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


“The Masonic system represents a stupendous and beautiful fabric, founded on universal purity, to rule and direct our passions, to have faith and love in God, and charity toward man.”
— William Howard Taft

Sunday, December 09, 2018

UGLE and Female Freemasonry


Anytime the subject of women and Freemasonry pokes its head up, I'm well aware that the brickbats and hand grenades start flying. I know how this goes. Shrieks of "Women CAN'T be Freemasons!" come pouring out onto the message boards and Facebook comments. The blood drains from the faces of grizzled Past Masters and fresh faced new Master Masons alike. At least a dozen self-satisfied sniggerers feel compelled to bring up Senior Deacons and exposed breasts. At least two dozen bring up the Order of the Eastern Star. And there is a great gnashing of teeth.

Of course, women can be Freemasons. There have been female Masons (and not the just ones who listen at keyholes or fall out of wardrobes into meetings while spying) since the mid-1700s. Between 20-25% of the Masons in France are women right now. Regular, recognized Freemasonry doesn't recognize them, they can't attend our meetings, we can't attend theirs. But they do exist, and in decent enough numbers to be taken seriously.

With that in mind, the most recent issue of the United Grand Lodge of England's magazine Freemasonry Today arrived this week featuring an interview with MW Christine Chapman, Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, the smaller of the two principal female grand lodges in England. She's been a Mason for 42 years.

From the interview:

What are the origins of women’s Freemasonry?
The old myth that it began with inquisitive women being discovered hidden in lodge cupboards, grandfather clocks and under floorboards – and that they were made masons to protect the secrets – is entertaining, but none of these women went on to develop women’s Freemasonry.
It began in prerevolutionary 18th-century France with the Lodges of Adoption, which were female masonic societies under the adoption of masculine lodges. When the French Revolution arrived, all these lodges were for the chop, at least metaphorically. However, women were coming to the forefront of French intellectual society and Maria Deraismes, a well-known writer and supporter of women’s rights, was invited to become a full member of Loge des Libres Penseurs, working under the Grande Loge Symbolique de France. Her initiation in 1882 caused a schism, so this lodge and nine others seceded to form a new Grand Lodge called La Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise. And a new parallel movement was formed that eventually became known as Le Droit Humain, or the International Order of Co-Masonry.

Not long after this, the radical feminist Annie Besant travelled to France to join this movement and when she returned to England, she decided to formed the British Federation of the International Order of Co-Masonry in 1902, and remained its leader until her death in 1933. However, in true masonic fashion, there was a breakaway by members who wanted their Freemasonry to run along similar lines to UGLE. So in 1908 a new Grand Lodge was formed called the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry, or HFAM, although they later added The Order of Women Freemasons to their title and are now usually referred to as the OWF. Up until this point, female Freemasons had used the term ‘sister’. But now they decided that as members of a universal brotherhood, it was more suitable to be styled as ‘brother’.
‘It’s almost 24/7 now. I’m always at the end of my mobile and on social media, looking for opportunities to promote the fraternity’
What type of Freemasonry was practised in the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry?
For the first five years of its existence, they practised only the Craft degrees, but some members wished to introduce the Royal Arch. And having received the degree from former members of an extant UGLE chapter, they formed one themselves to practise the Royal Arch. But the Grand Lodge of HFAM decreed that the time was not yet ripe for this introduction.

So on 27 November 1913, Mrs Elizabeth Boswell Reid and her daughter Mrs Lily Seton Challen set up their own Grand Lodge to be known as The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, or HFAF, which is my Grand Lodge. Elizabeth Boswell Reid became our first Grand Master. So in 1913 we had three masonic Grand Lodges admitting both men and women, although women outnumbered the men in both HFAM and HFAF. Eventually these fraternities decided to become single-sex, and by 1933, we had achieved this aim in HFAF.
So HFAF was founded on the wave of social change in 1913?

We were inspired by the suffragettes and were founded on a streak of rebellion, because we’d broken away from another group. But they were all founded with the same principles – to empower women. We had one suffragette I know of – Helen Fraser, a great orator who inspired women to join the suffrage movement.

