Sunday, July 30, 2023

‘A rainbow over the moon lodge’

Michael LaRocco

Another fine festive board tonight at New York’s last remaining moon lodge.

Warren Lodge 32 did it again: the annual outdoor affair with catered barbecue, the seven toasts, approximately 80 guests, and a rainbow to cap it off. I mean the rainbow isn’t planned.

Rainbows follow rainfalls, and did we get rain! “Extreme Weather” is what my weather app forewarned as I got to within twenty miles of Rhinebeck, and it wasn’t joking. The inundation mostly tapered off by the time I got there, but then the wind picked up. Literally picked up everything on our table—and even one of the tents, which took a flight further than the Wright Brothers’ inaugural foray. It really was a mess: You have your “sword” in one hand, your “cannon” in the other, and somehow you had to hold down your place setting before a gust violently threw it all at the next table over. No injuries reported.

I didn’t shoot a single photo consequently. On the plus side, though, the tempest caused the temperature to drop a good ten or so degrees.

I sat with the contingent from Joseph Warren-Gothic Lodge 934 (the other Warren lodge), and had a good time despite their having consumed all the wine by the time I arrived. Kind brethren at nearby tables made sure we were able to charge our cannons, fortunately.

The lodge’s souvenir poker chip.

Also bumped into W. Bro. Steve, immediate Past Master of White Plains 473. And Deputy Grand Master Steven Rubin, of course.

I’m not usually one who discusses weather, but after the seventh toast (absent brethren) was proposed by W. Mark, Master of Joseph Warren-Gothic—and I mean at the second he stopped speaking—the rainbow appeared.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

‘Tisha B’Av feels closer to home this year’

Tisha B’Av, arriving Wednesday at sunset, is a Jewish observance that may be of interest to Freemasons in a counterintuitive way normally, but that bears greater meaning this year.

In the mainstream of Freemasonry, a lodge room is a place representing King Solomon’s Temple, and Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning a number of tragedies in Jewish history, including the destruction of that temple by the Babylonians circa 586 BCE. Observance includes fasting and reading from Lamentations.

Counterintuitive because in our lodges we do not think of the Temple as being destroyed. KST is viewed as architectural perfection for its proportions and its harmonious and artistic assembly to the glory of the Grand Architect of the Universe.

Well, except for that one thing.

But in current events, we plainly see reasons for worry—for lamentations even. In recent weeks we’ve seen violence against Masonic people and properties that we’re supposed to accept as independent uncoordinated attacks, but how coincidental can they be if the motives are similar?

Yesterday, an arsonist broke into the Scottish Rite Valley of El Paso and started a fire that damaged the ground floor. The Scottish Rite in Athens, Greece was targeted by a bomber July 13. Three days before that, Bro. Robert Wise was shot to death outside McAllen Lodge 1110 in Texas, after the lodge meeting. Last month, Leesburg Lodge 58 near Orlando, Florida was burned down by an arsonist. The list in the recent past is long, and takes us from Masonic Hall in Manhattan to Freemasons Hall in Dublin, and more.

I typically don’t write about these events; I cede the terrible news to the Dummies blog. But, since we’re on the eve of Tisha B’Av, these desecrating crimes trigger visceral energy beyond the pain of being victimized.

Last Thursday, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Washington issued a memo to be read aloud in the lodges that encourages the brethren to be alert, particularly when at the lodge and when wearing items that signal Masonic membership.

However you fit in the demographics pie chart—be you Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or whoever—and wherever dispersed about the face of the earth you are, be diligent, prudent, temperate, and discreet.

Friday, July 21, 2023

‘Prophet motive?’


New York City’s Azim Grotto, the local band of the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm, will host its next Ceremonial September 23.

First Edition, Fourth Printing, 1923.
Yep, I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, that’s the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Bro. Khalil Gibran’s momentous The Prophet!” And you’re right! It indeed was September 23, 1923 when Alfred A. Knopf released the perennial international best seller. It may be Azim’s choice of that date is entirely coincidental, but it’s still pretty cool.

