionized across the Masonic world for his principled insistence that this fraternity must stop self-injuring by its neglecting the very ideas that have been key to Masonic identity for centuries. He was 87.

In speech after speech, essay after essay, book after book, Jackson held up a mirror to his brethren, challenging us to recognize how Freemasonry’s loss of prestige in society stems precisely from the initiate first, ask questions later mindset that has given lodges an uninspiring generic fraternal club personality. “Essentially, we don’t know our origins, but Freemasonry attracted some of the greatest men of the last 300 years,” he often said. “Did Freemasonry make men great, or did great men make Freemasonry? I say it is both. Voltaire, Mozart, Haydn, Franklin, and Washington were men we wanted to be associated with. That is our deficit today in North America. Where are the Mozarts of today? My role is to preserve Freemasonry in case great men come later.”

He did more than keep the lights on; Tom Jackson reflected the Light. He showed a path forward.

Displaying Masonic awards. (Shippensburg News-Chronicle)

In his home state, he labored as Grand Secretary for nineteen years. He was a principal in Pennsylvania’s research lodge, its first Observant lodge, and, of course, its Academy of Masonic Knowledge. (I believe it was at PAMK where we first met twelve or more years ago.) At the national leadership level, Tom was, among many other things, a Blue Friar (No. 93), a prolific book reviewer for ages in The Northern Light, and a tireless traveler from conference to symposium to lodge meeting, ceaselessly evangelizing his inspiring message of how you and I can restore Freemasonry’s magnificence if we only would follow the clear teachings we received in the first place.

Tom Jackson’s ideas were not always welcome. Buy me a beer sometime, and I’ll tell you about the harrowing threat he received several years ago.

Masonic Philatelic Club

Nor did his influence stop at our nation’s shores; Tom, in effect, was the leader of the World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges, albeit reluctantly, for years. Brazil, where Freemasonry is revered, put him on a postage stamp, for heaven’s sake.

Thomas Jackson was a Founding Fellow of the Masonic Society.

Please remember Linda, his wife of 56 years, in your devotions. I don’t doubt Cumberland Valley Lodge 315 will conduct a Masonic obsequy. It’ll be well attended.

“He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.”

‘With the solemn and imposing rites of Masonry’

A 1908 photo of the monument,
which was completed in 1890.

Still curious about the time capsule opened Tuesday in Virginia (see post below), I peered into the Masonic history there to learn more. I shouldn’t be surprised, although I am, to find out this wasn’t merely Freemasonry donating items for inclusion in a time capsule, but the cornerstone ceremony was a Masonic rite. And requested by the governor at that.

As I mentioned yesterday, that time capsule dates to October 27, 1887. On December 12 of that year, the Grand Lodge of Virginia convened in St. Alban’s Hall in Richmond for its 110th Annual Communication at which time Grand Master William F. Drinkard recollected to the brethren how the Craft became involved. The following comes from the Book of Proceedings:

On the 27th of October I laid the corner-stone of a monument to be erected in this city to the memory of General Robert E. Lee. This was done at the request of the Lee Monument Association, whose Board of Managers is presided over by the Governor of Virginia, himself a Lee. Governor Lee wrote me a letter stating that it was the wish of the Board that the corner-stone of the Lee Monument should be laid, to use his own words, “with the solemn and imposing rites of Masonry.”

Fitzhugh Lee
Accordingly I convened the Grand Lodge in special communication, and on the day named proceeded to perform the usual ceremonies. The occasion was one never to be forgotten. Thousands and tens of thousands of people crowded the sidewalks of the streets and the doors and windows of the houses bordering on the line of the procession. Thousands made up the general procession. The immense crowd of course could not be accommodated with seats at the site of the proposed monument, but notwithstanding the extraordinary inclemency of the weather (it being both cold and rainy) a large number of persons remained upon the grounds during all the ceremonies. When the work was done it was accepted in a feeling and appropriate speech by Governor Fitzhugh Lee.

The occasion was one that no considerations of inclement weather, or of personal inconvenience or discomfort, could have caused the people of Virginia to neglect or overlook. As when the corner-stone of City Hall was laid, so when the corner-stone of the Lee Monument was laid, the Knights Templar most thoughtfully and generously tendered their services as an escort to the Grand Lodge, and entitled themselves to the credit of having done more than any other one organization to render the ceremonies what [Governor] Lee described them as being—namely, “solemn and imposing.” These are our brethren, and therefore I have deemed it proper for the Grand Master to mention their services. I leave it to others to name the many distinguished gentlemen from all parts of the Union who witnessed and participated in so much of this memorable work as was not under the control of the Masons.