What’s the difference between the HFAF and OWF societies?
The OWF are much larger than us. But we like to think we’re more flexible and can react more quickly to initiatives and seize opportunities. Carpe Diem is one of my mantras and another is that there are no problems, only solutions. Take the consecration of our New Delhi Lodge. We had an Indian lady who came over to the UK, joined a lodge and took her degrees because she was determined to take Freemasonry to India. But she couldn’t get other Indian women to come over to England to take their degrees. So we went out there to make it happen.
What are the misconceptions about women’s Freemasonry?
We sometimes come across men who don’t think we could possibly be doing it at the same level as them. So we’ve had to fight that. Nowadays they’re much more supportive and UGLE is in particular. We also have to fight people who think we are somehow upset that we can’t join the men. At HFAF, we want to work as women, for an organisation of women, doing things for women. We have a saying: it’s a bit like football – the same game, the same rules, but different teams...
Read the rest HERE.

Take note that while the UGLE doesn't officially have any sort of visitation relationship or actually grant recognition to the female grand lodges, they do cooperate. Their Grand Masters were invited to the gala 300th anniversary celebration of UGLE last year. When ladies contact the UGLE asking about becoming Freemasons themselves, they do not rear up on their haunches, snort and harrumph about "NO WIMMIN," or offer up an alternative like the OES (which actually does not officially operate in England, and carries no standing with the UGLE). They cheerfully point to the two female grand lodges down the street. They even cooperate with each other with their University Scheme program, which seeks to introduce Freemasonry to college students by establishing lodges connected to college and university campuses. Interestingly, UGLE and the HFAF conferred with each other when they crafted their recent transgender policies last year, which were forced upon them by changes in English laws.

All of this is a lesson U.S. grand lodges need to pay attention to as the society shifts around us. Just as American grand lodges ignored Prince Hall Freemasonry for two hundred years, we have done the very same with female Freemasonry in this country. The Grand Master of the HFAF said in her interview that they are expanding and chartering lodges in India, Spain, Gibraltar, and Washington, DC in the coming year. There are numerous other female lodges already at work across the U.S. that almost none of us are even remotely aware of. 


American Masons have been able to pretend that the Order of the Eastern Star was sufficient for women to join as a panacea for legitimate Freemasonry, with suitable male Masonic lifeguards on hand to make sure they weren't actually conferring Masonic degrees. The internet, combined with societal upheavals and a shifting gender role landscape, is going to make the future very different.

Monday, December 03, 2018

'Death-Metal' Band GHOST Members Allege Masonic Conspiracy in Legal Fight


Former members of the Swedish 'death-metal' band Ghost are suing their lead singer and frontman, business manager, primary studio musician, and principal songwriter, Tobias Forge in a Swedish court over a dispute about royalties and unpaid salaries. The original lawsuit was filed in April 2017. 

Until the filing of the original suit, all of the band's members had spent the previous eleven years hiding their identities from the public, appearing in masks, and using character names only. 

For many years, Forge himself appeared onstage as a series of demonic anti-popes called 'Papa Emeritus.' In 2012, he retired his papal character, and replaced it with a less theatrically dramatic but equally Catholic-esque one called 'Cardinal Copia.'

I'm getting to the Freemasonry part.

Since Ghost always appeared in masks or makeup onstage and in public and hid their identities, anyone could have been performing under them. They were referred to only as Nameless Ghouls. Forge himself reportedly did the bulk of the creative work behind the scenes and in recording sessions, but the band members apparently decided that he had essentially become a solo act and had crowded them out, taking advantage of their anonymity, and just paying them a fixed salary for their services. Hence the lawsuit over US$22,000 they claim to have been entitled. It's more complicated than that, I'm not a lawyer, and I don't speak Swedish, but that's the gist. In fact, the public wouldn't have known any of the band members' names – including Forge's – had the lawsuit never been filed by the former Nameless Ghouls. The plaintiffs in the case were Martin Hjertstedt, Henrik Palm, Mauro Rubino and Simon Söderberg.
Well, Forge won the lawsuit over a year ago in October, sticking the plaintiffs with his US$145,000 legal fees. The band members stewed over their loss for a year (along with spending their own legal fees of over US$300,000), and then pulled a hoary old trick out of their attorney's briefcase last week: file an appeal, and blame 'the Freemasons.'