What is certain is the Ceremonial will be a salute to Past Monarch Victor Mann, who presided over Azim in 2013 and now happens to rule the entire Enchanted Realm of Grottoes International, having been installed as Grand Monarch last month at Supreme Council in Pittsburgh. So, when you see me, I may slip a petition for membership into your pocket.

Monday, July 17, 2023

‘CWLR invades Gettysburg’

Most of the brethren present July 8 at Good Samaritan Lodge 336 in Gettysburg.

Before too much time passes and I forget what happened, here is Magpie coverage of last weekend’s visit of Civil War Lodge of Research to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

CWLR 1865 is chartered by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, so its various sojourns outside that state are legalized by dispensations from both the GLV and the grand jurisdiction being visited. And all that is read aloud in lodge, because this is a real lodge conducting a tiled communication. Anyway, the lodge had been to Gettysburg before, but this was my first trip there—and I definitely will be back. My stay lasted only forty-eight hours, and it’s obvious one needs more time than that to enjoy more than a snippet of all there is to see. Between the battlefield, the cemetery, and the town itself, there’s a lot to do. And I don’t think it’s necessary to be passionate about Civil War history to love this place.

A pipe before dinner

So, my itinerary began with a stop about 25 miles west in Chambersburg, where the famous J.M. Boswell’s Pipes & Tobacco shop serves the area’s discerning smokers. It’s one of those destination stores for us—a classic pipe shop, the way the Lord intended—with pipes and tons of tobaccos for sale, and a smoking lounge upstairs.

Some of Boswell’s proprietary pipe mixtures…

…and a lot of its tins.

I’m not really a shopper any more. My tobacco inventory is, uh, enough. But, I can’t walk into the business without putting any cash in the register, so I bought an ounce of something I never ordinarily would smoke: an aromatic mixture. That’s the favored style in the United States (vanilla, cherry, chocolate, rum, whiskey, etc.), whereas my favorites are the English, Balkan, and Oriental styles—again, how the Lord intended. So I purchased an ounce of Boswell’s own Cherry Smash. It’s okay, but I can’t understand the allure of aromatics. A terrific smoke shop, with a walk-in humidor of cigars too, although I didn’t even look at those.

That was the afternoon of Friday the seventh; later, I ventured into Gettysburg’s Lincoln Square to find the brethren at the Blue and Gray Bar & Grill, as arranged by the lodge. Busy place. So busy that they couldn’t seat the group, despite reservations, so the brethren headed around the corner to Borough BBQ, where I eventually caught up with them. This place was empty for some reason, but the food is good, and the service is friendly. (Everyone is friendly around there. Not what I’m used to, coming from the land of mindless, hyper-aggressive crazies and drug addicts.)

To walk around Lincoln Square is to realize you could reside in Gettysburg. Tons of nineteenth century (and some eighteenth) brick architecture along narrow streets forming a historic town that has benefitted greatly from preservation. Yeah, there’s a fast food chain represented somewhere in there, but Gettysburg is a smart example of planning.

CWLR meets

The lodge meeting was Saturday morning (July 8) at Good Samaritan Lodge 336, perfectly situated on Lincoln Square. The Master of Good Samaritan and others from the lodge were on hand to greet CWLR.

Good Samaritan dates to January 1, 1825 (its original number was 200). It was a popular and prosperous lodge in its early years, but during the anti-Masonry hysteria of the ensuing years, membership was halved. Read their history here.

Our research lodge meeting was brief. What CWLR 1865 does is more sightseeing than publishing. Research lodges basically are historical societies that hold warrants from competent Masonic authorities, and CWLR likes to get into the historic sites, be they battlefields or whatever, and soak it in.

When a lodge takes multiple trips per year, I think you have to expect spotty attendance among its members, and the CWLR officer line was batting about .500 that day. The Master, Treasurer, Secretary, Junior Deacon, and Tyler (Virginia spelling) were present, but the others couldn’t make it. Diverse Masons filled in where needed, resulting in a unique Opening ritual where each officer performed what he knew. It all works, of course, because the differences in some words and gestures do not interfere with the overall practice. The intended Virginia ritual is a lot like our New York, except with a certain due guard in the place of the Sign of Fidelity. Twenty-three were in attendance.