The first Lincoln statue,
dedicated 1868.
For some reason, that wording “solemn and imposing” pinged something in my mind, and it turns out to be a well used adjectival phrasing in the nineteenth century. A cliche, really. I mention it because of its noteworthy appearances in written and spoken words concerning Abraham Lincoln. The occasion of the Gettysburg Address was, according to the New York Times, “solemn and imposing.” Later in the 1860s, the annual ceremony of mourning U.S. war dead, a new national rite conducted at Arlington on the land where Robert E. Lee had dwelled, was described the identical way. On April 15, 1868, the third anniversary of Lincoln’s death, another Masonic ceremony in the rain seen by tens of thousands accompanied the dedication in Washington of the first statue erected in his honor. Bro. Benjamin B. French, the Lincoln Administration’s Commissioner of Public Buildings (and namesake of the lodge in D.C.) recalled in his oration the national mood in the wake of the assassination, and described the funeral procession as “solemn and imposing.”

Anyway, the Grand Lodge of Virginia’s outlay stemming from the Lee Monument that dreary October day totaled $235.32. That’s fourteen dollars more than what it expended for the City Hall cornerstone ceremony. It was a lot of money. In contrast, the Grand Treasurer’s salary that year was $300. It is impossible to transubstantiate the $235 into today’s worthless currency, but in the gold coins of that time, the gold would weigh about eleven ounces, which this morning costs $19,811.

In review of MW Drinkard’s speech, the Grand Lodge’s Special Committee on the Address of the Grand Master reported, in part:

It has been always one of the most impressive teachings of Free Masonry to pay the full measure of honor to those to whom honor is justly due, and for ages they have exemplified this sentiment by laying the corner-stones of monuments erected to testify the admiration of mankind for those virtues which have merited such distinctions.

No occasion in the history of this Grand Lodge has afforded a more sincere and heartfelt satisfaction to the great body of the patriotic Masonic sons of our Ancient Commonwealth than that which afforded them the privilege of participating in the ceremonies of laying the corner-stone, on the 27th day of last October, of a monument designed to faintly express the unmeasured love and the profound admiration which fills every breast within the confines of Virginia for the illustrious man, General Robert E Lee, our State gave to stand, for time, before the world, the exemplar and the monument of every patriotic and heroic virtue.

We congratulate our brethren, that they lived to participate in the proceedings mentioned by the Grand Master.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

‘Masonic relics discovered!’


That’s a little hyperbole. The “relics” are common items, but it is pretty cool that they were recovered yesterday from within a time capsule.

Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia has been undergoing a change recently as its statues memorializing Confederate generals are coming down. The largest Confederate statue in America, a Robert E. Lee atop a 20-foot pedestal, has been retired, leading to the discovery of two time capsules dating to October 27, 1887.

One of the boxes was found inside that mammoth stone plinth. It had been secreted therein by the laborers who erected the giant general. The other, which was opened and explored yesterday, was beneath the monument. It contained many items of local historical interest, including books and other artifacts of Virginia Freemasonry’s post-Civil War era.

Royal Arch Masons. (CBS News)

The truth is no Masonic historian deserving of the title would be at all surprised to find Masonic contributions to a time capsule from late nineteenth century Virginia, but it is comforting to know how the fraternity was so significant that this time capsule, which is smaller than a milk crate, would include multiple proofs that Hiram was there. More info here. (Of course, Richmond is home to Masons’ Hall, which already was more than a century old when this box was buried.)

Grand Lodge Book of Proceedings.
(CBS News)

There is a Grand Lodge Book of Proceedings. And a Grand Chapter of Royal Arch book. A small Templar pamphlet from Richmond Commandery 2 looks like a membership roster. (At that time, Richmond 2 met on fourth Tuesdays, and yesterday was the fourth Tuesday, although I doubt the Sir Knights met between Christmas and New Year’s.) Tucked inside this document is a KT calling card from Past Eminent Commander James Hamilton Capers, who would become R.E. Grand Commander in 1897. There also is a Grand Lodge certificate of some kind. And then there’s a palm-size Square and Compasses made of wood.

