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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

UCLA International Conference on Freemasonry - April 18th

The 9th annual UCLA International Conference on Freemasonry will take place on Saturday, April 18th.  This year's theme is 'Esotericism and Masonic Connections.'

As part of its collaborative partnership with the history department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the Institute for Masonic Studies presents an annual International Conference on Freemasonry on the UCLA campus. 

The UCLA International Conference is sponsored by the California Masonic Foundation and the Grand Lodge of California. These events seek to educate and inspire scholars of the Craft. The International Conference welcomes all Masons, Masonic and academic scholars, UCLA faculty and students, and members of the general public.

Freemasonry offers everyone a pathway to self-improvement, fellowship, and community. For the committed few, it holds the promise of even more. For more than 300 years, Masonic teachings and symbolism have attracted those in search of deeper, secret meanings about the natural and even supernatural world. These esoteric pursuits, shrouded in mystery and mysticism, have endured through the centuries and even today continue to fascinate seekers around the world.

On April 18, experts and scholars on Freemasonry will meet on the campus of UCLA to discuss the eternal quest for esoteric knowledge and its broader relationship to the Craft. The ninth annual UCLA International Conference on Freemasonry is a rare chance for Masons and non-Masons to dive deep on metaphysics, antiquity, and the occult.

This year's presentations have been announced:

Freemasonry and the Esoteric: Elitism, Insecurity, and Unenlightened Self-Interest
Ric Berman, author of several books on Freemasonry including Espionage, Diplomacy & the Lodge

Although Masonic esotericism hints at ancient secrets, it was in fact not widely introduced into the craft until the 1730s—a means of appealing to an elite aristocratic and mostly French audience. The success of that marriage in the eighteenth century led to Freemasonry’s systematic introduction into the United States, a consequence not of politics or spirituality but economic self-interest.

The Esotericism of the Esoteric School of Masonic Research
Henrik Bogdan, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Gothenburg

The founding of London’s Quatuor Coronati research lodge in 1884 gave birth to a new school of Masonic history and research, based on legitimate texts and study rather than the subjective or “inspired” Masonic writers of the past. However among this new school were a subset of scholars approaching research from what historian R.A. Gilbert called the “Esoteric School of Masonic Research”—part of a broader milieu of fin-de-siecle occultism.

Hidden and Visible: Mormon Garments in Community
Nancy Ross, assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Dixie State University

Weighted with meaning, sacred (and secret) undergarments have long been a highly important, though seldom discussed, part of the Mormon church. Indeed, across religions, sacred garments like these have presented profound dilemmas and indicated deeper meanings for wearers and their broader communities.

Freemasonry and Neoplatanism
Jan Snoek, historian of religions at the Institute of Religious Studies, University of Heidelberg

Several philosophers, expanding on the teachings of Plato, developed theories without which Freemasonry could never have found its form. From Abbot Suger’s construction of the church of St. Denis—Europe’s first gothic cathedral, dedicated to light and beauty—to the third-century parable of the sculptor who must perfect himself, meet the thinkers who paved the way for modern Masonry.

Stephen Freeman on Antigua and London: A Respectable Rosicrucian
Susan Mitchell Sommers, professor of history, Saint Vincent College

The recent discovery of a single surviving pamphlet by a quack doctor, Stephen Freeman, living in Antigua in the late 18th century offers a rare glimpse into not only the thinking of a fringe medical professional, but also paints a stunning portrait of the lives of striving middle-class emigrants in the West Indies struggling for respectability. Largely by leaning on connections through societies including the Freemasons and esoteric Rosicrucians, those like Freeman hoped to improve their lot in society and find deeper meaning—in both cases, often unsuccessfully.

Saturday, April 18, 2020
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM (Pacific Time)

University of California, Los Angeles
330 De Neve Drive
Covell Commons-Grand Horizon Room
Los Angeles, California

To register, CLICK HERE 
Registration is $25 for the conference only, or $30 with the optional buffet lunch (which must be purchased in advance via the registration page).

England's WB Ric Berman, noted Masonic scholar, past Prestonian Lecturer, and Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 (EC), regarded as the premier lodge of research, will be in Los Angeles in mid-April to speak at the UCLA Symposium. 

