"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Monday, June 11, 2018

No He Isn't, And No It's Not

This photo has been flying around social media all weekend, and already the howling has begun.

Yes, I know, it looks like President Trump is holding a white lambskin Masonic apron.

No, Donald Trump is NOT a Freemason. 

(And no, former president Barack Obama is NOT one either.)

And no, it's NOT an apron, but a diplomatic envelope being delivered to the President by North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol.

And while it's remotely possible that there is a minuscule handful of Freemasons alive in North Korea these days, it's NOT likely, and Kim Yong Chol in particular is one of the last guys on Earth who would be associated with it.

And no, it's NOT "significant" that Thomas Jefferson's photo is hanging in the background, because no, Thomas Jefferson (the THIRD President!!!) was NOT provably a Freemason — much less a 33rd degree one (however, if anybody can dig up an authentic record saying otherwise either from his days in Paris or the lodge in Charlottesville, you'll get extra green beans with your steak dinner).

But for those of you who still believe this nonsense, here you go. The generic foil works just as good as the expensive Reynolds Wrap.

Friday, June 08, 2018

MSA Issues Disaster Appeals For Guatemala and Puerto Rico Masons

The Masonic Service Association of North America has two 
Disaster Relief Appeals currently in effect.

Grand Lodge of Guatemala

The Fuego Volcano in Guatemala erupted with terrible force on June 3rd, killing many and burying hundreds more. Authorities reported at least 109 people were killed when the volcano exploded Sunday, and there are nearly 200 listed as missing so far. Guatemala's government suspended the search for the dead Thursday, saying wet weather and still-hot volcanic material were too dangerous for rescuers. Volcanic ash has fallen over half of Guatemala where agriculture is crucial. Further eruptions and seismic events are expected.

The Grand Master of Guatemala, Brother Estuardo Ordoñez Kocher, has asked the Masonic Service Association of North America to issue a Disaster Relief Appeal to help his afflicted brethren and their families. He reports that six of over 50 burned children have already been sent to the Shriners Hospital in Galveston, Texas, but, unfortunately, his local resources have been expended.


Click to enlarge

Grand Lodge of Puerto Rico

Meanwhile, as hurricane season begins this month, experts are still trying to count the number of deaths caused by last September's two devastating hurricanes, Irma and Maria, hitting Puerto Rico. The government’s tally of 64 people dead from the storms was a dramatic undercount, and there is widespread evidence for hundreds of storm-related deaths in the weeks after the hurricanes. Winds, flooding and landslides swept away homes and knocked out power, water and cellular service, which remained largely unrepaired for months. There are still large areas of the island today that remain without electricity and water.

Puerto Rico's Grand Master Raúl Rodríguez Quiles contacted the Masonic Service Association of North America last October asking for help for the brethren of his jurisdiction by issuing a Disaster Relief Appeal. That appeal is still active at this time.

If you wish to donate by check, please make checks payable to "MSA Disaster Relief Fund" and send them to: 
Masonic Service Association
3905 National Drive, Suite 280
Burtonsville, MD 20866
When remitting funds to MSA, please mark checks, "Guatemala Disaster Appeal" or "Puerto Rico Disaster Appeal."

The Masonic Service Association is arguably the best and most effective way to provide financial assistance to Guatemalan and Puerto Rican Masons (or to any other jurisdictions that may also request these official Disaster Relief Appeals through MSA). MSA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. That is important to remember, especially if you, your company, or foundation are making a large donation and are in need of a tax deduction in return. The charitable arm of the Masonic Service Association was specifically established for the purpose of raising tax deductible donations, and to effectively distribute and account for the funds provided to Masons who receive assistance.

MSA is often asked if any of your contribution is deducted for administrative expenses, and the answer is "No." All expenses, charges by PayPal, bookkeeping, or cost of acknowledgment letters, everything, is absorbed by MSA in its operating budget. Your entire gross donation will be sent to the affected jurisdiction. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it will continue.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

New York's Clemente Center Exhibit on Haitian Freemasonry

The New York Review of Books over the weekend published a notice of an art exhibition going on in New York City at the Clemente Center this month about Freemasonry on the island of Haiti. 

From "Picturing Haiti’s Freemasons" by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro:
"Haiti, good historians agree, is where the Enlightenment came home to roost. France may have been where Rousseau penned The Rights of Man, but it was in France’s most brutal and lucrative plantation colony—the Caribbean sugar island of Saint-Domingue—that a half million enslaved Africans rose up in 1791 to kill their masters and ask the West: How universal, really, is your idea of universal rights?
"Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) was transformed, by Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, into a free black nation that France saddled with unpayable debts and whose sovereignty the United States didn’t recognize for decades. But the celebrated “Black Jacobin” revolutionaries were not the whole story of how Haiti came to be. Rousseau’s ideas were not the only influences to shape a society built from the ashes of its old plantations. And among the more mysterious facets of Enlightenment culture to leave their mark here was the secret society that the British artist and documentarian Leah Gordon explores, with several collaborators, in a marvelous exhibition about Haiti’s Masonic tradition, “Vernacular Universalism: Freemasonry in Haiti and Beyond,” now at the Clemente Center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side..."

