Sunday, October 30, 2022

‘100 years of Publicity 1000’

The founding brethren of Publicity Lodge 1000 on the night of the Charter and Constitution Ceremony, Monday, October 30, 1922. The ceremony took place in the Grand Lodge Room of Masonic Hall, but I’m not sure where this photo was shot. Sorry for the glare. This is a photo of a framed picture and the chandeliers are reflecting.

It was a hundred years ago today, at this very hour in fact, that my lodge was made legal by the Grand Lodge of New York.

On the evening of Monday, October 30, 1922, inside the Grand Lodge Room of Masonic Hall, Publicity Lodge 1000 was constituted and its officers installed by a ritual team consisting of Grand Master Arthur S. Tompkins, Deputy Grand Master William A. Rowan, Senior Grand Warden Meyer B. Cushner, Junior Grand Warden Terry M. Townsend, Grand Treasurer Jacob C. Klick, Grand Secretary Robert H. Robinson, Grand Chaplain Oscar F. Trader, and Grand Marshal John J. MacCrum.

The first meeting Under Dispensation,
Thursday, December 29, 1921.

The lodge was organized by advertising and other media professionals. According to legend, a number of them were acquainted professionally and socially (maybe through the Advertising Club of New York), but it was some time before they realized many in the group were Freemasons. Upon that discovery, they set about organizing a lodge. Grand Master Robert H. Robinson issued the Dispensation, and the first meeting U.D. was held Thursday, December 29, 1921.

It is unsurprising Publicity’s birth was covered by trade publications serving the publishing world. The November 4, 1922 edition of The Fourth Estate newspaper reported:

An interesting event in advertising circles was the constitution of Publicity Lodge No. 1000 F&AM on October 30.

Arthur S. Tompkins
This lodge is made up of advertising men. It was organized a year ago, and operating under dispensation until it received its charter and was regularly constituted by the Grand Lodge officially Monday evening. The ceremony, which took place in the Masonic Temple at 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue, New York, was conducted by Supreme Court Judge Arthur S. Tompkins of Nyack, who is Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York, and a large suite of other Grand Lodge officers.

There was a large attendance of Masons from other lodges. The ceremony was simple but impressive. St. Cecile quartet furnished the music. Addresses were made by the Past Grand Master Robert H. Robinson, and on George Washington as a Mason by Grand Master Tompkins. The Master and a delegation from St. Nicholas Lodge presented the new lodge with a handsome ballot box. Several charter members of Publicity came from St. Nicholas.

Our original VSL.
The new lodge has 53 charter members, a long list of members who have taken the First Degree, and another long list of applicants. It meets in the Grand Lodge room in Masonic Hall, 23rd Street at Sixth Avenue.

Herman G. Halsted, of Paul Block, Inc., is Master.
John H. Baumann, of Stevens & Baumann, is Senior Warden.
Louis W. Bleser, of Charles C. Green Advertising, is Treasurer.
George French is Secretary.

The November 11, 1922 issue of Editor & Publisher reported:

The ceremony of constitution was attended by many Masons from other New York lodges, and visitors from abroad, including the Past Grand Master of Masons of Nova Scotia. The Master of Saint Nicholas Lodge No. 321, accompanied by a delegation of members, was present and presented Publicity with a handsome ballot box.

E&P also included Publicity among its Ad Clubs and Associations listings.

Herman G. Halsted
Herman G. Halsted was born June 16, 1876 in Orange, New Jersey, according to Who’s Who in New York City and State for 1924. He was DDGM of the Third Manhattan District. He also was a Scottish Rite Mason and a Royal Arch Mason in Jerusalem Chapter 8.

How did Publicity grab the Number 1000, the huge milestone and a most memorable cardinal number? It’s not exactly a sequential lodge number. Bay Side Lodge 999 was constituted on May 9, 1922; St. Mark’s Lodge 1001 somehow was constituted the day before that; and Lodge 1000 received its warrant nearly six months later! For a fraternity that inculcates study of Arithmetic among the Liberal Arts and Sciences, this appears amiss.