Ric says he would be happy to stay over and give talks or presentations elsewhere in Southern California before or after that event, or even elsewhere in the U.S. if he can arrange his airline flights and connections. Hosting lodges need only cover local transport/accommodation. Ric is a world-class Masonic speaker and this is a rare opportunity while he's on our side of the Atlantic. 

But be aware that Ric has to finalize his travel plans very soon, so if you have any interest in hosting him during this trip in April, you need to contact him immediately before his tickets get purchased.

If interested, please email april2020@quatuorcoronati.com.

Ric will be back in the U.S. again in September when Quatuor Coronati will be hosting another North American Conference at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in Boston. Details about that event are available at www.quatuorcoronati.com.

For a list of his books, see his Amazon author page HERE.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Stonecutter

One thing always leads to another, and connections are funny things. While I was back in Indianapolis over the weekend I came across this unusual artifact we uncovered from a long-forgotten storage locker in the downtown Temple. I've never seen a sculpture quite like it, and it has the look of something from the 1930s or so. Then my friend David Hosler posted this old Chinese folk tale today on Facebook that I first read many, many years ago and had forgotten about. It was popularized in the disarmingly philosophical little volume, The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, which used the classic children's stories of Winnie the Pooh to introduce the basic fundamentals of Taoism.

Thanks for the reminder, Dave.

The Stonecutter

There was once a stonecutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.

One day he passed a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stonecutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”

Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”

Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”

Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”

Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering rock. “How powerful that rock is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a rock!”

Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a stonecutter's hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface, and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the rock?” he thought.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Colorado's Ghost Town Lodge

The rich heritage of American Freemasonry as it expanded westward throughout the 19th century can still be found carefully preserved around the country - usually in unusual places. There is a great story today on the Colorado Public Radio website about Colorado's historic Nevada Lodge No. 4, which still operates as a working lodge today in the ghost town of Nevadaville.

From 'Why Freemasons Still Lurk In The Ghost Town Of Nevadaville, Colorado' by Natasha Watts:

If you take exit 243 off Interstate 70, you’re most likely headed for the glittery casinos of Central City and Black Hawk. But make a wrong turn on your way up the mountain, and you may end up in a ghost town.

In the 1800s, Nevadaville, Colorado bustled with gold miners. Today, only a few buildings stand, relics of the Old West version of our state that’s hard to find anymore. An old trading post, a saloon and a tiny town hall dot the dusty main drag.

You’ll also find some Freemasons.

Once a month, they converge upon Nevadaville to practice their rituals in a building built by brothers from another time.


There are just under two million Masons in America. The basic unit of Masonry is the Lodge, which is what the group that meets in Nevadaville is called: Nevada Lodge #4.

Colorado’s only ghost town lodge was built in the 1870s. It’s still around today thanks to the efforts of Masons through the decades to preserve this piece of history. The lodge meeting room still possesses the original wallpaper and wainscoting, according to Patrick Dey, Worshipful Master of Nevada Lodge #4. (The lofty-sounding title basically means he’s the current elected leader of the group.)

Dey says the lodge room in Nevadaville has impressed many an outsider, including members of other local lodges who come to the ghost town for initiation. Typically pledges are led in blindfolded, and “when it comes off... I always hear them go, ‘wow.’ Just to be in that room during that is such an experience.”

For Nevadaville miners in the late 1800s, Masonic membership was something to aspire to. Back then, Dey says dues were $4 a year. The average miner made $1 a week, so that constituted a month’s wages.

Being a lodge member gave a man wealth and status, as well as an assurance that his brethren would help pay for medical needs or after-death expenses. Think of it as Old West health and life insurance.

Brothers still help each other monetarily as needed, but Dey says the main draw now is old fashioned, face-to-face connection — something hard to find in the digital age.

“Up here in Nevadaville, we don’t get good cell phone reception, so you don’t have to worry about guys sitting there playing on their phones in lodge...” Dey says. “So hang out, enjoy yourself. You’re in a ghost town!”

An architectural designer by day, Dey is obviously passionate about the preservation of the building. He and his brothers come up frequently to do restoration work. Sometimes, when they stay late, they’ll sleep overnight in the old building. To him, it feels like communing with the past...

