The almost overnight shuttering of nearly all Masonic activity across the U.S. and around the world in response to the COVID 19 virus panic will immediately turn a vast number of Masons into Third-Stage Guild Navigators now. We're now stuck with cruising the Internet or something else for at least the next six weeks as this plays out, because we sure as hell aren't going to clean out the garage in March.
In the science fiction universe created by Frank Herbert for his Dune Trilogy, the Third-Stage Guild Navigators of the Spice Guild have mutated and mastered the technique of folding space in order to move instantly from one end of the galaxy to the other, permitting "traveling without moving." In various sections of the novels, they are described as "fat" and like a "fish in a strange sea."
Masons already were kind of like fish in a strange sea before this started. If we remain sedentary long enough, we'll soon fatten up like beached belugas on a hot day from being able to find nothing left at the grocery besides Cheetos, Miracle Whip and and pickles. Frank Herbert described the Guild Navigators as having tiny arms (Masons have deep pockets and short arms), and massive web-like hands (the better to practice our dodgy handshakes with). And since we're Traveling Men by the tenets of our profession, the Internet Mason has little choice left but to "travel without moving."
So for all of you who obsess over the line "the internal and not the external qualifications of a man are what Masonry regards," now's the perfect time to start polishing that interior surface of our ashlars.
Think of it as having six weeks off. It's kind of like being suspended by an angry grand master until you both calm down, but without the mark of Cain besmirching your Masonic record for the rest of your life. While you wait to get reinstated, try reading, writing, or catch up on your listening and viewing.
That's what I did...
If the motto of Masons of old was Audi, Vide, Tace (Hear, See, Be Silent), perhaps our updated one during this isolated period should be Legere, Scribere, Audi, Vigilate (Read, Write, Listen, Watch).
Sit back, pour yourself another Quarantini, check the latest black market commodity prices on toilet paper, and consider the following suggestions.
You might start first by pushing away from the screen and actually reading a Masonic book or three. I realize that average Masons would rather gnaw off their foot than crack open a book. Albert Mackey opined in 1875 that, "The ultimate success of Masonry depends on the intelligence of her disciples." Sadly, he lamented:
"[N]othing is more common than to encounter Freemasons who are in utter darkness as to every thing that relates to Freemasonry. They are ignorant of its history - they know not whether it is a mushroom production of today, or whether it goes back to remote ages for its origin. They have no comprehension of the esoteric meaning of its symbols or its ceremonies, and are hardly at home in its modes of recognition. And yet nothing is more common than to find such socialists in the possession of high degrees and sometimes honored with elevated affairs in the Order, present at the meetings of lodges and chapters, intermeddling with the proceedings, taking an active part in all discussions and pertinaciously maintaining heterodox opinions in opposition to the judgment of brethren of far greater knowledge... [T]here are some Masons who think that the mere act of initiation is at once followed by an influx of all Masonic knowledge. They need no further study or research. All that they require to know has already been received by a sort of intuitive process."I'm asked a LOT by Masons what my "favorite" Masonic books are, or to give them a suggested reading list. I hesitate to do that because my answer always has to be, "That depends." Freemasonry has existed as a social, cultural , philosophical, and practical movement for more than three hundred years, and its historical origins are at least twice as old – arguably older. Its literary origins from which our founders and ritualists shamelessly purloined countless phrases and ideas alone could fill a room with books (Art DeHoyos reigns over a whole Temple full of them). Its mythical and legendary origins reach to the pre-Christian era and Hebrew Biblical sources.
Yet, if I tell a Mason seriously wanting to explore any of this at minimum to start with Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, the Bible (at least 1st Kings, Chronicles, Ecclesiastes, and Psalms), Isaac Newton's Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms and his other works about Solomon and his Temple, and Thomas More's Utopia, he'd run screaming from the room. And has. Tell a modern Mason to actually read any part of the King James Version of the Bible from which our ritual is largely derived, and he's just as likely to yawp something about it being un-Masonic.
So my practical reading list for any Mason today, regardless of their avenue of interest, always starts with Albert Pike's Esoterika. Whether you are a new Mason or an old one, this brilliant book about the three Craft lodge degrees will make you actually think hard about the rituals we all know, the words we all say, and why we do and say it. Pike doesn't tell you what to think, he asks you to think differently.
From there, I don't have a single, all-purpose favorite list. I have about ten, because "that depends."
So have a look at what a few others have recommended. Your own grand lodge might have a recommended list, too.
- Iowa Masonic Library Masonic Reading Course
- Livingston Masonic Library Courses
- Guthrie Scottish Rite Recommended Reading List
- Pennsylvania Masonic Academy Reading List and Certification Program
- A Reading List For New Masons - TransforMason website
- Vox Populi - Southern Cal Research Lodge's Top Masonic Book List (based on their readers' poll)
- Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction Reading List recommended by Arturo DeHoyos
- Reading List and Guide for Esoteric Masons by Steve Burkle
And if you prefer to listen to audio books, there are countless Masonic titles, new and old, now available as audio books. Amazon is probably the best place to hunt audible Masonic titles. In case you are wondering, three audio versions of my own books are:
- Freemasons For Dummies (audio) - narrated by actor Tom Dheere
- Laudable Pursuit by the Knights of the North (audio) - narrated by members of the Whence Came You? podcast and myself
- Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies - narrated by Chris Sorenson
If you ever had that idea, notion, field of study, object of obsession, or spark of great inspiration whack you in the head, now you've got time to actually get it down on paper or converted into onscreen pixels. Write a presentation for your lodge on any Masonic-related topic you have in mind. Or expand it, make it a little less conversational, lob in a footnoted reference or two, and submit it as an article to the literally scores of Masonic publications out there. I can tell you as a former editor, magazines and journals can only print what gets submitted to them. That means you need to start typing.