Publicity Lodge lore explains that because the Roman numeral M equals our number 1000, it was planned for us to receive that number. What’s so great about M? In advertising copy writing, the copy writer adds an M at the end of his copy, center page, to inform the editor there is nothing more to read. (How the advertising business chose M for that purpose may be unknown today.)

speaking of writing and editing, MW Tompkins also advanced the idea of an official periodical for New York Masons. It would be titled The New York Masonic Outlook. This was a novel idea as grand lodges did not have in-house magazines for their members, but in the 1920s, all things became possible. Masonic membership in the United States surged during and after World War I and through the twenties, reaching 3.5 million before the disaster of the Great Depression. The multitudes of Master Masons resulted in lodges proliferating coast to coast. More real estate was acquired and developed. More charities were established. The appendant bodies flourished. Supporting industries providing regalia, paraphernalia, and other goods profited. There was more of everything, so there was money to establish a magazine for New York Freemasonry too.

didn’t take Grand Lodge long to hire the best available editor to bring the Outlook to fruition. Harry LeRoy “H.L.” Haywood (1886-1956) was among the top Masonic authors whose books are valued for their clear prose to help the reader grasp Masonry’s sometimes arcane and vexing subjects. He also was renowned for editing The Builder, published by the National Masonic Research Society, that was not only a magazine, but was the centerpiece of a correspondence course in Masonic education. Haywood arrived in New York and, seeking the most talented available help in starting a magazine from scratch, he affiliated with—who else?—Publicity Lodge 1000.

Because the world outside has changed in infinite ways since 1922—people then could not comprehend what we today take for granted—it is especially appreciated how Publicity Lodge remains mostly unchanged. Our styles of dress and appearance evolved, and even our ritual has been altered a little, but our sacred retreat of friendship and virtue steadfastly upholds the meaning of Masonry. Here’s to another hundred years!


Thursday, October 27, 2022

‘Ukraine grand master to be feted’

Click to enlarge.

Columbia Lodge 1190 will honor Steven Rubin, Ted Harrison, and the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ukraine at its fall festive board/brunch next month.

Our Deputy Grand Master needs no introduction. Ted, of course, is the ubiquitous presence in New York Freemasonry who, among many other things, quarterbacked Grand Lodge’s Fraternity on Campus Committee, thereby seeing Columbia 1190 set to labor. Anatoliy Dymchuk will visit via Zoom. And brunch? Well, that’s the most important meal between breakfast and lunch.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Tuxedo at…at noon?!” If you don’t have a morning suit, just do it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

‘Before the history disappears’

Another great night with The American Lodge of Research is in the books, with a stellar group in attendance too.

New York City’s lodge of Masonic research and education convened for its trimesterly—if that’s a word—stated communication, welcoming to the lectern MW Bill Sardone, who discussed the past fifty-five or so years of the Order of DeMolay in the state. He has written it for publication in our upcoming (early 2023!) book of transactions, making it a kind of sequel to a paper included in, if I’m not mistaken, the lodge’s twenty-fifth anniversary volume of papers from 1956.

Sardone’s autobiographical story in New York DeMolay essentially is the general history of the Order here since the late sixties. And he has the personal collection of regalia (including fezzes!), memorabilia, and artifacts to prove it, some of which he brought for display. Not only was Sardone the first State Master Councilor, but in that capacity he also became the first guest speaker at a Grand Lodge Communication who was not a Mason.

That kind of thing is taken for granted today, but in 1968 it was a singular occurrence. The Grand Master gave the State Master Councilor five minutes: one for his entrance, three for speaking, and one for his exit. To accommodate him, the Grand Lodge had to be closed. The brethren (so numerous that Grand Lodge met in the old Statler Hilton across from Madison Square Garden) were not amused, but the young Sardone was prepared, his written remarks honed to the 180-second specification, and, as they say in comedy, he killed. Attempting to exit within the five-minute constraint, he was intercepted by the Junior Grand Deacon on the order of the Grand Master, returned to the East, and received a thunderous ovation.