READ THE REST (or listen to the radio version) HERE

Colorado's Nevada Lodge 4 was established in 1861 in the mountains west of Denver. For more information about the lodge and its meetings, check the website HERE.

If you're traveling in Colorado there are a wealth of Masonic historic sightseeing possibilities:

Denver Lodge No. 5 - Colorado's oldest chartered lodge (1859). Meets in beautiful Denver Masonic Hall (b. 1889) at 16th and Welton Streets. Red sandstone exterior building was gutted by fire in 1984, and completely rebuilt inside.

•Denver Airport - the conspiracy lovers' dream. Masonic dedication marker and time capsule in main passenger terminal, creepy murals (by artist Leo Tanguma), swastika runways, underground tunnels, 'alien' vocabulary embedded in the floor, Satanic blue horse sculpture - it's all there, and more.

•Fairplay - Lodge Room Over Simpkin's Store (South Park City Historical Site, 100 4th Street, Fairplay, CO)

•Leadville - Corinthian Lodge No. 35 (b.1910; chartered 1882), highest altitude active US lodge (10,152 ft).

Pike's Peak Cryptic Masonic Monument

Friday, January 10, 2020

SRRS 2020 Bonus Book: 'Daniel Parker's Masonic Tablet'

The new bonus book from the Scottish Rite Research Society should be in mailboxes by now, and a fascinating piece of work it is, too. Once again, Arturo De Hoyos has resurrected a unique, fascinating and little-known book from the past - this time with the assistance of Daniel Gardiner, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Montana.

The book is Daniel Parker’s Masonic Tablet, originally printed in 1822. And if you have any interest in the development of Masonic "Blue Lodge" Craft ritual, this one needs to be a part of your library. It is the earliest transcription of what we call Preston-Webb work in the U.S., from which nearly every state derived their rituals used today.

I'll let Art explain it in his own words, from his Facebook page this week:
"[B]eginning about 1797 Thomas Smith Webb, author of the “Freemason’s Monitor,” taught a unique form of Masonic ritual to his students, who transcribed the ritual in private books, in a one-to-three lettered cipher code. This “Webb work” became the basis for most Masonic rituals used throughout the United States. In 1822 the Rev. Daniel Parker, a zealous Mason living in Kingston New York, had printed his own clever cipher ritual, which by-passed the need for private tutors, as a supplement to Webb’s Masonic monitor. He was rewarded with expulsion, but has the honor of creating the first printed American cipher ritual.
"Although it’s not precisely the Webb work, his text does give us the earliest full description of uniquely American Craft and York rituals. (The text has some really interesting differences in language!) At the time there were two Grand Lodges in New York State. Parker’s ritual represents a version of the “City Grand Lodge” ritual, while William Morgan’s exposure is a version of the “Country Grand Lodge” ritual. The current Grand Lodge of New York includes elements of both.
"The introduction to this book includes a brief biography of Rev. Parker, a history surrounding the creation of his cipher, and shows how it was later used and abused by anti-Masons, and inspired the creation of the ciphers used today.
"This hardbound illustrated book (451 pages) includes a complete facsimile of the original cipher, and a full plaintext decryption of the earliest descriptions of the American versions of the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Master Mason, Past Master, Most Excellent Master and Royal Arch Mason.
"Also included in the appendix, for the benefit of ritual comparison, are facsimile reproductions of the original (never before reproduced) editions of William Morgan’s “Illustrations of Masonry by One of the Fraternity” (Batavia, 1826), and “A Revelation of Freemasonry” (Rochester, 1827)."
The Scottish Rite Research Society is an offshoot of the AASR-Southern Jurisdiction, but do not let that dissuade you from becoming a member if you are outside of their territory. Annual SRRS membership is $55 and includes the annual Heredom collection of research papers, the quarterly Plumbline, a bonus book or other item every year (!), plus a discount on books and items from their shop at the House of the Temple (also available online). To join, CLICK HERE. 

By the way, Art says that he will be happy to provide autographed copies of this most recent book (contact him directly), and that it will be available soon through the AASR-SJ's online store for non-members of the Society.