According to an article on the Revolver website:
The former band members began the appeal process after the ruling last month, and now their attorney claims judge Henrik Ibold was "being disloyal" to his judicial duties and showing favoritism to Forge as the two both reportedly belong to the Freemasons, a centuries-old fraternal organization that describes itself as "beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Ibold denies the claims, but admitted to a Swedish newspaper that he had heard rumors of Forge's potential membership in the same order as him: The Swedish Freemasonry Order. When the same paper contacted Forge's lawyer, she refused to comment. As of now, judge Göta Hovrätt has not made a decision on whether to try the case in appeals court.
The Swedish news site NE.SE mentioned above does provide a bit more information. I include it below with the usual disclaimer that it has been run through the Bing translator, since my sole knowledge of Swedish vocabulary consists of the word smörgåsbord:
The dispute has now taken an unexpected turn. Lawyer Michael Berg, who represents the former members, in a submission to the Court of appeal asked that the entire trial in the District Court shall be repeated. The lawyer accuses Alderman Henry Ibold, who was the presiding judge in the District Court, to have been disqualified. The reason is that Henrik Ibold is a member of the Swedish Freemasons. Also the band leader Tobias Forge is a member of the same [order] and both he and Alderman Ibold belong, according to the lawyer, the section within the [organization] which go under the name "Fourth Division", which includes, inter alia, the order's lodges in [the city of] Linköping. The lawyer believes that this relationship will [affect] impartiality in the case [and] could be questioned.
We spoke on Thursday with Alderman Henry Ibold. He did not know at that time that the lawyer had turned to the Court of Appeal. He says it is up to the Court to determine if he was disqualified or not when he ruled in the case.
"It goes to the appellate court judge. I don't have any opinion about it in my role as singled out as being disqualified. It may be handed over to someone else to decide.
Did you know that the Forge was a member of the Freemasons?
"I did not know that he was a member of the Masonic order. However, I had heard some rumor that it could be so.
It feels unpleasant to be accused of conflict of interest?
– No, it does not. I do not think that the Court will consider that there is conflict of interest," says Henrik Ibold.
We have also been in contact with Tobias Forges lawyer, Ann-Charlotte S Birch. Nor did she felt on Thursday that other party is accusing the judge of bias.
"I have no idea. I am not speaking about this," she said.
In his submission to the Court of appeal Attorney Berg invokes an excerpt from the Swedish Masonic Order's general laws that, among other things, provides that a member of the order must always tell the truth. The lawyer writes: "For Henry Ibold, it must have been impossible to objectively and impartially assess the probative value of the evidence that Tobias Forge has given".
The submission to the Court of appeal shows that the former members of Ghost first found out on November 14 that Henry Ibold was a member of the Masonic Order. It is apparent that they have investigated Ibold's and Forge's membership by taking advantage of the Order's roll.
Göta Court of appeal had not yet taken a position on Thursday to the claim that the trial should be in the District Court.
Now, all of this is very curious. Claiming that Masonic judges give preference to other Masons at trial is inane nonsense, and always has been. Masonic obligations are to help a Brother in need if possible, but not to violate the law or the ethics of our professions. Plus, if both Forge and Judge Ibold really are members of the fraternity in Sweden, them winding up in the same courtroom together was a sheer coincidence. Sweden today has about 15,400 members of the regular, recognized Swedish Order of Freemasons. But in the conspiracy lovers' world — especially when Freemasonry is bandied about — there's no such thing as coincidence. Of course, what an appeals judge will or will not permit to go forward is anybody's guess these days. 

But there's another niggling question that lingers about Tobias Forge's alleged membership in Swedish Freemasonry.



Many fans have pointed out that a couple of their songs contain Masonic-tinged lyrics – notably, 'Square Hammer' ("Are you on the square? Are you on the level?")





Unlike the vast majority of Freemasonry in the world, regular, recognized Freemasonry in Sweden is a Christian organization. The Swedish Order of Freemasons (Svenska Frimurare Orden) is officially under the royal patronage of the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, and it is closely associated with the Lutheran Church of Sweden, the country's official state religion. Consequently, it is an unusual Masonic jurisdiction that admits Christian men only as members, which has caused some discomfort and more than a little heartburn with many other Masons around the world who stick purely to the religious requirement outlined in Anderson's Constitutions ("to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree"). In fact, over the years some Masons have suggested withdrawing amity with the Swedish Order because of this conflicting membership requirement that denies membership to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others. 

It should be noted here that Swedish lodges don't demand visitors from other jurisdictions be Christians only, just their own members. 

(There is one notable and regular alternative in Sweden for non-Christans to join. Since the early 2010's, the Grand Lodge of Finland, which was founded in the 1920s with a charter from the Grand Lodge of New York, has operated a District Grand Lodge of Sweden with the permission of the Swedish Rite. The lodges chartered by the Grand Lodge of Finland work using a Swedish-language version of the Finnish ritual, which is essentially the American Craft ritual used by the Grand Lodge of State of New York. Their lodges merely require that candidates are men who profess faith in a Supreme Being and the immortality of soul, and do not require a profession of specifically Christian faith.)