Your grand lodge probably has a monthly or quarterly magazine that is starving for articles beyond just "Muckenfuss Lodge Pins Medal On Aged Past Master" and photos of ten guys from across the room that look like badly dressed, out of focus thumbs in aprons. Now's your chance to submit something.
Your grand lodge might have its own lodge of research. Trust me, they are desperate for new articles, papers or live presentations from not just the same old faces.
In case you aren't familiar with them, there are scores of national and international Masonic magazines and journals to which you can contribute:
- The Journal of the Masonic Society
- The Philalethes
- Heredom and The Plumbline from the Scottish Rite Research Society
- The Northern Light (Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction)
- The Scottish Rite Journal (Southern Jurisdiction)
- The Knight Templar
- The Phylaxis (Prince Hall and related topics)
- The Square (England-based, but international in scope)
If you think you have a book lurking on you that is Masonic related, bear in mind that Freemasonry is as but a sparrow-fart niche of a niche topic to the dwindling list of major book publishers left in the world. Please see Doug Preston's presentation, Why Is It So Goddamned Hard to Make a Living as a Writer Today? on the Author's Guild website, but only if you want your dreams to be the next James Michener or Albert Pike fully crushed. Hint: don't give up your Uber gig. Google and Amazon have teamed up with the "information must be free!" hacker mentality to all but destroy the publishing business, and the courts have let them. Put it another way - you should never buy another ebook again, Kindles included.
Nevertheless, print-on-demand technology has been a great boon to the Masonic book publishers and to independent Masonic authors who want to go it alone. While you will find one-off "publishers" who are usually just a single author using a business entity for their books, the actual major Masonic publishers still interested in new works (in English) include:
Masonic podcasts have come and gone over the years, but there are some that have been around long enough to be established perennials. And while several excellent ones have faded away, new ones have stepped in to continue the conversations. Like blogs, podcasts often are creatures of the moment, discussing current events and timely topics, or interviewing Masonic authors, speakers, and our own brand of celebrities. But others look back at historical topics or enduring ones like symbolism, ritual or traditions. The best thing about them is you can while away a long commute or otherwise multitask and still get a healthy dose of Masonic education and conversation.
Here are a few of the top ones (and forgive me if I've left off your favorite):
- MSA Short Talk Bulletin Audio Podcast
- Whence Came You podcast (435 episodes so far, and still going strong)
- After Lodge
- Brought To Light
- Historical Light
- Masonic Central
- Masonic Life
- Masonic Lite
- Masonic Roundtable
- Meet, Act and Part
- The Craftsmen
- Three Distinct Knocks
- Tyler's Place
In case you want visuals to go with your Masonic education.
M.A.T.S.O.L. (Masonry At The Speed Of Light) hosts more than sixty different video lectures. Masonic authors and researchers from all over the world back in 2011-12 recorded their talks on a huge range of topics, and you're bound to find at least several to interest you. What makes these very different is that the presenters are not just the same dozen or so Masonic "celebrities" you've seen or heard before, and there are some serious gems to be found here.
As for other videos that are not just talking heads and Power Point slides, here is a handful of programs available on DVD you might screen and then play at lodge when everything gets back to normal.
- Inside the Freemasons - 5-part program on Britain's SkyNews in conjunction with UGLE and the 300th anniversary of Masonry's official organization as a fraternity
- 33 & Beyond: The Royal Art of Freemasonry
- Illuminated - the true story of the Bavarian Illuminati
- Don't be A Sucker - 1943 U.S. War Department anti-Nazi propaganda film that cautions an American Mason to avoid racist and fascist groups in our midst during WWII.
- Forces Occultes - 1943 Nazi anti-Masonic propaganda film made in France to "expose" Freemasonry. Shot during the occupation in the Grand Orient de France's Paris headquarters
- Nazis and Freemasons - documentary about Nazi suppression of Masonry, and the 60 year struggle to return stolen Masonic books and records from deep within Russia
- Terra Masonica: Around the World in 80 Lodges
- Banker of God: the Calvi Affair - a telling of the strange tale of Italy's notorious (and illegal) P2 'Masonic Lodge,' the Vatican banking scandal, and the murder that finally exposed it.
And if you just want to kick back and enjoy yourself with a movie, here's some topwater bait.
- The Man Who Would be King - the classic Kipling Masonic adventure tale
- National Treasure
- Murder By Decree (Masons and Jack the Ripper - older and better than From Hell with essentially the same story, but told via Sherlock Holmes)
- The Freemason (shot in Salt Lake City, Utah's Grand Lodge building)
- Kingdom Of Heaven (for Knight Templar fans)
We've all got phones in our pockets these days, so pick it up and actually telephone the members of your Lodge - whether you've ever spoken to them before or not. You've got plenty of time now, and your Secretary can probably email a list of their phone numbers. Connect or reconnect with your Brethren, with your own voice, not an email or text message for a change. Even if we can't meet face to face, maybe we can finally get back to what this fraternity was always supposed to be about - caring for and about each other, Brother to Brother.
After a few days of isolation, a friendly voice on the other end of the line is a good way to start.