The website of the Clemente Center explains the exhibit this way:
"In Haiti, during the colonial era, the Freemasons were one of the few European institutions that allowed black membership. Freemasonry still thrives in contemporary Haiti, and its visual world pervades the Haitian imaginary. The symbols that recur throughout this exhibition once tethered a web of ideas that stretched across the Atlantic, encrypting the most precious values of the Enlightenment.

"This exhibition aims to visualize the mesh of magic and reason; alchemy and science; trade and metaphysical exchange that has stretched into the 21st century. By focusing on Haiti, this exhibition sheds light on the relationship between colonized peoples and the Enlightenment. It suggests that for some, Freemasonry offered a path to becoming an agent of modernity, rather than its reviled ‘other’. This exhibition will be a timely and significant contribution to an understanding of Freemasonry through the lens of the Black Atlantic."

The island of Hispaniola where Christopher Columbus made first landfall in the Caribbean has had a curious Masonic past. Controlled by Catholic Spain during the early colonial period, the western half of the island was ceded to France in 1697 as San Domingue — later to become Haiti. When Freemasonry took to ships and started to spread around the globe in the 1730s and afterwards, it came to Hispaniola, too. But it took longer on the island than elsewhere because of anti-Masonic policies from the Catholic Church. 

In 1749, the Grand Orient de France (GOdF) chartered two lodges in San Domingue, and another ten or so were established across Hispaniola by 1789. Meanwhile, Masons in Pennsylvania wasted no time after American independence was declared, and eventually chartered seven lodges on the island of their own between 1786 and 1806. Lodges opened and closed in quick succession in those days, as the colonizing European nations fought each other in their Caribbean territories, as well as back at home. While the French Revolution and a decade of slave uprisings and fighting on the island finally brought independence to Haiti after 1804, organized Freemasonry on the island wouldn't manage to withstand the combined turmoil of revolution and the Napoleon years. 

Hispaniola was split into two separate countries after 1800, Haiti and San Domingo (later the Dominican Republic in 1844), and Haiti became the first independent nation in the Caribbean and Latin America by 1804.

Between 1809 and 1817, four new English lodges were chartered in Haiti, at first becoming a Provincial Grand Lodge, and then declaring independence as the Grand Lodge of Haiti in 1824.  But just six years later, the Grand Orient de France came back to the island, importing with them the hauts grades — the "higher degrees."  By 1836, there was established a Scottish Rite Supreme Council and the Grand Orient of Haiti, and the competing groups fought for control of the Craft degrees. Remnants of that battle continue to this day. Meanwhile, on the Dominican side of the island, the Grand Lodge of the Dominican Republic was formed in 1865.

From Freemasons of the Caribbean on the Atlas Obscura website:
"When Haiti won its independence, and utterly abolished slavery at the end of the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution, Masonry was so ingrained into local culture that the all-black revolutionary government inherited the Craft amongst their other spoils of war.

"François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, the former slave who led the revolutionary forces against the French, is himself reputed to have been a devout freemason. His own signature seems to attest to the fact, with its combination of two lines and three dots that mimic a popular Masonic shorthand symbol of the time. In fact, some sources claim that Masonry was so integral to Haitian culture and leadership, than any president of the country who was not a Mason prior to office was ordained on the occasion of their election.
"Meanwhile another of Haiti’s founding fathers, Jean-Jacques Dessalines — the self-styled “Emperor Jacques I of Haiti” — was similarly invested in the Craft. The National Museum of History, in the center of Port-au-Prince, houses artifacts such as the slave-turned-emperor’s own sword and scabbard, clearly engraved with square and compass motifs..."
Freemasonry today prospers on Haiti,. The Grand Orient d'Haiti currently lists 50 lodges with 9,700 members on its rolls, and they are widely recognized around the world as regular. They are currently recognized by all US and Canadian grand lodges, and the UGLE.

For a more personal description and photos of the New York exhibition, also have a look at The Art of Haitian Freemasonry by 'acorngrove' on the Steemit site HERE.

The Clemente Center is located at 107 Suffolk Street in New York City. The exhibition runs until June 23rd.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

SRRS' 'The Plumbline' Bound Collection Now Shipping

"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"

I seem to hear variations of this chanting in nearly every Masonic Facebook group, in lodge discussions, Reddit threads, Masonic survey results, and seemingly everywhere else I turn in the fraternity. I've been hearing it since the day I joined Masonry almost twenty years ago, and I keep on hearing it. I fact, I keep being told that men leave the fraternity every day because they didn't find any "education" when they came to lodge a few times. "Nobody is educating me!" comes the plaintive cry.


