Friday, March 31, 2023

‘Hudson Valley Masonicon next Saturday’


This is just an update on the Hudson Valley Masonicon planned for next Saturday. The schedule of speakers has been announced, and it looks like a full day is in store for us. This will not be a tiled event. Dress is business casual. Lunch will be served. Cost per person is $15. From the publicity:

Saturday, April 8
Hoffman Lodge 412
9 Courtland Street, Middletown

Registration and breakfast 8:30 to 9:50

First Speaker at 10 a.m.
Bro. Robert McLoughlin

Second Speaker at 10:40
Bro. Dan Elliot

Third Speaker at 11:20
Bro. Mike Rydelek

Fourth Speaker at noon
Bro. Jim Loporto

Lunch and Masonic
Information Expo at 12:40 p.m.
Fifth Speaker at 1:50
Bro. Hubert Urrutia
Sixth Speaker at 2:30
Bro. Jonathan Williams

Keynote Speaker at 3:10
Bro. Angel Millar

A gathering will follow at DeStefano’s Olde Erie at 7 West Main Street in Middletown starting at four o’clock.

I bought my ticket in February when Angel was the only speaker advertised. Other than Bro. McLoughlin, I am not familiar with the brethren now scheduled to speak, nor is there indication of their topics, but I’m optimistic. See you there.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

‘A princess decapitated, a stairway ascended, and a Fellow elevated’

Appropriately hanging outside the Colonial Room in Masonic Hall are Franklin, Washington, and Lafayette.

That was one exceptional meeting of The American Lodge of Research we enjoyed last night! Two phenomenal research papers anchored what was a productive and memorable time together.

Attendance was up, probably because of improved communication and outreach both to our members and to those interested but haven’t joined yet—and also, I suspect, because the successes of the past two years of meetings speak for themselves.

Bro. Ziad was the first to present. His paper, with plenty of art and illustrations, is titled “The Masonic Journey of Princess Lamballe.” An engaging work of biography and history that reveals a very young lady’s entrance into the height of Parisian society (becoming a confidant of Marie Antoinette, no less) and how she parlayed her social station into Masonic membership in an Adoptive lodge, Loge la Candeur, where a demand for equality between the sexes was fomenting. La Candeur was an independent-minded force for feminine equality within the Grand Orient of France, to the point of antagonizing the Grand Orient leadership. The princess was present at this lodge’s inaugural meeting on March 21, 1775. Six years later, the women members decided they would rule and govern the lodge themselves, without male members’ direction.

The Death of Princess de Lamballe
by Léon-Maxime Faivre, 1908.
In the end, she perished in The Terror, replete with decapitation. I like to think she and her peers’ Masonic labors continue today in the feminine lodges of France and elsewhere—several of which can be found a short distance away on 45th Street.

Next at the lectern was Bro. Daniel (I redact surnames here because I don’t know if the brethren prefer privacy concerning their Masonic membership), who gave us “Superstructure: A Philological and Historical Reimagination of the Middle Chamber and Winding Staircase.” Daniel is a rabbinical student whose insights into the Hebrew language, both modern and ancient, fuel his investigation into exactly what might be meant in the lecture of the Second Degree when it discusses that inner architecture of KST.

I think we all understand no one in Israel was employing the term “Sanctum Sanctorum.” Daniel plumbs the Hebrew, Aramaic, and English (and displays Greek and Latin) uses of the terms middle, chamber, winding, and staircase to extrapolate contexts that ensure we’ll never hear that degree’s lecture in the same way again. It may be possible that the climb to the Middle Chamber is not traversed via material stairs at all but, instead, could be a mental ascendance.

During the Q&A, the Brother Junior Deacon rose to exclaim that this was the finest research presentation he’d heard in many years. He also mentioned how the Greek word thalamus—as in cerebral cortex—means “inner chamber!” I similarly think this paper exemplifies the way scholarship in Freemasonry can add powerful life to the printed words Masons are expected to memorize for recitation. (And don’t ask about my attempt to deliver the few brief lines from the Junior Warden’s station!)

Speaking of printed pages, naturally both of these papers will appear in our upcoming book of transactions; they will bloom on the page because their oral presentations, even with PowerPoint, are an awful lot to absorb. The ALR has inked a deal with Westphalia Press and, when I finally finish editing, we can start pre-press. Hopefully will have the books in June.