Research papers are welcome, but none were presented that day. The business was tackled. Seven petitioners, representing lodges in Maryland, New York (me), Pennsylvania, and Virginia were elected to membership. This research lodge has 330 members now. That’s a lot.

‘This is my appendant body’

Gary Laing, PM
Probably the highlight of this meeting was the presentation of a ceremonial replica saber to Tyler Gary Laing by Worshipful Master Andy Wilson commemorating Past Master Laing’s silver anniversary with the lodge. Wow! Most lodges give just a pin. Gary made an impromptu acceptance speech in which he explained how much CWLR means to him as a Mason and as a man. Through this lodge, he and his wife have built deep friendships with other CWLR couples. And he likened his initial attraction to Freemasonry to that of Union Army officer William McKinley’s, if you know that story. And he spoke of finding in CWLR the satisfaction that others seek through Masonry’s appendant bodies, which he declined to join. “This is my appendant body,” he said of this lodge. (As one who has sampled nearly all the groups in mainstream Masonry, finding most of them pointless, I certainly empathize.) Past Master Richard Burkman, one of those dear friends (and who kind of resembles Robert E. Lee), arose from the Senior Deacon’s place and spoke in tribute of Bro. Laing, and later told me about the many memorable times they and their wives have shared together over the years.

The battlefield and cemetery

Michigan Cavalry Brigade Monument.

Click here for more information.

The meeting was closed and we individually headed to Gettysburg National Military Park—the battlefield—to visit several specific sites. Not being a Civil War historian, most of what lodge Secretary/tour guide Bennett Hart imparted went over my head, but simply walking the grounds, and approximately on the dates of the fighting too, is an experience. We were in the East Cavalry Field, where U.S. and Confederate forces repeatedly clashed on July 3, 1863.

The monuments, statues, markers, cannons, and other historical spots are too numerous to see in any single visit. Those dedicated only to New York’s combatants number eighty-seven, if I understand. I couldn’t even find the New York State Monument, the 110-footer dedicated in 1893.

Click here for more information.

Monuments to New York soldiers are everywhere.

Later in the afternoon, the group had plans for a cookout elsewhere in the park, which I’d intended to attend, but the heat got to me. I returned to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes, and then returned to the Blue and Gray, successfully this time, for a seat at the bar for food and hard cider. I reported that already here.

Before heading home

The stock photo everyone shoots.

While I missed the New York State Monument, I was not going to leave before seeing the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial. Luckily, it is very easy to reach. Just head to the vicinity of Tommy’s Pizza at 105 Steinwehr Avenue, cross the street, and enter the Gettysburg National Cemetery Annex. It’s right in front of you. (Aaaand it turns out that New York Monument is right near the Friend to Friend, but I still missed it!)

A future edition of The Magpie Mason will be a pictorial of this Masonic masterpiece.

On the downside

There was one negative to the weekend, something beyond our control: It was Bike Week!

This bike, with the S&C, was
parked in the garage all weekend,
and thus was silent
(as Masons are taught!).
I hear Gettysburg Bike Week is the biggest Bike Week in Pennsylvania, and I believe it. Unless it was the same hundred or so flabby old white guys with matching gray goatees riding in circles all weekend, there were maybe a thousand or more Harley-Davidson enthusiasts ceaselessly roaring around town the entire time. Whether it was one biker popping and thundering past or a herd of the hogs rumbling along, the cacophony was too much. It was clearly audible upstairs in the lodge room, and deafening on the street. And literally endless. The biker population likely more than doubled the traffic volume, making getting around difficult and annoying. Don’t schedule your visit knowing this.

And that’s it. I will return to this beautiful historic town before long for deeper sightseeing and other pleasures. (Union Cigar is owned by a Mason.) Good Samaritan 336 meets on second Thursdays, except summertime, if you want to attend.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

‘Advances in Masonic learning’

An advancement in Masonic knowledge is being introduced by the Masonic University of New York, where learning soon will be understood in two denominations: the Masonic Development Curriculum, for in person interaction; and Hiram, for online work.