"Masonic education" is everywhere you look, but YOU HAVE TO LOOK. Freemasonry has been freighted with more than its share of members who just simply refused to read and educate themselves ever since it began, as Albert Mackey lamented in the 1870s. That's a downright shame, because that "Masonic education" members supposedly clamor for is just laying out there, waiting to be picked up and read, if only Brethren would bother to open a book. 

Case in point:

Last week, a five pound box positively crammed full of "Masonic education" thudded onto my doorstep in the form of the latest bonus book of the Scottish Rite Research Society

After 27 years of publication, the SRRS has collected together every single issue of their outstanding quarterly newsletter, The Plumbline 1991-2016, into one complete hardbound, facsimile volume. Every page, every article, every photograph is reproduced, and it fills more than 660 pages of indexed gold. 

SRRS members who were dues current in 2016 should be receiving it, if they haven't already.

This huge volume is a godsend. Because The Plumbline was published for all of these years in a six- or eight-page folded newsletter format, the problem all along has been the ephemeral nature of it. They weren't considered disposable to regular readers, yet they were frequently disposed of — Plumblines all too easily got tossed out with the latest stack of frozen steak catalogues and angry bill collection notices. I myself have been painstakingly piling up old issues of The Plumbline since I first joined the SRRS, because there have been indispensable articles in them I didn't want to lose. But there was never an easy way to access all of them, as they were crammed haphazardly into reams of overstuffed 3-inch binders on an upstairs shelf. 

To call The Plumbline a "newsletter" does it a horrible disservice, as the substantive articles that have filled it all these years are NOT lighthearted announcements of meetings, elections, and event dates. They are sometimes papers that were sometimes considered too short to warrant inclusion in the pages of the annual Heredom, but that doesn't mean they were thinner on quality or research or thought-provoking content. And they are not just about the Scottish Rite, either. 

That said, it should be stressed that most of these papers were specially written for The Plumbline and not simply too short for the SRRS's hard-backed, thicker cousin publication. The editor is always on the lookout for articles and papers, ideally of around 3500-4000 words. Over the years, The Plumbline has been edited by Pete Normand, S. Brent Morris, John Boettjer, Forrest Haggard, Jim Tresner, Michael Halleran, Robert M. Wolfarth, and today by Adam Kendall. Adam can be contacted through the Plumbline's website HERE.
There is WONDERFUL information to be found here, by many of the top Masonic authors and researchers of the last three decades – as well as outstanding brethren you may not have heard of before. 

You want to present "Masonic education" at your next lodge meeting? Open this book to any page and start reading at random: I stopped at Paul M. Bessel's Ten Steps To Interesting Masonic Research; Rex Hutchens' The Place of Tradition in Ritual Integrity; Paul Rich's Count Leo Tolstoy and Freemasonry; David Stafford's Freemasonry and the Development of Greek-Letter Fraternities; Jon Crusoe's References the the Craft in the Works of Robert A. Heinlein; Wayne Simon's two-part article on military lodges in the Civil War; Gary Leazer's Mystery Religions and Freemasonry...

The same can be said of the five (soon to be six) hardbound volumes of all of the collected Short Talk Bulletins of the Masonic Service Association (which were also collected, edited and blessedly indexed into their hardback editions by S. Brent Morris). Every lodge should have these books (or even just one or two of them, if too many thick books in the building terrify your members). 

The point is that Masonic education doesn't mean YOU have to go out, research a topic, and present a well-reasoned original paper on a groundbreaking subject no one's ever done before. Freemasonry is such that you could read the EXACT same article aloud in lodge every three years, and you'll have a whole new audience listening (with a handful of exceptions). 

So do your lodge and yourself a favor: get hold of a copy of this book or the MSA's collections, open to any page, and start reading. I promise, it's like popcorn and you won't stop. Then go share it with your lodge Brethren next month.

GL of Wisconsin Votes To Save and Support Madison Temple

Over the weekend, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin F&AM held their Annual Communication in the historic Madison Masonic Center (MMC), which sits just one block from the state capitol building. The Masonic Center is home to fourteen Masonic bodies and the Scottish Rite Children's Dyslexia Center, and it has been the meeting place for the Wisconsin Annual Communication for many years. The beautiful beaux arts interior features two lodge rooms, a grand ballroom, dining room, offices, lounges, the Robert Monteith Masonic Library and Museum, and the large auditorium that seats approximately 1,000.

Built between 1923 and 1925, the impressive and imposing neo-classical temple is located in Madison's Mansion Hill Historic District and adjacent to the National Register-listed Langdon Street Historic District, an area of impressive homes that that was transformed in the 20th century into "fraternity row" for the nearby University of Wisconsin. Like so many other landmark Masonic buildings across the country, the Madison Temple was part of the 'City Beautiful' movement that swept the nation after the 1893 Chicago Exhibition.