There was some business to tackle before closing the meeting, and it is with great pleasure The ALR announces the election of its newest Fellow—that’s No. 50—is Piers Vaughan! Congratulations, Piers! There’s no need to explain why he was chosen.

The American Lodge of Research will meet again in June for more Masonic learning and our election and installation of officers.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

‘New York City Grotto Day’

Some Grottoes exhibit wisdom. Some possess strength.
Azim emphasizes beauty! ‘The Handsomest Grotto in the Realm.’
Today was the big day for the Mystic Prophets in New York City. The Grotto has gone international, and what used to be National Grotto Day has been promoted to International Grotto Month!

But Azim’s ceremonial at Masonic Hall happened earlier today. Big, big class of candidates. I didn’t catch the number, but it started with 3. Thirty? Three hundred? Who can say? The important thing is Sympathy and Good Fellowship abounded.

Home of the Mokanna.
And, frankly, it was more enjoyable than the previous four or five ceremonials I’ve attended. For example, during the drama, no music was played so it actually was possible to hear what was being said. And Frank, our District Deputy, absolutely killed it in his role. If there were acting awards for Grotto ritual work, Frank would clean up.

Victor’s stylish fez case.
And it was great to see Isaac again. Victor, the Deputy Grand Monarch of Supreme Council, of course was there, and he presented the new Prophets their fezzes. He will be installed Grand Monarch in April of next year in New Orleans, which just has to be the best city for Grotto mayhem. (I think I’m going! I’ve always wanted to visit the birthplace of jazz.)

The altar.
In personal news, I think I might have become the official spiritual leader of Azim. I’ve been the chaplain in the past, I think, four ceremonials. Today, for the first time, I served as chaplain for the meeting itself. Very simple, as rituals go.

We were told to expect an Azim event in May. Details to come, and I’ll share them here when I hear.

Friday, March 24, 2023

‘Texas grand master opines on “trans” membership question’

The grand master of the Grand Lodge of Texas today published his opinion on the legality of transgender people holding membership in Texas lodges—and his unequivocal ruling is no.

G. Clay Smith
MW Clay Smith had been asked for his legal judgment on whether female-to-male transgender people could be Freemasons in Texas. Smith replied with a comprehensive no on initiating females, transgender men, and transgender women, as well as permitting Masons who have become transgender women to continue holding membership.

Read all about it here.

Wearing my Grumpy Past Master top hat, I’m harrumphing over the grand master’s misuse of the term Old Charges. He makes clear he is invoking Anderson’s Constitutions, which summarize Old Charges, but he is confusing a fine point of Masonic jurisprudence and history. And he’s wrong about 1722. (I can’t help it. I’m an editor.)

From Decision No. 1 issued today.

Other than that—not that this matters—I support his ruling here. I don’t know anything about Texas Masonic law, so I don’t know if this decision bears the authority of an edict or what, but a quick internet search reveals how public law and public policy in the Republic of Texas have been evolving to address this new phenomenon’s many facets.

The Magpie Mason had a feeling something of this nature was percolating there lately. I posted news of the United Grand Lodge of England deciding the other way on this question in 2018, and that obscure edition of The Magpie Mason started receiving an inordinate number of hits this year from Texas.

h/t to W. Bill Hosler on Faceypage.

Monday, March 20, 2023

‘A whole new Masonic ring’

I can’t guess who the hand model is, but I think he’s a Grand Lodge of New York officer.

No one in the Masonic world is driving technology faster than the brethren of Amity, and their latest endeavor is something I doubt any of us expected. The Signet is a ring that, partnered with a smartphone, is able to vouch for you in any lodge you’re likely to visit. From the publicity:

Form meets function with this discreet and stylish NFC-enabled ring. Never carry a dues card again; just tap your ring to your brother’s phone and show your membership status in real time. Let the Signet aid your travels. Simple and timeless, it has as much discretion as the Freemason who wears it.

It’s waterproof, has no battery, and needs no charge. Just tap it to a modern smartphone to load your profile in Amity.

Your Signet will arrive in a ritual book-style box, with a black metal passport card that can be scanned by brothers who may not understand your ring. Both will load your profile, and can be turned off in the Amity app, if you’d like the ultimate in security and privacy.

Anyone can carry a dues card, but not everyone wears a Signet.

The Signet works in more than 100 grand lodges around the world. The price is $175, which includes taxes and shipping in or from the United States.