The late 1960s. Obviously not DeMolay’s zenith, and a time of ceaseless political violence and cultural revolution for this country. I’m guessing it was a challenge, to put it mildly, for young people then to adhere to traditions. We look at the way pop culture “history” presents those days today, with unanimous veneration of counter-culture Baby Boomers, whereby those who couldn’t know better are caused to believe that Sardone and his peers never could have existed. Of course they were part of American life too. One slide on the screen showed the McCandlish Phillips story in the March 19, 1970 New York Times with the headline “Boys Dedicated to Good Deeds.” Sardone also displayed photos of VIPs visiting DeMolay events, including Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, and broadcast journalists Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley. Pat Paulson figures somewhere in there as well.

Bill Sardone said he wrote his reflections on DeMolay to get them on paper so that this history doesn’t disappear. Write on, Grand Master!

Sunday, October 23, 2022

‘Journal 58: Masonic beginnings and ends’


Issue 58 (Fall 2022) of The Journal of the Masonic Society has been out several weeks; I just finished reading it, and am delighted to report it is another enlightening and entertaining collection of articles.

Anyone chagrined over Freemasonry’s future ought to behold Antonio Mantica’s “The View from the Starting Line,” in which he inspires with his personal story of seeking the mysteries of the Order. The 28-year-old Fellow Craft of Lexington Lodge 1 in Kentucky likens his Masonic journey to a marathon, which makes sense, and he invokes the story of Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan runner who incredibly redefined the marathon, making it an enterprise of less than two hours. It’s not that Mantica wants speed in his travels; instead he appreciates Kipchoge’s ambition to uplift his performance “to another level.” And the runner didn’t train alone. He employed no fewer than forty-one fellow long distance racers to compel him forward—not just to move faster, but to “pass on a message that no human is limited.”

With a similar mindset, our young brother hurdled various personal and cultural potential obstacles in his Masonic path, and he joined the very excellent Lexington Lodge, happy to discover he had been accepted by “a group of respectful men…who listened, comprehended, and met me on the level.”

While at this stage of Masonic development, any Fellow Craft is justified in being a receptor of good and wholesome instruction, but this brother both desires Light and intends to reflect it. “I also see the opportunity to offer my own experiences as a helping hand to my brothers in Freemasonry,” he writes. “As a ten-year student of physics, I cannot help but make the analogy of laser light, where light bounces back and forth off mirrors inside of a ruby cube, giving energy to nearby atoms until they have enough energy to light themselves, causing a coherent beam of red light to radiate from the apparatus.” Fiat lux rubrum, my brother.

Pennsylvania’s Seth Anthony is back, this time delivering a brief story about the New York City locus of both the Cerneau Rite and the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis and Misraim. Mott Hall is no longer standing, but in its time the building became the place where Masons of these orders met. The Mott family was prestigious in the medical profession during the nineteenth century, and Dr. Alexander Mott was Puissant Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Cerneau Rite from the 1870s until his death in 1889. It makes me smile to see a Pennsylvania Mason write of the Cerneau Scottish Rite. (Visit a lodge in the Keystone State, and you learn why.)

Another Kentucky Mason, W. Bro. Brandon Garrett of Elkhart Lodge 568, also exhibits a scientific mindset and an interest in the Fellow Craft Degree in his “Reality: A Subjective User Experience in the Gateway Interface.”

“We don’t observe our reality. We recreate it,” he says. “Granted, we don’t continuously recreate the entire world every moment, just our panoramic perspective.” Linking this to one aspect of the Five Steps toward the Middle Chamber, Garrett reminds us our senses have their limits. “Reality is much the same [as] a user interface of what we need to deal with while working on a physical plane,” he writes. “The mechanical movements of consciousness, the soul, or even the unseen forces of nature, such as gravity, could be viewed and observed if allowed a glimpse into the running background behind our reality.”