(Photo by Baruti Kmt-Sisouvong)

Monday, January 06, 2020

Virginia Lodge Pays Off Local School Lunch Debt

For at least two centuries, local Freemasons were regularly seen as an integral part of the  communities in which they resided. But after the dawn of the 21st century, that image has drifted out of the public "common knowledge" that used to bind cities and towns together in civic participation. That doesn't mean your local lodge can't get back on your town's radar - not by a long shot. 

In case you are under he misapprehension that I'm arguing for plundering your treasury, "making a difference" usually takes far more initiative and imagination than money. Consider this story out of Bluefield, Virginia today from the local NBC affiliate. 

The local lodge - Harman Lodge 222 - just voted unanimously to pay off the unpaid school lunch debts for two local schools, and send donations to two local career centers. The total tab? Just $1,000. But Bluefield residents have just been reminded that the Masons are alive and well and dedicated to helping their neighbors and children.

From the WVVA website:

BLUEFIELD, Va. (WVVA) - Harman Masonic Lodge # 222 in Bluefield, VA made a decision at their January chapter meeting. 
The Lodge voted unanimously to pay off unpaid school lunch balances for Dudley Primary School and Graham Intermediate School in Bluefield, VA.  
Unpaid meal debt at our local schools is a growing trend and we feel like no child should have to worry about not having enough money to eat lunch.  
Grat Slade, Harman Masonic Lodge #222 member
The Lodge will also donate $500 towards Graham High School’s unpaid lunch debt.  
They also voted to donate $250 to the Tazewell County Career and Technical Center and $250 to the McDowell County Career and Technical Center.  
This money will be used for their Skills USA program.  This is a nationwide competition that requires the schools to pay for lodging, food and transportation for the students.  
I would like to urge all local organizations, businesses and churches to consider donating to Graham High and Graham Middle School to pay down the debt for unpaid school lunches. As a community, we can help these children concentrate on their school work, and not how much they have in their pockets.  
Grat Slade, Harman Masonic Lodge #222 member 
In addition to monetary donations, the Lodge is currently planning a litter pick up day closer to the end of winter.  
We are excited for the year ahead of us and hope to make our communities better. 
Grat Slade, Harman Masonic Lodge #222 member

This is nothing new for Harman Lodge. In the past, the lodge has also provided small scholarships for local high school students, as well as funding other local causes. 

Bluefield is unique, as it straddles the Virginia/West Virginia state line. For a brief time, the Virginia-side town was actually named Harman, after the death of local Civil War hero, Colonel Edwin Houston Harman. The lodge was established in 1866, and also named in his honor.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

'Laudable Pursuit' New Audio Book Edition

The brethren who create the Whence Came You? podcast, WCY Media, have just announced that Laudable Pursuit by the Knights of the North is now available as an audio book through Audible.com for $6.95 (or free with 30-day trial of the Audible.com service).

Originally released online in 2004 and in its final form in 2006, Laudable Pursuit has become something of a textbook over the last decade and a half on how to attempt to change the course of Freemasonry. Countless lodges around the globe have adopted concepts from this booklet to reset their own practices and priorities. 

It has been available in print as a free download for fifteen years now, and as a hard-copy dead-tree edition on demand for $7.98 from Lulu.com since 2010. 

This new 90 minute audio version is narrated by Robert H. Johnson, Spencer A. Hamann,Julian Rojas, Scott S. Dueball, and myself. 

As one of the original contributors and the editor of Laudable Pursuit, this is the first time I've gotten involved with anyone outside of the original authors attempting to make it more widely available. I was more than happy to narrate a portion of this new version for WCY, and was honored that they wanted to do this with the blessing of the original Knights of the North. 

Over the years, several Masons have attempted to co-opt the 'Laudable Pursuit' name for different projects of their own, but none of them were ever done with the permission or participation of the original Knights of the North. ('The Laudable Pursuit' website, for instance, never has had anything to do with us or the original paper, in spite of its name.) But over the summer, Robert Johnson and several of the Brethren from the Whence Came You? podcast expressed an interest in creating a new audible book version of LP so that it could be downloaded and listened to, and they have done a fine job of presenting it.