The introductory Zoom meeting this morning was very productive (dozens in attendance), and there will be duplicate sessions through the summer to share these plans with more New York Masons. In short, the Masonic Development Course is being phased out. It remains current through this Masonic year, but beyond then it will be superseded by the Masonic Development Curriculum. And Hiram, which we’ve been hearing about for several years, is coming to fruition. Its content is not fully uploaded at this time, but it is possible now to enroll and have a look around. (GLNY membership credentials required.)

RW Bro. Bob Drzewucki, co-chair of the Leadership and Education Services Committee, led the hourlong discussion today to explain the opportunities the brethren can expect shortly. The Masonic Development Course has been in place for about twenty years. Both its content and the style in which it is presented have been overhauled. I received certification in MDC a number of years ago, and I admit I don’t recall much of its content, but this new work, it seems to me, will be more probing and will require more thinking and personal expression.

My class years ago was led by our then District Deputy Grand Master, and it took the better part of a Saturday. The work was a traditional classroom approach with testing at the end. The new approach does not require a Grand Lodge Staff Officer to lead the instruction, and instead will have qualified facilitators do that. The GLSO simply will certify that the sessions have taken place.

Let me share a taste of what we can expect.

And Hiram? Click here and you can see the beginnings of the program. Logon credentials are provided to New York Masons in good standing.

I don’t know everyone on the team that has been laboring to put all this together, but if I could offer one piece of advice thus far, it would be eschew the bureaucratese of the education business. (e.g., “The Hiram System is a Learning Management System and repository which presents a modern and timely system for collaborative knowledge delivery.” That almost sounds like Kamala Harris.) Instead, simply borrow from Freemasonry’s ample prose, whether from the Standard Work and Lectures or the vast body of literature published over the centuries. You’ll be glad you did.

Friday, July 14, 2023

‘The new Grand Chaplain’

The Magpie Mason congratulates RW Bro. Shlomo Bar-Ayal of Abravanel Lodge 1116 on being appointed Grand Chaplain in Grand Lodge!

It’s definitely a choice that makes perfect sense. Not only is he worthy and well qualified, but also the chaplaincy is the best job for his talents. You probably know his blog, the aptly titled Shlomo’s Blog, or, if not, click here.

He also is the moderator of The Masonic Kippah. And, IRL, he serves as one of the tour guides at Masonic Hall. He is a Scottish Rite Mason, a Royal Arch Mason, and a Shriner. Also, maybe more importantly, Shlomo is a pipe man.

(If you do not know, Shlomo is Hebrew for Solomon.)

Mazel tov Shlomo!

Thursday, July 13, 2023

‘Oscar to speak at MMRS’

Oscar Alleyne
The Maryland Masonic Research Society will host Oscar Alleyne next month on the occasion of its festive board.

From the publicity:

Maryland Masonic Research Society
Annual Festive Board
Saturday, August 12 at noon
10150 Shaker Drive
Columbia, Maryland
Reservations by advance payment
only here by August 7

Masons and friends are welcome.

We have a very interesting presentation and fantastic speaker. Joseph de Bologne Chevalier de Saint-George (1745-99) was a French violinist, conductor, and composer. A biracial Creole free man of color, the chevalier is considered the first classical composer of African descent to receive widespread critical acclaim. He was France’s first black Freemason, and formed the Masonic symphony orchestra, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, while rising to the 33rd Degree.

Oscar Alleyne is an internationally respected Masonic speaker who has presented more than 700 lectures to lodges and concordant bodies covering multiple areas of interest to Freemasons. He has published in widely distributed Masonic journals, research bodies, and educational conferences on Freemasonry. Alleyne is President and a Fellow of the Masonic Society, a Fellow and Vice President of the Philalethes Society, and a member of Quatuor Coroati Lodge 2076 under the United Grand Lodge of England.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

‘Templar pipes by Pipa Croci’

Pipa Croci

I intended to post this weeks ago, while all the pipes were available for sale, but I forgot. Now, only two are still obtainable. What pipes? Pipa Croci’s line of nine in its Templar Collection.