Speaking of reality, Masonic Society Fellow Michael Moran, another Pennsylvanian, in his “Practical Use of Reflection,” explains how his habit of periodically taking off time from work as a university professor informs his growth as a Mason. “Reflection can be enormously helpful to identify what really happened…as opposed to relying on what can be faulty memory,” he says. The difference between reflection and recollection lies in “reviewing accumulated notes and records.” That journalistic practice of taking notes and referring to them later forces one to be honest and avoid the pratfall of remembering the good and suppressing the bad of the past. The goal is to plan for the future, and have vision for it. Moran (also The Journal’s book reviews editor) resolves to continue educating himself in Masonry and also keep encouraging others in their learning. The fraternity is lucky to have him.

Andrew Nechetsky, another Pennsylvanian, of Pen Argyl Lodge 594, reflects on Abraham Lincoln, tying Lincoln’s thoughts on God and man to the Craft’s. Bro. Nechetsky sums up Lincoln’s purported approbation of Freemasonry and his alleged petitioning for the degrees before calling for some symbolic and obviously posthumous making a Mason of the sixteenth president.

Yes, well, continuing with mortality, Bro. Jack Freund of Reynoldsburg Lodge 340 in Ohio, and a 32° Mason, brings his doctoral knowledge of Information Systems to bear in an impressive article that analyzes how death and immortality are regarded in the degrees of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite (Northern Masonic Jurisdiction) in his “From Darkness to Light to Darkness Again” near the back of this issue of The Journal.

He ably presents a technically dense subject in plain language, but that doesn’t mean I can summarize it rightly here. But, he zeroes in on twenty-one words conveying ideas of death and immortality to see how the AASR-NMJ rituals reveal those ideas. He’s been a Scottish Rite Mason for more than a decade, and he presents his findings through a half-dozen bar graphs of analyses. He concludes “Through the daily application of the Scottish Rite core values, we can find a path to kindle and fan the flames of that divine spark inside us all.”

My opinion of the NMJ (I call it the Non-Masonic Jurisdiction) differs, but I admire his positivity.

And that’s not all!

The Journal includes a variety of regular features. The President’s Message from New York’s RW Bro. Oscar Alleyne beckons us to muster our fortitude even in our interpersonal relationships “to perhaps face trials and personal persecutions in defense of a just and worthy cause.” From the Editor’s Corner, Michael Poll pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of The Journal, as he celebrates his twenty-fifth issue as Editor in Chief. A newly added item, titled “Masonic Minutiae,” by Second Vice President Mark Robbins, puts questions to you for your research and edification. The Book Reviewers tell us about four recent titles you may want to read. First Vice President Greg Knott’s “Through the Camera’s Lens” takes us to Oklahoma City National Memorial which honors the many deaths of the terrorist bombing of 1995.

No, of course I didn’t forget “Vetus Viginti Septem” by W. Bro. M. Christopher Lee, Master of Butler Lodge 254 in Missouri. The Latin translates to “Old Twenty-Seven,” and this work of creative writing borrows from Scottish Rite. It’s fiction, so I can’t give it away.

Click here to join the Masonic Society and begin receiving The Journal every three months. It’s the best Masonic magazine out there. As you have seen here, it doesn’t only commemorate the fraternity’s history, but it also gives voice to those who think ahead.

I forgot the cover! The front cover photo is by W. Bro. Wayne Dyer, who cast his eyes and camera to the East and shot this photo of the beautiful lodge room in Penarth Masonic Hall in Cardiff, Wales. With a meeting space like this, I don’t know why the Prince of Wales wouldn’t petition one of the lodges, like Windsor 1754.

Friday, October 21, 2022

‘Masonry: History and Characters Through Philately'


News today from the Masonic Philatelic Club concerns a new ebook that illustrates the history of Freemasonry via philately.

Alvaro Montoya Merino of Colombia has published Masonry: History and Characters Through Philately, a 319-page guided tour through 2000 postage stamps. Surely a labor of love.

From the publicity:

The present work, collects more than 2000 postage stamps with 1200 Masonic characters, presented in ten groups according to their activities and achievements that ended up changing our history.

I think the author has made some mistakes in the Famous Masons department, but these pages share stamps from around the world and back into the past. It’s comprehensive, with thousands of images, and even includes papal anti-Masonry.

Read it here.


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

‘Fez photos wanted!’