Because Audible.com doesn't permit books to be entirely free on their system, Robert and WCY have graciously offered to direct the proceeds from the sale of this audio book to the Masonic Library & Museum of Indiana, which is what I have always done with the printed paperback version of the book.

So just who the hell were, or are, the 'Knights of the North,' and just what is Laudable Pursuit, anyway? Since it's been fifteen years since its initial creation, let me take you back a couple of decades and set the stage for it.

What Is Laudable Pursuit, and Who Were Those Guys Anyway?

Beginning in early 2004, an extended paper called Laudable Pursuit was disseminated anonymously in Masonic chat rooms, forums, and elsewhere online. Based on Indiana Past Grand Master/Grand Secretary Dwight Smith’s 1960s collected essays, Whither Are We Traveling? and Why This Confusion in the Temple?, the new paper explored modern answers to the vexing questions posed by him that had largely gone unaddressed by the fraternity in the ensuing decades. In spite of Dwight's international influence in the fraternity as a writer, editor, and experienced grand lodge officer, his warnings and recommendations were largely ignored when he wrote them, and North American Freemasonry fell into every one of the pitfalls of which he sought to steer it clear.

Attributed to an unidentified collection of authors calling themselves the “Knights of the North,” Laudable Pursuit almost overnight became simultaneously notorious and praised, depending upon the audience's point of view. We Knights coyly described ourselves at the time as a Masonic “think tank,” and in reality, we really were. 

While we were all proud of the work, we were compelled at the time to keep our authorship secret for very practical reasons. Part of the reason for the anonymity was that a couple of us in Indiana were suspended at the time for mouthing off online - early casualties of 'social media' backlash before anyone had named it.  Part of our anonymity was to protect the rest from a similar fate. Part of it was to distance ourselves from other unrelated online controversies at the time that we weren't involved in (like the ill-fated Grand Orient of the US experiment). But most of it was because LP was cobbled together from scores of online comments and discussions among about ten of us originally (mostly from Indiana) on Jeffrey Naylor's old MasonicLight.net online forum. There was no official, single author, and LP truly was a collaborative effort. 

I took it upon myself to edit these extended conversations into a comprehensible presentation, but only later identified myself as a 'Knight' after the publication of Freemasons For Dummies in 2005 made me less of a miscreant in the eyes of some of our grand lodge officers who were less than pleased by our criticisms and boat-rocking.

Laudable Pursuit made numerous proposals that combined new approaches with older practices, in parallel with much of what was coming to be known as the "best practices," “traditional observance,” or “observant” lodge movement. We were making a passionate plea for a higher quality lodge experience than most North American lodges are commonly providing. 

Our recommendations included: conducting business meetings on the Entered Apprentice degree; multiple Volumes of Sacred Law opened on the lodge altar; formal attire at meetings; higher dues; regular Masonic education in monthly meetings; deliberately smaller lodges; alternative ritual presentations; less concentration on institutionalized charities in favor of smaller, individual lodge or personal charity; rejection of regularly advancing officers’ lines in favor of a merit-based approach; and streamlined regulations to simplify the chartering of new lodges. A central theme of the paper was the insistence on lodges holding a festive board or table lodge at each meeting, something that was even rarer at the time than it is today.

The 1990s - The 'Wild West Frontier' of Electronic Freemasonry

At that time, U.S. Freemasonry was going through some major changes that stemmed from the earliest days of Internet conversations. In the early and mid-1990s, companies like Prodigy, America Online, and CompuServe, among others, created proprietary software to make navigating and conversing online simpler. Prior to their creation, online communications still required a certain degree of knowledge, patience, and luck to cobble together the bits of hardware, software, and computer code needed to make everything work. Meanwhile, the older, primitive bulletin board services (BBS) migrated to newer locations and formats as technology became simpler to use, and a sort of Wild West explosion of email mailing lists and online communities, such as Usenet groups, sprouted up everywhere. Numerous such avenues of information sharing were created, largely by individual Masons and without much—if any—supervision or sponsorship.