I’ll guess this will be very popular among Masons under age forty, if I may stereotype younger men who seem to adapt to evolving technologies effortlessly. I had to google NFC, but even I can appreciate what this represents. Don’t ask me what the next gizmo will be, but that’s all the more reason Amity impresses me.

Friday, March 17, 2023

‘Coming up at The ALR this month’


The American Lodge of Research will meet again on Tuesday the 28th in the Colonial Room of Masonic Hall. (71 W. 23rd St., Manhattan, 10th floor.) The lodge tiles at seven. Photo ID is required to enter the building.

We’ll have two papers for the evening: Bro. Daniel will give us “Superstructure: A Philological and Historical Reimagination of the Middle Chamber and Winding Staircase.” Bro. Ziad will present “The Masonic Journey of Princess Lamballe.” (That’s her in the image above.)

We also have important business on the agenda. Two bylaws amendments are in the offing; they were introduced at the previous meeting, and we’ll vote this time. We will ballot on potential Corresponding and Active Members too. We tackle the business pretty quickly.

Come out and hear those two enlightening papers! Bring a lodge brother with you.

Friday, March 10, 2023

‘Historians to visit Fredericksburg’

Civil War Lodge of Research 1865, one of Virginia’s numerous lodges of Masonic research and education, will meet Saturday, April 1 at one of the Commonwealth’s most historic and cherished lodges. The brethren are headed to Fredericksburg Lodge 4, which already is home to George Washington Lodge of Research 1732, for its next Stated Communication.

As always, the meeting is one event in a busy weekend of sightseeing and fellowship. The lodge will tyle (Virginia spelling) at 10 a.m. Lunch (details TBD) will follow at noon, and at one o’clock everyone will take a tour of the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park and “Mule Shoe,” the site of the craziest hand-to-hand combat of the war.

Magpie file photo
Fredericksburg 4’s lodge room.

Click here to see the entire itinerary and the hotel booking info.

The following meeting will take place July 8 at Gettysburg (timed to avoid the hectic crowds on both the battle’s 160th anniversary and Independence Day), and I believe I’m going to get to that one.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

‘An extra special MM Degree’

Publicity Lodge and guests Monday night.

We enjoyed a really big night Monday at Publicity Lodge. Conferring the Third Degree on a FC Mason is sufficient reason for meticulous planning and deliberate execution, but we received word a few days earlier that our Grand Master, with other Grand Lodge officers, would attend, which, naturally, adds great prestige to the auspiciousness.

Plus, we were honored with the support of sister lodges in the Fourth Manhattan District. And we were charmed with the visit of more than a dozen Prince Hall Masons. We haven’t seen a turn-out like this since before the pandemic.

Grand Master Richard Kessler said he doesn’t get to witness much degree work in his current capacity, so he decided to come see this Sublime Degree. Accompanying him were Junior Grand Warden Peter Stein, DDGM Philippe Hiolle, Senior Grand Deacon Larry Kania, Grand Director of Ceremonies Tomas Hull, and Trustee George Filippidis.

From elsewhere in the Fourth Manhattan were brethren from Manahatta Lodge 449, Columbian 484, Gramercy 537, and St. Cecile 568.

PHA lodges represented were Prince Hall 38, Beacon Light 76, Master 99, and Sons of Kings 123.

(If I missed anyone, I’m sorry, but you didn’t sign the visitors book.)

An unforgettable night! Our new MM felt the impact of seeing so many forming the lodge when the hw came off. Let’s do it again next month!

‘Magic Flute discussion’


California’s Michael Samu will be the next speaker in the series hosted by The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. He will discuss Mozart’s Masonic opera The Magic Flute on Saturday, March 25 at 3:30 p.m. From the publicity:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is arguably the most famous classical composer of all time. He composed about 600 pieces of music, some of which were created specifically for Masonic degrees and events. Most people know of his achievements in music, but little is spoken of his Masonic or political life. His final opera, The Magic Flute, holds rich symbolism that leads the observer through an initiation ritual that is meant to enlighten and illuminate its audience. This lecture seeks to reveal the esoteric symbolism hidden within one of Mozart’s most misunderstood works.

Click here to attend virtually. Click here to attend in person.