The Chap
, Britain’s essential periodical, put out a call today for your finest fez photograph. (Well, maybe not yours.) They’re not asking for fraternal fezzes, but they didn’t say no either. Mystic Prophets, heed the announcement:

“A fez is not just something to wear. It grants reverence to the wearer.”

Nasser Abd El-Baset
fez maker

Your Fez
Photos Requested

Hot on the heels of our current edition comes CHAP Winter 22, which happens to coincide with the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon. Thus to pass over mention of that superb item of Egyptian headwear, the fez, would be a dereliction of duty.

We therefore request that any readers in possession of a fez, whether purchased in the old bazaar in Cairo or elsewhere, send us a photographic image of themselves wearing said louche item of Egyptian headwear, for publication in the Winter edition.

Please send any such photographs here.

To mark the centenary of Tut’s tomb being opened, we shall be meeting the great-grandson of the fifth Earl, and current custodian of Highclere Castle, George Herbert.

Colleen Darnell will be providing precise archaeological insight into the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, while our main interview, entirely unconnected with Egyptian mummies, is with acting legend and all-round chap Sir Michael Caine.

Monday, October 17, 2022

‘Masons and obelisks in NYC’


“These Freemason Obelisks in NYC Align?!” is a one-minute video uploaded to YouTube yesterday, already garnering tens of thousands of views and thousands of likes, purporting to illustrate a linear placement of “Masonic obelisks” along a longitudinal stretch of Manhattan.

Mr. Ariel Viera, host of Urbanist, is not disrespectful nor sensationalist about this curio of a subject, and the production is lighthearted and edited for alacrity, but is his thesis correct?

Were the historic people he says were Freemasons actually brethren of the Craft? If so, would that be why the city erected monuments to them? Would it be remarkable for monuments placed on or near Fifth Avenue to appear vertically straight when seen via satellite? Is it all a coincidence…or international Masonic conspiracy?! You decide!

Some background on New York’s Cleopatra’s Needle here.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

‘Loyalty and Kindness on research lodge’s agenda’

Williamsburg Lodge 6

Civil War Lodge of Research
is heading to Colonial Williamsburg for its next communication.

That’ll be Saturday, December 3 and of course will feature Colonial Williamsburg attractions to enhance the experience of meeting inside Williamsburg Lodge 6. From the publicity:

Friday, December 2

6:30—Dinner at Craft 31

Saturday, December 3

9 a.m.—coffee, etc. at the lodge

10 a.m.—lodge opens


1 p.m.—open installation of officers

Colonial Williamsburg will be open. (Most government houses, family homes, and historic trade areas charge for admission.) Bruton Parish Church will be open for self-tours until three o’clock.

Colonial Williamsburg
5 p.m.—Colonial Williamsburg’s Grand Illumination (musket fire, pyrotechnics at the Capitol, live music on several stages in the historic areas).

6:30—Dinner at Mellow Mushroom followed by libations at Precarious Beer Project across the street.

For the meals, please book your seats in advance by contacting the lodge secretary here.

I’d really love to attend, but it’s a little too far. It’s like driving to Masonic Week, but with another two hours to go. Plus, The American Lodge of Research will be at West Point Lodge on Thursday night, so it’s a busy time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

‘The ALR in two weeks’

The American Lodge of Research will meet again Tuesday the 25th. We’ll be inside the Colonial Room of Masonic Hall at seven o’clock. Speaking that evening will be MW Bill Sardone, the Grand Lodge of New York’s immediate Past Grand Master and one who gets much of the credit for seeing this lodge revived and returned to labor last year.

He will present his personal history with the Order of DeMolay, a story reaching back more than fifty years, including his stint as New York’s first State Master Councilor and his term more recently as International Grand Master. He will illustrate his talk with DeMolay artifacts, the likes of which you probably haven’t seen before.

All Master Masons are welcome to attend, so please reserve in advance here.

Attire: suit and tie. Aprons are provided. We don’t host a meal, but I bet a post-meeting prandial gathering will be arranged off-site.

