Saturday, April 30, 2022

‘You snooze, you lose’


“You snooze, you lose,” as we say in the Select Master Degree (and its variants), and I definitely feel self-defeated thanks to procrastination, disorganization, and some legit busyness. That which was lost to me, although I probably will get to it eventually, is a paper I have been intending, for more than a year, to write for my research lodges on a revealing story of nineteenth century U.S. Masonic history.

I’m hardly the first to have the idea. Jacob Norton (1814-97) is well known about the apartments of the Temple in Massachusetts. A Jewish man who was made a Mason in England, he emigrated to the United States seeking a better life, like so many. He continued his Masonic labors in a Massachusetts lodge, but his experience in the United Grand Lodge of England did not brace him for the sectarian Christian content of Craft rituals in 1850s Massachusetts.

Norton and several other Jewish Masons wrote the grand master to ask if reforms might be possible to achieve “universal fellowship,” in effect bringing their rituals into accord with English dechristianized rituals. The grand master advised the group to leave Freemasonry.

There are many colorful details about Norton that I believe would make his story far more vital than just some reproachful review of the way things were long ago in the Puritan Commonwealth. For instance, his Masonic penpals included Albert Pike and the founders of Quatuor Coronati 2076.

My paper would have concluded (and, again, still might) with the facts of a successor grand master who made a point of ensuring the Craft of his time was a brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, thus making the two leaders’ words bookends that shape Norton’s life story within and without Freemasonry.

Anyway, I kind of feel as though I lost out because of a new paper. Israeli scholar Peter Lanchidi has published “Jacob Norton and the Quest for Universal Freemasonry: Jewish Masonic Consciousness in a Christian Fraternity” (Johns Hopkins University Press). You might recognize his name from the Freemasonry on the Frontier collection.

Of course there was no competition; he’s a bona fide historian, and I’m a boneheaded hobbyist, but learning of this paper, which I have not read yet, admonishes me to get busy and resume the work I once somewhat was known for. I’ll start by clearing away the eight pounds of paper and debris from my desk. Tomorrow.

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