Michael Samu
Michael Samu was born and raised in Joshua Tree, California, and has been a Master Mason since 2018. He works in healthcare as a phlebotomist, but also provides tarot card readings, writes articles on the occult and esotericism for the Philosophical Research Society Journal, and is the organist and lecturer-in-residence for Whittier Masonic Lodge 323. Bro. Samu leads the Whittier Masonic Study Club, which focuses on curating talks on the esoteric and philosophical aspects of Masonry.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

‘All is well at East Palestine Lodge’

East Palestine Lodge photo
The brethren of East Palestine Lodge 417 in Ohio recaptured their district’s Traveling Gavel last week. They appear to be doing great despite the chemical disaster unleashed on the community due to the train derailment on February 3.

The news of the catastrophe in East Palestine, Ohio the past month notwithstanding, the Masonic lodge there appears undaunted, if its social media accounts are an indication.

I contacted them twice to ask how they’re doing, and didn’t hear back, but East Palestine Lodge 417 has a “rusty brother” night planned for Wednesday. It has been through its inspection (I don’t know what that entails). The brethren captured the district’s Traveling Gavel last week. They’re mentoring candidates. The Grand Master visited. Everything looks normal great from a distance.

The lodge’s altar, as shown on Facebook less than a week after the train derailment, in a friendly bid to encourage other lodges to show their altars. Lodges across Ohio, plus Williamsburg 6 in Virginia, did so.

Good for them! I don’t know how to reconcile the apocalyptic news of the chemical disaster with the updates and tweets showing all is well, but I’m happy to take their word for it.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

‘New Yorkers honored at GCNJ today’

M.E. Jason Sheridan, right, accepts Honorary Membership in the Grand Chapter of New Jersey from outgoing GHP Matthew Macready today at the 166th Annual Convocation of the GC of NJ.

I have to admit to not being active in Royal Arch Masonry lately. There just isn’t enough time to attend everything, but I was able to take in the 166th Annual Convocation of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of New Jersey today. M.E. Matthew Macready concluded his term as GHP by lavishing many awards on officers and visiting dignitaries, and the new MEGHP is Mark Megee, an old friend.

Statistically, the Grand Chapter now has seventeen local chapters as Zerubbabel 63 confronted the last resort, after a few years of trying to stay alive, and returned its charter. Statewide membership there stands at 1,084 now, far below the standard ten percent of Master Masons figure you typically see.

Speaking of visiting dignitaries, as the Grand Chapter of New York’s Grand Representative, I was delighted to see a delegation of eminent New Yorkers led by M.E. Jason Sheridan, who himself has one week in office remaining before he is succeeded during the GCNY’s Convocation in Binghamton next Saturday. He was accompanied by M.E. Piers A. Vaughan, PGHP; RE Larry Barnard, G. King; RE Steven Shearer, G. Scribe; RE Mark Peerson, G. Captain of the Host; and RE Gill Calderon. Plus, Harold Kahn, in his capacity as Associate General Grand Chaplain of the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons International, was present, accompanying REC Teko Foly, General Grand King. I think that was everyone from New York. Apologies if I missed anyone.

Piers Vaughan receives
the Harold D. Elliott II Award.
In other news, Jason and Piers (and the other GHPs visiting) were made Honorary Members of the Grand Chapter of New Jersey. In addition, M.E. Macready opened a “Chapter of Rabboni of Excellent Masters” (I have to admit to not knowing what that is. Maybe he meant Lodge. I don’t know. I’ve been away too long.) to invest Piers with the Harold D. Elliott II Award in recognition of Piers’ many years of labor on behalf of the Capitular Rite. If you don’t have them, be sure to get his two books on Capitular education.

There were two other Elliott Award honorees, including E. Mike Loiacono, Past HP of my chapter, Scott 4, who did great work, particularly with education, during 2022. I’m sorry to say I didn’t get to a single convocation that year, so I definitely missed out. Congratulations, Mike!

M.E. Matthew Macready presents the Harold D. Elliott II Award to E. Michael Loiacono, Past HP of Scott Chapter 4.

Friday, March 3, 2023

‘Huge investment preserves venerable Masonic hall’

Historic England photo
The southeast of the lodge room of Phoenix Hall, Sunderland.

In England, a massive cash infusion preserves a Masonic hall that has been in use almost 240 years.

Sunderland Echo reported last Friday on the success to keep one of that city’s two oldest buildings intact and operational for today and tomorrow thanks to a preservation grant. Click here for the story and to see a video montage of the dazzling interior.

Historic England photo
Facade of the building on Queen Street East.