Look for us next on Thursday, December 1 at West Point Lodge 877 in Highland Falls for an unprecedented joint meeting with this historic lodge, located just outside the Military Academy.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

‘Masonic art contest winners'

Every grand lodge ought to have an arts contest, but it is the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania that does it every year. It’s October, so it must be time to announce the winners of the “Embodying Masonic Values” art competition of 2022.

The Grand Lodge has been showcasing art linked thematically by Masonic imagery since 2018. This is the fine arts, not performing arts, literature, or anything else. As always, the entries are very interesting. Some pieces’ connections to Freemasonry are stronger than others’ and, God knows, some exhibit greater skill than others, but maybe all that’s in the eye of the beholder.

The Best in Show choice is Madeline Davis’ “Renovatio Ritus, Dedication.” The porcelain vessel measures, in inches, 8x4x3.

GL of Pennsylvania
‘Renovatio Ritus, Dedication,’
by Madeline Davis.

The artists says “This is documentation of the ritual vessel Dedication in use. Renovatio Ritus is a renewal ritual, asking for Clarity, Truth, and Dedication. We find ourselves in search of answers, so we turn to religion, dogmas, and science to satiate our need to know all, yet we will never will.” It’s yours for $400.

Dennis Darkeem’s medium is photography, and his 20x20 photograph titled “Balance” is the winner of the Grand Master’s Prize.

GL of Pennsylvania
‘Balance’ by Dennis Darkeem.

This is available for $1,200.

The Best in Category for oil painting is this straightforward 18x18 “A Pair of Compasses” by P.J. Mills.

GL of Pennsylvania
‘A Pair of Compasses’ by P.J. Mills.

Available for $2,000.

You can view all the winners and other entries here, but let me close with Bro. Juan Sepulveda’s Best in Category for drawing and prints: “Unlocking Independence.”

GL of Pennsylvania
‘Unlocking Independence’ by Juan Sepulveda.

That’s ink, chalk, and charcoal on paper—I think those come up in one of the degrees!—and it can be yours for $300.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

‘Knapp-Hall tarot to return again’


No details were given, but a brief remark on social media Thursday promises the return of the elusive Knapp-Hall tarot deck.

As in J. Augustus Knapp and Manly P. Hall.

Out of stock at the Philosophical Research Society, the historic cards have been wait-listed for a long while. Looks like the wait is nearly over.

Some background info here and here.

Friday, October 7, 2022

‘BBC: The Templaaars!’


Last night, BBC 4’s In Our Time program reviewed the historic Knights Templar in a conversation among scholars who also refuted the notion, popular among some Freemasons, that the medieval warriors were the ancestors of Masonry.

It’s a sober-minded, authoritative, 50-minute finding of facts. (Keep listening beyond the host’s sign-off at 42 minutes.) Melvyn Bragg is joined by Jonathan Phillips, of the University of London; Helen Nicholson, of Cardiff University; and Mike Carr, of the University of Edinburgh.

The Masonic moment comes at 41 minutes, when Freemasonry’s templarphilia is laughed off as a “weird pseudo-history.”

The program’s webpage also gives a reading list of fourteen books. John J. Robinson did not make the grade.


Thursday, October 6, 2022



Something last week reminded me of the venerable, and upon venturing to visit, I found it was no more. Stephen Dafoe, the creator of the—I’ll call it—innovative resource, left Freemasonry years ago, so I guess it is understandable how he may have tired of paying to maintain the site and domain.

There was a lot to it, but the main attraction was a trove of essays in the twenty-first century revival of Masonic critical thinking. The writers (The Knights of the North), at Stephen’s prompting, tackled various problems facing the Masonic Order, from A to Z.

Too little, too late, perhaps, but I feel some pride when I recognize one of our bluntly voiced analyses impacting a lodge’s or grand lodge’s thinking. (Some grand masters believe good ideas come from their conferences, but that’s not exactly right.) Sorry to see it go.

The Knights of the North effectively became the Masonic Society in 2008.

