Tuesday, January 11, 2022

‘Dusting off the Pot of Incense’

Magpie file photo

For the second time in two weeks, the Master of my lodge called on me to lead an educational discussion for the brethren. This is a very singular occurrence! Publicity Lodge actually didn’t hold an in-person meeting last night, opting instead for a Zoom gathering as New York City adjusts to the latest virus variant. (Only a few of us seem to understand how these variants will vary in perpetuity, so we might as well resume normalcy, but that’s another story.) Because my talk on mindfulness exercise last month on St. John’s Day went over okay, I thought I should double down and dust off my old presentation on the Pot of Incense as a Masonic symbol.

Actually, this was an abbreviated version of the original, at about half the length, that I had to read because it had been so many years since I last presented it. Rather than summarize it for you here, I hoped to link to some previous edition of The Magpie Mason that spells it all out, but I guess I never wrote that blog post. All I got is this from ten years ago. But “The Emblem of a Pure Heart” gives a history of incense’s ritual usages, several verses from the Hebrew Bible, bits of arcane Masonic rituals, quotations from natural philosophers of centuries past, and some suggestions for how to incorporate the burning of incense in our lodge meetings today—and that’s when things got interesting.

The brethren love the idea of adding a gentle amount of frankincense aroma at the Inner Door, when the candidate enters the worshipful lodge, and again at the altar upon being obligated. I made the case for the sense of smelling, in addition to being explained in the lecture of the Second Degree, also is a catalyst for recollecting vivid memories. One of the brethren listening said there are scientific data linking olfactory stimuli to the eliciting of old memories. So I’m envisioning our use of incense will plant meaningful impressions in our initiates that will re-emerge every time that familiar scent appears, and that all the brethren will share the experience.

While I was speaking, the Brother Secretary went online and procured a gizmo that vaporizes frankincense oil, so we’ll be able to enjoy the aroma, but without generating any smoke. (One of our most venerable Past Masters explained that it is possible to have our smoke detectors switched off temporarily, but it’s a complicated arrangement requiring the building management’s attention. The vaporizer will more than suffice.) My personal preference would be to load my censer with smoldering charcoal and roasting resins to fill the space with glorious plumes of aromatic smoke—but I can’t because I don’t own the place.

While preparing for last night’s discussion, I hacked away at the text to make it somewhat brief, and I deleted information I ought to have kept, and I kept stuff I could have done without. I omitted Thomas Reid(!) on the sense of smell, but retained Rene Descartes, when I should have done the reverse. Small matter. What’s more important is Publicity Lodge will initiate four petitioners on February 7 with an enhanced ambiance that further emphasizes the crossing into a new community, a new consciousness.

Maybe one future night, after I’m long gone, one of these Apprentices (perhaps a Past Grand Master by then) will attend a degree at Publicity, and will be returned to that first Monday of February 2022 thanks to a familiar scent—coming from some AI app downloaded into his olfactory cortex.

My thanks to Worshipful Master Diego and to all the brethren. I feel like I finally accomplished something in Freemasonry.

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