Knights Templar booklet, possibly a membership roster of Richmond Commandery 2. (CBS News)

The time capsule is made of copper. It was not watertight, so its contents today are waterlogged, but still in good shape it seems. The metal objects (coins, tokens, musket balls) will clean up well, but the organic (books, papers) items? We’ll have to see what the Virginia Department of Historic Resources can manage. Archaeological Conservator Katherine Ridgway said the contents are “more waterlogged than we had hoped, but not as bad as it could have been.”

A Grand Lodge certificate. (CBS News)

All in all, not a bad day for those of us who understand Freemasonry today by knowing its yesterdays.

Calling card of Sir Knight James Hamilton Capers, who would become R.E. Grand Commander in 1897. (CBS News)

CBS News covered the event yesterday and shares several videos of different lengths on YouTube from which I did my best to capture the photos shown here.

The copper capsule. (CBS News)

That two time capsules were embedded within and beneath the Lee colossus indicates to me that the people of Richmond anticipated their hero’s effigy falling one day, and I’d like to think they’d be delighted to know it survived well into the twenty-first century.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Bro. St. Ecker in Virginia, I can share this newspaper clipping. The W.B. Isaacs mentioned in the lede was Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge.

Click to enlarge.


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

‘Cervisia Lodge for zythophiles’

A second (as far as I know) lodge for zythophiles is being organized under the United Grand Lodge of England.

You remember Horus Lodge in London from earlier this year; now, Cervisia Lodge seeks worthy and well qualified brethren for quaffing in the Province of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire (about seventy miles due north of London).

Details are scant, but for information, feel free to make contact here.

Cervisia of course is Latin for beer. When framing to pronounce it, there is a temptation to rhyme with the Spanish cerveza, but there is no soft C in Latin so speak it as a K, as with collegia. Also, the V is spoken as our English W. (I’m assuming that’s how the lodge intends it.)

I don’t know what they’re having for breakfast over there, but the UGLE is chartering lodges like it’s the ’80s again—the 1780s. Not necessarily a sign of overall membership growth, but a result of Masons already in good standing gathering for the “innocent mirth” (e.g., beer, sport, cars) enshrined in the first Book of Constitutions, while keeping Freemasonry the “Center of Union.”

Best of luck to Cervisia Lodge!

Monday, December 27, 2021

‘Like an untimely frost’


Very sad news in these late hours from our Assistant Grand Secretary announcing the death this afternoon of Mrs. Joanne Kessler, wife of our Grand Master Richard Kessler. Funeral arrangements are being planned.

My condolences to the Kessler family in this painful time.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

‘Merry Christmas’

Earthrise, from Apollo 8, December 24, 1968. (NASA photo)

The Magpie Mason wishes a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. May your Charity extend universally, your Hope know no limit, and your Faith stand well founded.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

‘Restore a Founding Father’s foundation’


Nearly 200 miles northwest of Masonic Hall is the Town of Vestal, New York, in the vicinity of Binghamton, and home to St. Mark’s-Vestal Lodge 435. Our brethren there aim to raise $10,000 to make necessary repairs to the statue of Masonic George Washington that watches over the lodge’s section of Vestal Hills Memorial Park, a renowned cemetery that reached its ninetieth year in 2021.

In need, specifically, is a replacement foundation for the statue, the original stone plinth and its wide, stepped base having suffered substantially since its installation in 1937. Click here for media coverage that shows the damage.

Titled “Washington As a Freemason,” the monument renders our historic brother wearing an apron and wielding both trowel and gavel; a large bronze tablet gives the dates of his progress through the Craft degrees at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

While Washington always was revered in a younger America, the 1932 bicentenary of his birth was a massive cultural event that spanned that decade, encompassing everything from his likeness being added to the quarter-dollar to countless local commemorations such as, I surmise, this statue. (Grand Lodge acquired DeWint House in 1931, something in which my lodge played a part that I have to research one day.)

Of course this isn’t the optimal moment to request money for non-emergency contingencies, but the lodge uses GoFundMe to reach the ambitious goal. Perhaps you or your lodge or the lodge’s charity fund or other Masonic bodies could assist. Basically, thirty cents from each New York Mason would capitalize the project fully.