Nine, inspired by the nine founders of the Order of Poor Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem—better known as the Knights Templar. From the publicity:

Pipa Croci pipes are created by Paolo & Gianni Croci from Mantova, Lombardia. The company was founded in 1983 and on each pipe you will find the nomenclature reads “dal 1983.” Each and every pipe is hand crafted from aged Italian Plateau Briar. This is a company that makes no two pipes alike and they truly create some masterpieces. In their own words: “The Pipa Croci is an artisan enterprise. The pipes which are born from our hands are all different from each other. This means that the owner of a Croci pipe possesses something totally unique.

Siro Taioli is sometimes mentioned as a pipemaker or, at least, a pipe designer. In fact, Taioli was the Spanish distributor of Pipa Croci pipes made by Paolo & Gianni Croci, Mantova in Italy. And so, he has private label pipes stamped with his name. His probably most spectacular project was a line of nine pipes dedicated to Hughes de Payens, Geoffroi de Saint-Omer, Andre de Monbard, Gondemare, Geoffroi Bisol, Godefroy, Roral, Payen de Montdesir and Archambaud de Saint-Agnan—the founders of the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem or, simply, Templar Knights.

Pipa Croci

The Templar pipes rest in a precious wooden casket clad with velvet. At the shank’s end is a ring of silver or gold on which the cross of the Templar Knights is mounted in red gold. To every pipe, there is a certificate.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the medieval Knights Templar have anything to do with Freemasonry. That’s a “weird pseudo-history.” This edition of The Magpie Mason is more like an Honorable Mention. Nice looking pipes though.

Did the warrior-monks take tobacco? I have no idea, but latakia, one of my favorites, originates from an area where the Templars waged some of their warfare. After a long day of slaying the infidels, I imagine a pipeful could be rather soothing.

I don’t spend that kind of money ($329) on briars, and these are so decorative in their wooden display boxes that I wonder if their owners will smoke them or preserve them pristine as collectible pieces. But I leave that to you. Click here to see the set and maybe purchase the two remaining pipes.

Click here for more on Pipa Croci.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

‘Masonic University returns Saturday’


Masonic University of New York will return Saturday morning with a new curriculum in the Masonic Development Course, and it’ll be remote instruction via Zoom.

Advance registration is required. Click here to sign up at Eventbrite. Be there at 10 a.m.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

‘In the field with CWLR’


“This is what the research lodge is about: getting into the battlefields, seeing the monuments; and getting together with old friends, and making new ones.”

W. Bennett Hart, Secretary
Civil War Lodge of Research 1865

With those words, Bro. Bennett dismissed the muster today as we stood in the Gettysburg battlefield, specifically the earth where Gregg’s Union cavalry and Stuart’s Confederate cavalry slaughtered each other July 3, 1863.

Civil War Lodge of Research 1865 does not produce a mass of scholarly material. Our mandate, if I understand, is to complete one research paper per annum.

Our? Yeah, I enlisted today, so now I’m active in three research lodges. I’ll try to find an idea for a paper to submit. Not right away, but now it’s on the to-do list.

And I’m not sure how many CWLR meetings I can attend. Chartered by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, it meets in the Old Dominion mostly, with occasional reconnaissance in Maryland and other states significant to the U.S. Civil War. New York City is not insignificant in that historical context. The draft riots, Lincoln at Cooper Union (and McSorley’s), Grant’s Tomb, and other sites are things to ponder. In fact, the last time I attended a meeting was when Worshipful Master Phil Brown brought the lodge to Manhattan for a tour in 2010. Now that I’m a member, I’ll work at improving my attendance. There are no Civil War battlegrounds in New York, thank God, so I’ll probably write about the wartime economics or politics vis-a-vis Freemasonry.

More Gettysburg coverage to come. Right now I’m drinking hard cider and eating this burger at the Blue and Gray Bar & Grill:
The General Jubal Anderson Early Burger: quarter-pound of beef, with a fried egg, cheddar cheese, and maple syrup(!), on a ciabatta roll. Yeah, I had a heart attack later. So what?

Monday, July 3, 2023

‘Shouldn’t we be part of this?’


Freemasonry often participates in civic parades, thanks to our presence in the culture throughout history. I marched in one myself in Alexandria, Virginia, with hundreds of Masons, as part of the town’s Washington’s Birthday festivities on February 20. The Prestonian Lecture of 2009, by Bro. John Wade, explains how all the public marching came to be in his “Go and Do Thou Likewise: English Processions from the 18th to 20th Centuries.”