The only remnant is a table of contents on this old Dummies post. My own contribution, a modified version of which I still trot out for speaking engagements, is reproduced here.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

‘Pamela Colman Smith at the Whitney'

A.E. Waite
Born on this date in 1857 in Brooklyn: Arthur Edward Waite, initiated into Freemasonry September 19, 1901 in Runymede Lodge 2430 in Buckinghamshire, England (Worshipful Master in 1910).

His is a vexing biography. Click here for R.A. Gilbert’s paper from the 1986 Ars Quatuor Coronatorum and read of Waite’s—what I’ll call—duality of nature. He is remembered for books on Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and Golden Dawn, but it seems some personality foibles leached into his mystical life. We’re all human. I have no problem with him, except that his A New Encyclopædia of Freemasonry is so disorganized as to prove the mystics ought to keep out of the reference and history book business.

It is beyond the confines of Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and Golden Dawn where Waite’s name is best known, as he was the designer of the most ubiquitous tarot cards: the Rider-Waite deck. Rider was the publishing company that printed the cards. Waite provided the concepts for the illustrations. And the third wheel was the artist who brought those ideas to life: Pamela Colman Smith. Thus we reach the point of this edition of The Magpie Mason.

Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951) was an English mystic and artist known to Waite through the Golden Dawn, and she was chosen to create the seventy-eight images of this new tarot deck. Following Waite’s specifications, we understand how some of these cards display Masonic hints. Anyway, the Whitney Museum of American Art currently exhibits “At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth Century American Modernism,” which includes Smith and the tarot cards. The show will close February 26, 2023. From the publicity:

“At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth Century American Modernism” showcases art produced between 1900 and 1930 by well known American modernists and their now largely forgotten, but equally groundbreaking peers. Drawn primarily from the Whitney’s permanent collection, it provides new perspectives on the myriad ways American artists used nonrepresentational styles developed in Europe to express their subjective responses to the realities of the modern age.

America’s early modernists came of age during a time when the country’s predominant mood was one of youthful confidence. Racial violence and social and economic injustices existed, but so too did insurgency and social reform. American technological and engineering ingenuity had made the country the world’s largest industrial power at the same time that political Progressivism and cultural shifts, such as women’s suffrage, had upended bourgeois codes of respectability. The combination gave rise to an excitement about an era that critic Walter Lippmann characterized as “bursting with new ideas, new plans, and new hopes.”

Against this backdrop, large numbers of American artists embraced the new over the traditional and fixed by rejecting realistic depictions of the world in favor of art that prioritized emotional experience and harmonious design. The results were largely ignored by the Whitney Museum, whose loyalty was to the urban realists who formed the core of the Whitney Studio Club, out of which the museum had grown. A handful of non-representational works were acquired when the museum was founded in 1930 and more were added in subsequent decades, but it was not until the mid-1970s that the museum vigorously began to acquire vanguard art made between 1900 and 1930. While extensive, these acquisitions largely excluded work by women and artists of color. The Whitney had already begun rectifying these biases, but in anticipation of the opening of “At the Dawn,” it added more works by these artists to the collection. The result is an exhibition that recasts the story of American art by celebrating the mood of optimistic excitement with which American artists embraced modern styles and illuminates the complexity and diversity that are at the heart of the American experience.

In 1909, Pamela Colman Smith was commissioned to design a set of seventy-eight tarot cards by A.E. Waite, the leader of the Independent and Rectified Rite of the Golden Dawn, a secret, mystical society to which Smith belonged. Known as the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, it was the first to feature fully illustrated, symbolic images on each card, and integrated Judeo-Christian ideas into a visual vocabulary that often drew heavily on occult magic. Stylistically, the designs in the deck reflect the era’s widespread embrace of the sinuous, organic lines of Art Nouveau and the flowing patterns of Japanese prints. Smith used the style in her tarot cards and in watercolors, such as The Wave to suggest the existence of a mystical occult world beyond the visible one.

Click here for a quick video.

Seeing how Smith was English, I’m not sure how she fits into an exhibition of American artists, but that’s okay. In closing, let me offer the stock disclaimer on how tarot cards are for reflection, circumspection, contemplation, etc., and never for divination.