Not to distract from the point of this worthy cause, but it should be understood that statues of Washington (and plenty of others) that stand on public lands will be made extinct in our lifetime, and maybe even sooner than I suspect. Those monuments erected on private properties can survive, assuming they’re not attacked by mobs, and it is imperative they always be preserved and protected to demonstrate how Americans care about their heritage and their posterity. End of lecture.

Then Grand Master Bill Sardone leads a remembrance ceremony where also the initiative to rehabilitate the George Washington statue was announced, September 11, 2021. (Photos courtesy of St. Mark’s-Vestal Lodge 435.)

Maybe you could share the link to GoFundMe and the burden of reviving this statue can be shared by more than only the local Masons out there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

‘Of mind in me’


My lodge didn’t hold a meeting last night, but instead planned a casual social evening with some Masonic learning, and Worshipful Master Diego flattered me with a request to provide that education. I figured it would be best to avoid the lecture format and opt for my interactive lesson in “The Exercise.”

The Exercise was imparted to me at the School of Practical Philosophy years ago; the tutors there call it a mindfulness exercise, and not meditation. To be honest, I’m still uncertain of what the difference is. Anyway, with Winter sunstay only hours off, and Christmas just days away, and St. John’s Day next Monday, and New Year’s near, I thought I should introduce the brethren to this easy and portable technique for focusing the mind to protect against the modern tensions built into this mystical month.

I’m sure some previous edition of The Magpie Mason has a detailed description, but in brief, The Exercise causes one to regulate his Five Physical Senses before settling into a moment of peace.

Perhaps it isn’t meditation because it is quick and requires no lotus position, chanting, or other demanding ritual. It is, in fact, a technique one may employ spontaneously and in practically any place, as I emphasized during my talk.

I also told the story of how a visit long ago to Kite and Key Lodge 811 initialized my interest in this kind of thing for lodge life. It was there that I experienced the surprising power of a moment of silence immediately following the lodge opening. I think it spanned about 120 seconds, and it was a revelation. After the rush rush rush of getting to lodge, setting up, clothing ourselves, and the many potent stimuli of greeting one another and the rest of the routine, a mere two minutes of quietude sharpens the mind and relaxes the body, readying everyone even further for their labors.

Maybe I convinced Diego to introduce this to our meetings at Publicity Lodge.

I concluded by urging everyone to seek out Chuck Dunning’s books concerning Masonry and meditation, so I may as well recommend them to you too. (My review of his latest will appear in the upcoming issue of The Journal of the Masonic Society, due out this month. And I’ll publish it here as well.)

Thursday, December 16, 2021

‘Unworthy of the obedience of the Lodges’


There has been a simple but essential rule in our English brethren’s Constitutions that has endured 300 years. We first encounter it in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, under General Regulations. It is attributed to Grand Master George Payne, who is said to have compiled the Regulations in 1720, which were “approv’d by the Grand-Lodge on St. John Baptist Day, Anno 1721, at Stationers’ Hall, London.”

Dogged scholars in later centuries would doubt the who, when, and where details, but what is unassailable is the consistent publication of this canonical rule and guide for Masonic good governance:

If the Grand Master should abuse his power and render himself unworthy of the obedience of the Lodges, he shall be subjected to some new regulation, to be dictated by the occasion; because, hitherto, the Antient Fraternity have had no reason to provide for an event which they have presumed would never happen.

Originally this was Regulation XIX, and thirteen decades later it was No. 11, and today it is 15. The United Grand Lodge of England’s General Laws and Regulations for the Government of the Craft might change occasionally, but not that Regulation. Even if it moves around in sequence, it is constant.


Tuesday, December 14, 2021

‘At this minute in 1799’


At this minute—10:20 p.m.—in 1799, Bro. George Washington died at Mt. Vernon. The attending physician, Dr. Elisha Dick, stilled the movement of the bedroom clock, its hands never to move again. Martha Washington made a gift of the piece to Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22, where it remains a poignant treasure today. Photo and info courtesy of A-W 22.

‘Robert N. Stutz, R.I.P.’

RW Bro. Bob Stutz at the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library’s Freemasonry and the Arts Dinner-Lecture, December 8, 2008.

Sad news yesterday of the death of RW Bro. Robert N. Stutz of New Jersey. Bob was 95.