New York City Freemasonry is no stranger to the local Columbus Day, German-American Steuben Day, Philippine Independence Day, Bay Ridge Memorial Day, and probably other parades. So I nominate another parade for Masonic involvement. It’s an obvious one: The Independence Day Parade!

This takes place on Independence Day (duh) way downtown. From the publicity:

The festivities begin with the Flag-Raising Ceremony led by the Veteran Corps of Artillery of the State of New York and their Annual Salute to the Nation at 10 a.m. After opening remarks at 10:45, the parade will kick off at 11.

The scenic route of the parade winds from Castle Clinton in Battery Park to the corner of Pearl and Broad streets (turning the corner in front of Fraunces Tavern), up Broad Street, past the flag-decked New York Stock Exchange, turning right onto Wall Street in front of spectators on the steps of Federal Hall, and east on Wall Street to the South Street Seaport.

After the parade, head to Fraunces Tavern Museum for $1 admissions and an afternoon of special programming as a part of the “It Happened Here” series.

On loan in the Davis Educational Center and Loeb Gallery through July 10, make sure to view a very rare printing of the Declaration of Independence in The New-York Journal or The General Advertiser, printed by John Holt in Water Street on July 11, 1776, as well as an official facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, made from a copperplate engraving printed by William J. Stone, circa 1833.

That might sound like a lot of walking, but it isn’t. This is the oldest part of New York where the streets are tiny and compacted. Organized by the Lower Manhattan Historical Association, an impressive array of historical and patriotic groups, augmented with the support of area museums, government agencies, and others, make it all possible.

It seems odd that neither Grand Lodge nor any of the lodges—especially those that date to early America—are among the participants. Maybe we can fix that. It’s a fairly new event—tomorrow’s parade is only the eighth annual—so maybe it simply isn’t very well known. I’m going to look into it and maybe get Freemasonry involved in the 2024 parade.

While I haven’t been to Fraunces since before the pandemic, it is a place I love. I even delivered a lecture on Freemasonry there, upstairs in the museum, one winter night many years ago.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

‘Grotto puts Mann in charge’

MOVPER photo

Grottoes International, the recently renamed empire of fezzed Freemasons, has concluded its 133rd Supreme Council Session—this time at Pittsburgh—and our new Grand Monarch is Azim Grotto’s own Victor Mann!

He was Azim’s Monarch a decade ago and, such is his dedication to Sympathy and Good Fellowship, he rocketed up the top ranks to be installed Saturday as Grand Monarch of the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm. If you’re not familiar, “The Order of Veiled Prophets, while proclaiming the loyalty of its members to Masonry, makes no pretense of being a Masonic Order, nor does it claim to confer a Masonic degree,” according to Supreme Council. “Its membership is exclusively Masonic and its purpose is to supply the element of play, such a way that work and play will be blended without marring the solid beauty of Masonry.”

In other Azim news, our own Dominic Falcone has been installed Grand Sentinel. Bravo!

Bill Thomas selfie

This session was hosted in the Iron City because it’s the hometown of last year’s Grand Monarch, Michael Tomascin. So, you wonder, will the 2024 annual meeting take place in New York City?

No. You crazy? No one can afford to meet here, and it’s dangerous.

The Prophets instead will gather in the Big Easy, Victor’s original hometown, for our 134th Supreme Council Session during the first week of June. The Magpie Mason has every intention of being there. I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans.

In the meantime, and on the local scene, Azim Grotto is planning a ceremonial for this fall. Details are being worked out. Also, the Empire State Grotto Association will get together October 19-22 at Niagara Falls (“slowly I turned…”).

Victor is from Independent Royal Arch Lodge 2. Very often that’s the mother lodge of Great Chiefs of Knight Masonry, so now it has another claim to fame. Congratulations, Victor!

Saturday, July 1, 2023

‘Three papers, two degrees, one ingathering’

The Allied Masonic Degrees of New York will host its Downstate Ingathering on the 29th of this month. Register here.

Remember: Participation is limited to brethren of the AMD in good standing.

Click to enlarge.