The CompuServe Masonry Forum became especially active, and was embraced by many members in the Philalethes Society at the time, championed by their past-president and Executive Secretary Allen E. Roberts. Within that pioneering group and the Philalethes’ Cornerstone Computer Chapter were numerous notable former and future Masonic scholars, authors and leaders, including more than a few from Indiana. Freemasons from all over the world began to interact at that time, unfettered by longstanding issues of regularity and recognition.

While informal exchanges about international Masonic practices, rituals, symbolism, and other topics had certainly occurred in the past, it became far simpler and faster to do with the advent of the web. Such ease of research is taken for granted now, but prior to the mid-1990s, the overwhelming majority of Masons in the world knew little or nothing about the similarities and differences between lodges, jurisdictions, and obediences outside of their own. Just finding out the meeting date or location of a lodge in the next town or county prior to the 1990s required a bit of detective work, or at least a few phone calls.

It is highly arguable that the issue of joint recognition between so-called 'mainstream' grand lodges and their Prince Hall grand lodge counterparts would never have been undertaken and so widely adopted without the communication and transfer of information facilitated by the earliest days of the Internet. Masons in unrecognized jurisdictions were forbidden to sit in lodges with each other, and most official Masonic research organizations did not permit membership of Masons unrecognized by their sponsoring bodies. Grand lodges often insisted on establishing their own 'research lodges' specifically to keep a watchful eye on contact between jurisdictions. Early Internet bulletin boards, chat rooms, and mailing lists had no such restrictions. Masons began discovering information about others their own jurisdictions branded as “clandestine,” and freely shared their histories, practices, policies, and more important, their myths about each other. Strong friendships developed among many of these Masons, regardless of institutionalized regularity and recognition. Most significant, and extremely disturbing to some, such free exchanges of information among regular and irregular members, Prince Hall, female, and Co-Masons were all happening outside of the purview of grand lodge authorities. 

That scared the bejeebers out of lots of grand masters and grand secretaries everywhere.

To give you some idea of the difference between then and now, in the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America’s Commission on Information for Recognition report for 2004 (the first year it appeared on the Internet), a message was included that summed up the fears being stirred among grand lodges by the effects of the Internet:

“Over the past decade, there have been increasing attempts by members of irregular Masonic bodies to contact Regular Freemasons and have informal communications with us. Many of these irregular organizations originated in Europe, and have spread rapidly to the East coast of the U.S. and Canada. This is due in large part to the increased availability of information about Freemasonry, and the use of internet bulletin boards and list servers. At the same time, some regular Masons in this country consider it fashionable or “cosmopolitan” to fraternize with these irregular Masons on the internet, and to invite them to informal Masonic socials where ladies and non-Masons are invited, and where traditional Masonic customs are often abused. On occasion, they have been invited to attend meetings of appendant or affiliated bodies and research organizations, and have even been admitted to membership in some of them.

“These practices can be very embarrassing and damaging to Regular Masonry, particularly when unsuspecting eligible candidates join one of these bodies without being aware they are an irregular organization. When they find they are not welcome in their hometown Lodge, varying degrees of animosity against our fraternity will likely result from those who might have otherwise become Regular Masons and members of our Lodges. Our fraternity is being stolen by these irregular Masons. The day may not be too distant when these organizations will want to level cornerstones and gain the same stature and recognition as our own Grand Lodges. We should not, under any circumstances, grant them acknowledgement of legitimacy. To take the position that they are merely a different type of Freemasonry is not only misguided, it is factually wrong. When encountering these individuals, either in person, or on the internet, we should remember our obligation that is a violation to have communication with them.”

Whether Laudable Pursuit was actually visionary or merely a collection of ideas that were already incubating in various pockets throughout the country, I like to think that we were just sharp enough to package our message a little differently. We had already incorporated much of what we were recommending when we established Lodge Vitruvian 767 just three years before, demonstrating that American Freemasonry wouldn't burst into flames if Masons were given flexibility to tinker with the non-ritual customs and meeting structures to create their own traditions that suit their own members.