I had the pleasure of meeting him many years ago upon the launch of the research lodge, and it was always a joy to greet him again there for many years thereafter, and especially at other places where Masons “who get it” congregate. For example, he made sure he got to the Masonic Society’s Second Circle dinner-lectures in New Jersey (he was not a PayPal customer, so he was the only one from whom I accepted payment at the door), and it was delightful to shake his hand at similar events in Manhattan.

At age 95, Bob obviously was one of the “Greatest Generation,” the popular abbreviation for those young Americans who donned our country’s uniform to deploy in distant lands to obliterate the enemies of humanity. Bob was of the Seabees (C.B. = Construction Battalion) of the U.S. Navy, serving in the Pacific Theater, from Pearl Harbor to occupied Japan, with the Battle of Iwo Jima along the way.

He was a Past Master (1993) of Mercer Lodge 50 in Trenton, and he served as Secretary to Grand Master Ray Vanden Berghe in 1996.

A lot of life transpired between the war and my acquaintance with Bro. Bob, and I regret not talking with him about things not Masonic so I might tell you more about him now, but Bob Stutz was a joy when it came to Masonic conversation. His demeanor said gentlemanliness to all, but the initiated eye perceived the Light that makes a man a Mason. May we bear his memory to keep his goodness alive.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

‘Expect the unexpected (and the expected)’

I have to learn to expect the unexpected and remember to expect the expected.

Yesterday was one of my busy quarterly Saturdays, with the research lodge in the morning and AMD at night.

At New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education 1786, we took it easy. Expecting many of the brethren needing to depart early for lodge installations, Christmas parties, and other idiomatic demands of the season, Worshipful Master Marty planned accordingly. One change that proved popular was substituting our usual luncheon for breakfast. It might sound like an obvious tweak for a lodge that meets in the morning, but this was a first for us after nearly twenty years at labor. The Master and Wardens prepared scrambled eggs and omelettes, pancakes and French toast, bacon and sausage, plus something called “pork roll” (Taylor Ham in the civilized part of the state), and more.

The brethren had one of those trade show table covers made for the lodge to use at large Masonic events here and there. (Marty photo)

It was very greatly appreciated, and could have been improved only with fine cigars, but we had the next best thing: Bro. Byron took to the lectern to discuss various commonalities he discerns in Masonic lodges and cigar shops. Or at least the type of tobacconist that offers a smoking lounge.

Both the lodge and the lounge are spaces where certain rituals, both individual and group, are followed to uphold harmony in human interactions. Not mere politeness, but an inspiring energy (“egregore” was a term used) that unites all present in a shared purpose. Byron spoke of the universality of smoke rituals, which reminded me of my long ago lecture on incense in Freemasonry. It was asked from the sidelines if maybe a good coffee place or bagel joint would function similarly, but the tobacco shop has the requisite peculiarity that beckons a specialized clientele sharing their unwonted pursuit.

Next up was the Brother Senior Warden, who was excited to tell us about Bro. John Bizzack’s book For the Good of the Order: Examining the Shifting Paradigm within Freemasonry. Bro. Don admitted how although this book spans about a hundred pages, he nevertheless feels compelled to read it a second and third time to harvest every informative notion from its pages. Bizzack, who ought to be a Blue Friar, explains the key to securing a future for the Craft is in embracing smallness for the fraternity and reverting to its neglected traditions and many standards of excellence. (A familiar message to regular readers of this blog.)

Bizzack is a longtime Board member of the Masonic Society. He is a principal of Lexington Lodge 1, the Rubicon Masonic Society, and other great elements in Kentucky Freemasonry. I am eager to hear back from him in the wake of the tornado there. He’s okay, and Lexington didn’t suffer badly.

Between this and the upcoming AMD meeting, I had to make up my rassoodock what to do with the day. The nearby movie theater made the choice easy: House of GucciI had a basic familiarity with the brand name, but I never knew they were killing each other! Elements of early Roman Empire and Shakespearean tragedy, but wrought in recent years. A great cast (Jared Leto as patetico Paolo!) led by that psychiatrist of film directing Ridley Scott.

And then it was time for J. William Gronning Council 83 of Allied Masonic Degrees. Fortunately both the council and the research lodge meet in the same space and on the same days because these meetings are far from Magpie Headquarters. If it’s December, this must be the annual meeting: elections, installation, housekeeping, and even some time for a short presentation from the lectern.