As you might expect these days, the Madison Temple has been having all of the usual big Masonic building problems, and we all know the same old stories: declining membership, deferred maintenance, an ineffective board of directors, years of indecision as squabbling and indecision prevented long-range assurances for future planning and financing.  The same pattern has been repeated all over the country. Things looked very bleak in Madison as 2018 began, but a last minute resolution was submitted by the MMC Board offering to transfer ownership of the center to the Grand Lodge.

Well, after so many important Masonic temples have been thrown overboard in the last two decades by the fraternity, I am happy to report that Wisconsin's voting delegates on Saturday voted to save and substantially support the Madison Masonic Center (MMC). The Grand Lodge is now the full owner, and they added $10 to their annual per capita statewide (for at least the next two years) for all Wisconsin Masons, who will now share a stake in its future.

The following resolution was slightly amended, but passed essentially as proposed:
Resolution Number 8-2018
Submitted By: Executive Committee
Section(s) Affected:
Vote required for Adoption: Majority
Purpose: To Preserve the Madison Masonic Center
RESOLVED, that the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin be authorized to receive the transfer of a clear title from the Madison Masonic Center Foundation of the property known as the Madison Masonic Center, and
That the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin assess each member of the State a minimum of $10.00 per person to facilitate the management and preservation of the property. This is considered an assessment and as such each Regular and Perpetual Member will be assessed the fee as of December 31st of each year. Such fee to be due with the per capita payment.  
Considering that the decision was of such great importance and represented such a substantial increase in per capita, I've been told there was actually quite little discussion, as the vast majority of the brethren had no desire to give up Masonry's magnificent architectural heritage in Wisconsin's capitol city. There is talk that the Grand Lodge offices now may move into the building from the small town of Dousman, Wisconsin. Instead of fleeing to the suburbs into a cheap, uninspiring shed or some anonymous foursquare brick cubicle indistinguishable from a dentist's office, they are sticking with the magnificent home built by their forefathers, and keeping Freemasonry in the center of the community where it belongs.

The description in the National Register listing for the Temple makes this observation:
All other historic fraternal halls [in Madison] have been demolished. This makes the Madison Masonic Temple unique as the only extant historic building related to a social fraternal groups in the city. The Masonic Temple is not only important because it is the only remaining historic building related to Madison's most significant social fraternal societies. It is also significant because the Masons helped define the social structure in Madison during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Masons were some of the most prominent men in the community. And, while the gathering together of important people in the community in a social or fraternal setting may not, in and of itself, be significant, it is well known that important business and political connections were made between the members of fraternal lodges, and that these connections often had an indirect, if not direct, effect on the growth and development the city. There are no written records that establish the Madison Masonic Temple as a place where such connections were made. But since theMasons were the most prominent fraternal group in Madison, it is likely that such connections were made and that they resulted in important economic or political developments in the city."

When you walk up the steps to the main entrance of Madison's temple today, there are two inscriptions on the cornice: "Temple of Freemasonry," and "Let There Be Light." Thankfully, the brethren of Wisconsin have assured that both of those sentiments will be prominently preserved in Madison into the future.

Well done, brethren.

UPDATE JUNE 7, 2018:

A few days have passed since the annual communication now, and some clarification is coming from Wisconsin. The transfer of ownership to the Grand Lodge of the MMC is obviously not a done deal just yet. The passage of Resolution No. 8 gave a strong majority approval for the Grand Lodge to enter into discussions over taking ownership of the building from the current MMC Foundation Board. There is acknowledgement that other income streams need to be investigated, but the building and property are worth many millions of dollars, and the value of the assets far exceed any debts it may have. 

In a Facebook message sent out to members, incoming Grand Master Scott E. Pedley made an important point to members that many might not have considered before. Wisconsin is like Indiana, in that the State does not levy property taxes on Masonic buildings there. This is a fortunate situation not uniformly enjoyed in numerous states. The Madison Masonic Center's location, just a few blocks from the Statehouse, is a daily reminder to legislators of the fraternity, its history, its countless charitable programs, and its importance to society. If the highly visible Temple vanished from their sight tomorrow, it would be all too easy to for the fraternity to fall out of the public mind, especially when politicians decide to go hunting up new things to tax in future.

That is a very real concern for a fraternity that has played such an important role in the growth and development of every state in the U.S. Time and again, Freemasonry predated the formation of state governments, and Freemasons almost uniformly helped to establish those states. 

GM Pedley points out that the Grand Lodge's library and museum just up the street from the Statehouse would be the one place those legislators could find that unique information in future.

As for the $10 per capita increase, if (and only if) the transfer of the building to the Grand Lodge does happen, the assessment will be added for just two years.