In sort of a Masonic variation of the old Star Trek's Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development, the Masonic Restoration Foundation was likewise calling for most of what we proposed. You can find earlier similar influences in John Mauck Hilliard's Independent Royal Arch Lodge 2, in New York, Pete Normand's "Traditional Best Practices lodge," St. Alban's Lodge 1455, in College Station, Texas (established back in 1992, a decade before the "Traditional Observance" moniker was ever coined), and Kent Henderson's Lodge Epicurean and the "European Concept" outlined in his 2001 paper, A Prescription For Masonic Renewal. And we declared from the start that we were inspired to take on the project by Dwight Smith's essays from the 1960s.

Or as we used to say in advertising: "Where do good ideas come from? SOMEBODY ELSE!" 

It was in this unique period of time that Laudable Pursuit first appeared. And quite literally the very the next morning after it showed up online, an email went out among our Indiana grand lodge officers and committee members insisting that "this has Naylor's and Hodapp's hands all over it," and demanding that all of "these so-called Knights of the North" immediately be found, exposed, and expelled from the fraternity once and for all. Several of the original Knights of the North eventually identified ourselves publicly (Jeff Naylor, Nathan Brindle, Eric Schmitz, Jim Dillman, Carl W. Davis, Tim Bonney, Tom Fellows, myself and others)But when we were still unknown, a few wags began to refer to us as a "cabal," leading us joke on a regular basis, "There is no cabal."

Strange to think back on that today. Within ten years, much of what we had clamored for had become adopted policies in numerous U.S. lodges and jurisdictions, including Indiana.  A year after the paper came out online, a grand master in a different jurisdiction pulled me aside and said every one of his GM's recommendations for his year came directly out of Laudable PursuitOn the other hand, the Grand Lodge of Missouri became so defensive over such 'radical' ideas that the mere mention of 'traditional observance' or 'European concept' lodges and any similar discussions were banned by edict in 2010 in that state - a rule that astonishingly remains to this day.

As my friend Roger Van Gorden and Past Grand Master of Indiana often says, "So it goes."

By 2005 our discussion circle had enlarged considerably in size from our original core group. By then we were scattered across the U.S. and Canada, but were still largely dominated by our crowd of Indiana Freemasons (referred to by some as the 'Indiana mafia'.) The Knights of the North contributed 26 original essays to the Masonic Dictionary website at MasonicDictionary.com, on a broad array of topics concerning challenges facing the fraternity, from pleas for rescuing the fraternity’s significant, endangered temple buildings, to Masonic jurisprudence. The overarching goal of that site was to provide a resource for true Masonic education, and eventually became home to more than 600 articles from public domain sources like The Builder magazine, Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia, and others. That site was developed and maintained by Canadian Masonic author Stephen Dafoe, and remains online as of this writing.

July 2005 - Stephen Dafoe and a large number of the non-Indiana
KOTN visited Lodge Vitruvian in Indianapolis. It was a rare in-person gathering.

In 2006, we finalized Laudable Pursuit in its present form on the Knights of the North website, www.knightsofthenorth.comBy then our lineup also included Stephen Dafoe, Michael Bayrak, Dan Ellnor, John Hayes, Jay Hochberg, Fred Milliken, C. Shawn Oak, Dale Sabin, Steve Schilling, Jelle Spijker, David Weinberg - plus a small handful of brethren who to this day prefer to remain nameless.

The Masonic Society and Beyond

Many of us went on to become the founders of the Masonic Society two years later, in 2008. The birth, promotion, and rapid growth of the Masonic Society itself would not have been possible without the connectivity and technology of the Internet. But it was Laudable Pursuit that was the catalyst for much of what we would go on to accomplish, both collectively and individually. 

Meanwhile, Laudable Pursuit continues to attract attention and new audiences (and converts) year after year. Some of the KOTN alumni who enthusiastically took part in expanding the Knights beyond our original 'Indiana mafia' early on continued researching the reasons behind the decline of regular Freemasonry in North America. In 2012, they resurrected the organization in private online discussions and carefully invited more worthy Masons locally, nationally, and internationally to establish a truly world-wide group, with ages ranging from the 20s to 70s. In 2019 they went public with their own sequel to the original paper, called Laudable Pursuit 2. It can be found online HERE.

So, many thanks to Robert Johnson and the Whence Came You? brethren for their role in creating and promoting this new audio version. I'll take it upon myself to speak for all of the original Knights of the North when I say that it is extremely gratifying and humbling for all of us to witness the continued interest in our humble efforts from what now seems so long ago. 