Bro. Tom was elected to the Sovereign Master’s chair, was qualified, and then installed. The rest of the officer corps was figured out after some confusion (several members have left for a newly chartered council, but haven’t withdrawn from Gronning) and there was much rejoicing.

Tom is well known for having attractive and unique pins made, and for generously sharing them. He presented each of us with one of these tokens of AMD membership.

Tom’s son, Steven, now Senior Deacon, spoke on the subject of money. The crypto part went over my head, but I think the gist of it was money, in whatever form, is symbolic. It can represent anything from the time of your working life to the freedom you might think you possess. Disquieting ideas for these worrisome times.

Like his father, Bro. Steven also is a gift-giver, handing each of us the pin he had commissioned for his tenure next year as Worshipful Master of Amwell Lodge 12. A pretty hefty one—about the diameter of a half-dollar.

One surprising detail I didn’t expect was the arrival of Tom’s dog, Mason, in the meeting. I’m told it’s something of a tradition.

And, what I completely did not expect was the near total indifference toward—and even lack of awareness of—the most recent scandal in the grand lodge. I’m pretty indifferent myself, but I’ll try to recap: the grand master removed the elected and installed senior grand warden from his station recently, alleging dereliction of duty. A few of the past senior grand warden’s friends vocally protested this. One, a prominent past grand orator, had his membership suspended last Thursday in the usual jerseyprudence: no charges, no trial, no due process. A past grand master was advised to cool it. A past district deputy grand master had his name put on a list.

Oh, man! There’s a good Gucci joke I could make here.

Anyway, at the research lodge, the brethren were aware of the problems, but were not interested. It’s just the “same old, same old” in the eyes of the wise. At AMD, hardly anyone seemed to know about it. Most of the brethren are a little older, and practically everyone, I think, is focused on the York Rite, with little, if any, concern for the grand lodge. I’ve been in both groups for two decades, so I should have known that, as focus groups, they would be unresponsive to this stuff. Sometimes you have to expect the expected.

UPDATE: A week later, it has become known that three of the past senior grand warden’s allies have been suspended per edicts from the grand master, pending the “preferment and disposition of Masonic charges,” for allegedly disrupting the peace and harmony of the fraternity with their protests on social media of the defrocking of their friend. Will they receive speedy, fair, etc. trials? I don’t know. I do know the lawyer who represents the grand lodge will enjoy many billable hours of income at the brethren’s expense.

Friday, December 10, 2021

‘Faithful steward of the mysteries’


Steward and Tyler.

It is the duty of the Steward and Tyler—usually both offices, in small lodges, are conferred upon the same person—to remain behind when the lodge closes, and see that every thing is made safe, secure, and orderly: Safe by extinguishing fires and lights; secure by closing all locks and fastenings; orderly by gathering up aprons, jewels, &c., from the places where impatient hands have strewn them, and depositing each in its proper receptacle. For want of this, books become prematurely torn and defaced; jewels bruised, bent, and broken; aprons soiled to absolute defilement. It is not the wearing that brings these things to such a speedy end, it is the careless manner in which they are used. Our observation of lodges brings us to the conclusion that nothing is so extravagant as neglect.

Visiting a certain lodge one morning early, the meeting having closed about midnight before, we remarked the aprons are lying, white and clean, in the wardrobe; the jewels hanging on a hook in proper order, the square outwards; the candlesticks in a row on a shelf; the books closed and neatly piled; the Masonic carpet covered by its curtain; the spittoons in the corner; chairs set back against the wall; bylaws gathered up on the secretary’s table; and the whole as fresh and systematic as a lady’s parlor. Inquiring of the Steward and Tyler how he found time for all of this last night, he very sensibly remarked: “That he was paid by the lodge to perform certain duties, and whenever he found that he could not get time to be honest, he would resign his office.” Thinks a friend who stood by, “what a difference there is between men!”