This isn’t any old lodge building. Constructed in 1784-85, Phoenix Hall, on Queen Street East, actually is England’s oldest building made for, and still in, Masonic use. It is home to Phoenix Lodge 94 and a few other groups (and not to be confused with Wearside Masonic Temple, also in Sunderland).

While I’ve never been there, I have followed news of the hall for nearly twenty years, ever since I first met Trevor Stewart on his Prestonian Lecture tour of 2004. He presented me this framed rendering of Phoenix Hall:

If I remember right, Trevor was raising funds to help save the historic site.

Click here for a BBC story from last April. And here for some background from Historic England. 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

‘Not just a tagline. Truth.’

‘Antiquior Montibus Est Veritas’ is the Grand Lodge of Vermont’s motto, and appears on its seal. It translates to ‘Truth Is Older Than the Mountains,’ perfect for the Green Mountain State.

Being at labor in a lodge named Publicity, I take notice of the various advertising gambits undertaken here and there in this fraternity. The most active is the United Grand Lodge of England, which employs young media professionals to shape messaging, keep social media buzzing, and deliver rebuttal to adverse claims against Freemasonry. Their needs are more difficult than ours in America, where achieving basic public awareness is the primary challenge.

The splashiest effort these past five years has been the “Scottish Rite” NMJ’s “Not Just a Man. a Mason.” campaign by Cercone Brown Company. I’ve never been in advertising, so I can’t render a professional critique of it, but I don’t think the tagline says anything, and I was put off by the initial ad which shows a slightly demented looking guy sporting four days of growth on his face and attired in an undershirt. I’m told that’s what the NMJ leadership thinks is cool or contemporary, which it very well might be, but if this guy arrived at my lodge, where I’m tiler, looking like that, I’d advise him to return another night when he is feeling better. I found their follow-up ads vague and timid. But enough about them.

The Grand Lodge of Vermont is the latest to attempt promotional media, having launched its “Truth Is Older Than the Mountains” campaign last month. I like it. It leans toward the erudite and profound, and it is tied to local heritage. That was the approach I pushed for when promulgating a media/public relations handbook for “New Jersey Freemasonry” twenty-something years ago. (They weren’t interested, but somehow New York’s PR chairman obtained a copy, and put his name on it.) Again, I’m not an expert, but that is the direction I still would chart now if spending money and staking reputation on the effort.

The Green Mountain State is sparsely populated, at about 645,000 people, approximately 60 percent of whom are between 18 and 65 years of age, and half of those are male. So they’re aiming for a market of 129,000 men. And their ads are running on Facebook, which I take to indicate they are not pursuing 18-year-olds, and instead prefer the 40+ set.

Last week they launched a podcast. Episode 1 features Chris Murphy discussing the history of Freemasonry in Vermont. “Freemasonry and Vermont have a lot in common,” says Murphy, referring to the character of citizens and of Masons as people who cherish their individual liberty yet remain bonded by all they share in common. Unlike the majority of Masons’ podcasts I’ve sampled, this shows professionalism and is pleasant to hear.

It seems to me the Grand Lodge is appealing to a specific demographic, rather than seeing which feint might trick the most men into a mass initiation.

The Grand Lodge of Vermont is comprised of maybe approximately 4,000 Masons now. I really think the second quarter of the twenty-first century will see the sunsetting of the smaller grand lodges. There always will be Freemasonry, but I bet Vermont will see lodges regroup into smaller federations or perhaps receive warrants from New York or Massachusetts. Or maybe Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont will consolidate. But until then I wish them great success with this effort. It’s an uphill—or up mountain—labor, but I appreciate they have drawn designs upon the trestleboard for how they present themselves to a receptive segment of the population.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

‘Symposium: Masonry and magic’


It’s a little early to look to June, but the California brethren are planning something I bet everyone will enjoy. The twenty-eighth of that month will be the hundredth anniversary of the raising to the Sublime Degree of Bro. Harry Houdini in St. Cecile Lodge 568 here in the city. The Grand Lodge of California will commemorate the occasion with its symposium “Bro. Harry Houdini: The Master Mystic and the Masonic Ties to Our Craft.”

This will be online only at ten o’clock (our time) on that Wednesday night.

The presenters on the bill are four Masons who are magicians too: MW Randall Brill, Grand Master; Maynard Edwards, of Invisible Lodge; S. Brent Morris (you know him); and Ralph C. Shelton, of Ye Olde Cup & Ball Lodge 880.

Click here to register. Read all about it here.