Here are links to all of the various options for accessing the original Laudable Pursuit:

Any proceeds from the sale of Laudable Pursuit are donated to the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

"The Dawn of a New Era is Approaching."

'In regard to the condition of Masonry in our state, I think it can be said that the dawn of a new era is approaching. It is true that the decrease in membership for some time past has been greater apparently than it ought to have been. Knowing as we do that heretofore Masonry has been too easy of access, that numbers and not members have been sought, that quantity instead of quality has been desired, that Masonry has been too cheap and common, that "cash" instead of character was the necessary qualification, I view the present condition as one over which we should congratulate one another, and rejoice that our night in Masonry is past, that the day is coming in which the valuable prize of Masonry is to be obtained only by those whose real, true, moral, and social worth entitle them to its degrees. Lodges should make haste, slowly, in the acquisition of initiates.'
Report delivered to the members of Clearspring Lodge 323 in Clearspring, Indiana by Brother McHenry Owen, who attended the summer communication of Grand Lodge of Indiana as the Worshipful Master's proxy,.

By the way, this was May 28th, 1878 — one hundred forty and a half years ago. 

(Clearspring Lodge 323 merged with Washington Lodge 13 in Brownstown in 1972.) 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas From the Road

Please accept my apologies for the long gap in posts this month. We've literally been on the road since the first weekend in December.

Instead of staying home with Alice to help pack for California, load the trailer, scream at our now-you-see-them/now-you-don't kitchen remodeling contractors, and deal with our new and certifiably insane 13 week old puppy at 3am, I flitted off to York, Pennsylvania to speak at the 150th anniversary of Zaredatha-White Rose Lodge 451 on December 7th.

Yeah, I know. 

It was a wonderful evening in a beautiful venue - the John Wright Restaurant which sits right on the Susquehanna River (and is owned by a Brother Mason, I might add). Many thanks to Worshipful Master Donald E. Peiffer, Jr., Senior Warden Matt D. Grimes, and all of their officers for their kind invitation. 

I also want to add my special appreciation to Most Worshipful S. Eugene Herritt, Grand Master of Pennsylvania, and his First Lady Sally for their kind forbearance in sitting through one of my windier orations in what was an extraordinarily packed schedule for them. It was also great to spend time with Tom Jackson, who was scheduled to fly out to Romania several days later. 

(I since discovered that Tom wasn't able to make that trip due to some unforeseen health issues. Please keep him in your prayers this holiday season, and drop him a line or a phone call if you know him. He's missing the December Grand Communication for Pennsylvania for the first time in 50 years, and he's not a bit happy about it.)

Grand Master S. Eugene Herritt
Finally, a special note of thanks to WB Ronald Dennis and his lovely bride Beverly for taking me to dinner at The First Post - which I include in this post as a reminder for the next time I'm in York.

After departing York, I returned home to "supervise" the final packing. Since we had to say our sad farewells to our longterm buddy, Wiley the Wonder Poodle back in late October, we weren't willing to cope with an entire winter dogless. So, just because there weren't enough things turned upside down in our household for the last two months, we have adopted our newest addition to the family, Sophie the Flying Poodle. And you haven't lived until you've attempted to train a three-month old puppy in a trailer. (She's capable of supersonic flight, though she suffers the occasional mishap and midair collision, generally due to pilot error). 

Sophie guarding my fuel supply
Consequently, once again we are packed three to a can and shipped across America in aluminum. We've been moseying westward along Route 66 to Southern California for two and a half weeks, and we are now spending the Christmas holidays with my family in Orange County.

So again, please forgive the absence of recent Masonic news postings. I hope to catch up in the next few days with a couple of stories I've been watching. And I will be flying back to Indianapolis for the Grand Lodge of Indiana's annual Founders Day celebration on Saturday, January 11th. 

Hopefully, we'll all be back home by the beginning of February, when we will discover that our house still looks like the missile testing range we left behind in some forlorn, magical fantasy that the pixies would finish the remodeling whilst we were away.

Vain hope.

In the meantime, may each of you have the merriest and brightest of Christmases and the greatest joy this holiday season can bring.