And so there is. For on a visit to another lodge, we observed every thing in disorder and running to waste. The aprons were lying like autumn leaves, wherever they happen to fall—on tables, chairs, and floor. Some of them were defiled with the contents of the spittoons, all of them were in a condition disgraceful to the curator or the wearers. The jewels lay in higgledy piggledy confusion, as extravagant in its results as it was discreditable to the lodge, for some of them were bent, one was broken, and all were rusty and dingy. The bits of candles lay here, there, and every-where, smearing books and furniture. The good old Bible having been left open, had received a thick deposit of dust, which contrasted painfully with its sacred character. The spittoons in the darkened room formed capital stumbling-blocks, which we happily took advantage of, and found a corresponding horizontal benefit. In fact, the whole scene resembled “a banquet hall deserted,” from which the guests had all retired intoxicated, and the servants had incontinently locked the door.

And yet, that Tyler was paid a dollar a night to do the duties of the office of Tyler and Steward. His not doing those duties cost his lodge not less than fifty dollars a year in damages. Was he a faithful steward of the mysteries? Certainly not. Soon as the lodge was declared closed, he barely took time to blow out the lights and was off to bed, leaving the costly paraphernalia of his lodge to the moles and the bats. Such conduct is reprehensible. Who is responsible for such a waste of property?

The policy is to select a careful, experienced man for Tyler—one to whom the fees of the office are an object, and one who will conscientiously earn those fees. Many such an one have we found in our journeys. One in New York has served for twenty years as Tyler; one in Boston for forty. Such men are beyond all price, and when they pass beyond the dark valley they are honored as the best of the Brotherhood.

Rob Morris
The American Freemason magazine

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

‘Who, What, When, Where, and sometimes Wyoming’

Digitized proceedings from A to W. (Mark Tabbert photo)

It seems like it wasn’t even a year ago that I updated you on the digitization project underway by the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, and word came today that the work will be completed this week.

Mark Tabbert shared the good news several hours ago, explaining how the Wyoming Grand Commandery books of proceedings will be the last of the texts to be scanned and saved for eternity as searchable digital files. Well, he didn’t mention eternity. That’s just my excitement pulsing through. And I am excited because these official, published records of our grand lodges, grand chapters, etc. are big parts of the first draft of history.

When researchers like us want to get an idea of something that happened in our past, these texts are invaluable. Maybe you seek a hard fact, like the number of cigars donated in 1919 to the residents of the California Masonic Home (750). Perhaps you’re studying something that’s more of a trend, such as expulsions of Masons for being drunks or bad husbands. (Those were the days.) Or statistics might be needed. (Wisconsin’s lodges collectively rejected 294 petitions in 1875.) These books contain such data and a lot more.

Naturally, they’re written by people, so you’ll have to anticipate some errors and some very deliberate omissions, but we have to start somewhere. And somewhere is right here.

For this to happen, our grand lodges and other governing bodies must pay a nominal fee of $1,000 for the initial set-up costs, and then a thousand annually to maintain the online access to their books, so if your Freemasonry isn’t included among these digital documents, maybe tell your Grand Ones to cough up the dough and preserve the archives of Masonry from inundations and conflagrations. As Mark says, the work is done already; only the uploading is required now.

(Of course, we New York Masons have our own thing, as you might expect of us.)

Monday, December 6, 2021

‘Familiar looking coin found in Jerusalem’

Eliyahu Yanai/City of David

There is something going on lately with amateur archeologists unearthing ancient coins. It seems hardly a month passes without some guy with a metal detector finding a cache of Roman or Saxon or some other gold and silver in Britain. A few weeks ago, a child volunteering at a dig in Jerusalem brought to light a 2000-year-old shekel that should look familiar to Mark Master Masons.

Liel Krutokop, age 11, plunged her fingers into her very first bucket when a round object made itself conspicuous amid the dirt taken from the City of David area. It turned out to be a shekel of pure silver dating to 67 or 68 C.E.—The Great Revolt—when Judea was in rebellion against the Roman Empire.

Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia 
In Freemasonry, tokens closely resembling such ancient coins have a symbolic value in Mark Masonry. In the United States, they typically are called Chapter Pennies on account of their use in the Mark Master Mason Degree, which is conferred in Royal Arch chapters.

I’m assuming whoever lost this coin two millennia ago had some explaining to do when he got home.

Congratulations Miss Krutokop!

Saturday, December 4, 2021

‘Invitation to interview’


The Magpie Mason hereby invites Bro. Gary Olsen, past senior grand warden of the grand lodge of New Jersey, to share his side of the story in an interview that would result in a news article for a future edition of The Magpie Mason. I can be contacted here. Contact has been made; powerful allegations have been leveled; I continue to seek an interview. Fuggedaboutit. I just (3/4/22) learned who some of Olsen’s intended grand staff appointees were. My offer is retracted. 

Olsen was removed from his station in the Grand West of that grand lodge earlier this week by its grand master who did so by edict.

I am promising an impartial hearing of the brother’s account of events, an article fairly balancing his views and other information I have researched, and a readership far larger than any other available to him in Masonic cyberspace. I guarantee everyone in New Jersey who might be interested in reading the story will read it (in addition to the usual multitudes across the country and beyond).

I know what happened and why, so I would ask tough questions, but I will be fair in presenting the facts.

Olsen and I do not know each other and never have met, so it’s understandable if he has no interest in this proposition. Do not think negatively of him if he declines or doesn’t reply, but don’t believe for a second that he won’t see this invite.

As for the grand lodge of New Jersey, I am not a member. And there’s a lot more I could say about it.

Friday, December 3, 2021

‘Not necessarily the news’

Courtesy WickedDesigns1

There was a time—and this wasn’t a million years ago—when the sacking of a top officer of a Masonic grand lodge would have been news. It would have “made the papers.” It would have been covered by the newspaper that you read daily. This edition of The Magpie Mason is in reminiscence of a much larger time, an era when our discreet Masonic fraternity was publicly consequential because of its vast membership, because its executive leaders were admirably newsworthy in their professions and communities, and—not for nothing, but—because of the prestige that is born of self-respect.

Yesterday, the grand master of the grand lodge of New Jersey evicted from office the senior grand warden of the grand lodge. That’s a fact, but that’s all I’m going to say about it because it’s the only fact of the matter I possess. (I was chastised on Facebook last night by a friend of many years who complained that I’m too negative! I know, right? Crazy.)

If you’re ever struggling to fall asleep, you could read the books of proceedings of this grand lodge. They are stenographic melatonin. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on the right volumes, but somewhere around fifty years ago, there were Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey who were invited to broadcast media studios for the purpose of discussing things Masonic. I think it was WOR in each situation, but the Most Worshipfuls appeared on both radio and television, according to those books.

Can you imagine such a thing happening this morning? Not necessarily.

I’m at labor in a New York City lodge named Publicity, founded in 1922 by the biggest big shots of Madison Avenue, plus numerous publicists and journalists, and I can’t picture my Grand Masters—past, present, or future—being interviewed about Masonry for the heck of it, even in this age of innumerable media platforms, and almost all those Masons are awesome!

(I don’t mean to write about the English for the umpteenth time, but the UGLE employs a professional communications team, so their grand guys are in the good news very often lately, but that’s a whole other dynamic.)

The obscurity of Freemasonry in the public consciousness today hurts us not only in the obvious ways that a lack of positive publicity depresses everything from morale to membership size, but also in how absence of sunshine can corrupt the way decisions are reached and even how we treat each other.

“We get no self-respect,” to paraphrase Grand Master Rodney Dangerfield.

If the grand master thought his defrocking of his brother officer would have been reported in news media, replete with quotes from outraged onlookers and the “no comment” from red-handed headquarters, I suspect he would have been slow to act. (Please understand I have no reason to believe anything illegal, unethical, or immoral provoked the elected officer’s dismissal because there is no talk of removing him from the fraternity.)
I submit to you that what was done yesterday to that grand lodge officer would have been reported by The Star-Ledger in—I’ll put a date on it—1982. Not the Sixties, not the War Years, not the Coolidge Administration, but as recently as when I was in junior high school. But things have changed.

You may fact-check me. Visit the newspaper archives website of your choice and search Freemasonry, and you’ll find journalistic reportage of grand lodge communications, officer installations, lodge consecrations, funeral orations—all kinds of “ations.”

I am not advocating on behalf of the former senior grand warden of that junior grand lodge. I don’t know him; I’ve never met him; and he wouldn’t know me if I sat in his lap. It’s just that I used to be a prize-winning newspaperman, in fact that’s who I was at the time I was initiated into this fraternity, so maybe that’s why I consider these events certain ways. I’m also a lifelong student of history, so I recognize how decay takes time, but that unwise humans usually accelerate the inevitable suicidal end.