The Swedish Rite is a very different system of integrated degrees than Americans and most other English-derived Masons are used to, and it is worked in the Nordic countries of Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway as well. Unlike our systems of lodge degrees with optional appendant bodies which may be variously joined according to the desires of candidates and members, there are a total of eleven degrees in the Swedish Rite, divided into four divisions, and which must be conferred in strict order. It has a distinct hierarchy which is unusual to us. 



What we know as the three Craft Lodge degrees are called the First Division (1-3), which are conferred in St. John's Lodges. The Second Division consists of three degrees (4-6) of what are Scottish or St. Andrew's Lodges. The Third Division comprises four degrees (7-10), and these are conferred in Provincial Grand Lodges, or Chapters. 

The Fourth Division (to which Judge Ibold and Tobias Forge are both alleged to belong in the story above) consists of just one degree, the 11th, known as Most Enlightened Brother, Knight Commander of the Red Cross. It is extremely limited, and there were only about 60 Knight Commanders in Sweden in 2015. There is also a Civil Order of Knight Commander that is controlled and conferred by the King. It is called the Royal Order of King Karl XIII, and is limited to just 33 Knight Commanders. It is not a Masonic degree. Because of the extremely limited number of such honors, there is an even greater spookiness assigned to this small group by detractors than what we put up with in the U.S. over our 33rd degree Scottish Rite Masons. So naturally, it becomes an easy shorthand to accuse someone of being part of this "inner sanctum" and rarified air of the Fourth Division. Which brings us back to the allegations made in the appeals case over Ghost.

The question that arises over Tobias Forge's alleged membership in Swedish Masonry comes back to its Christian requirement, versus his public persona as Ghost's frontman. As Ghost's vocalist, songwriter and all-around mastermind, Forge cooked up a string of 'Satanic popes' — Papa Emeritus I, II and III — for each of the band's first three albums. The characters appeared onstage in skull makeup and a papal mitre, occasionally singing odes to Lucifer and the other usual staples of 'death metal' music like zombies, ghouls, vampires and the like. What many now have branded as Occult Rock. In interviews, Forge wore skull makeup and was simply another Nameless Ghoul, like his other band members. The band quickly became notorious as Europe and Metal's oddest music act, and the mystery was a huge part of the performance on and off the stage. Audiences ate it up, and even the press gladly refrained from exposing their real names, faces and private lives online. 

Tobias Forge

Their act is its own brand of campiness in much the same way that Alice Cooper presented himself in the 1970s. In reality, Forge looks like a clean-cut guy in his early 30s. He's got a wife and kids, and a pretty typical middle class social life. But interviews present a different character, and he has said he became a Satanist as a young boy.

From Revolver:
Tobias Forge is standing in a church. He's six or seven years old. He's with his mom. She works in a gallery. She appreciates art. She wants her son to appreciate art, too. "She was always very keen on taking me to churches," he explains. "She might say now in older age that she's sort of borderline religious, but back then it was just treating churches like museums."
One particular church in Linköping stood out. It was built in the 1500s. It was Catholic. It was creepy. "It had that evil feel, with a lot of old, scary paintings and big stained-glass windows and all that stuff I've sort of carried forth with me," Forge says. "It felt like a magical place. On the other hand, I think it triggered a lot of the opposition that made me, in my adolescence, so unquestionably throw my hands into the hands of Satan."
Satanic-panic movies and imagery have been a staple of teenaged entertainment ever since the 1950s (and even earlier), and Forge has been playing a carefully crafted public character for nearly a decade now that depends heavily on an anti-religious and Satanic image in public. He seems uneasy with trying to balance that with his loss of anonymity now that has exposed him as just this regular guy. 

Which brings us full circle to the lawsuit's allegation that he's a Swedish Freemason, which predicates membership on a profession of Christianity. Freemasonry is not in any way, shape or form related to, or welcoming of, any sort of association with 'Satanism' of any kind. Regular Freemasonry requires a belief in a Supreme Being by its members, and leaves a man's private faith to his own conscience. But if a Masonic lodge were to discover that a petitioner's private faith was any variation of actual Satanism, it would undoubtedly be deemed incompatible with the values of the fraternity by investigating committees and the voting members of the lodges. But especially in a grand jurisdiction requiring Christianity as a requirement of membership, as Sweden does, membership would be impossible under any circumstances.

All of this long winded tale is really an examination of how anti-Masonic smears and allegations take on a life of their own. The Swedish Order hasn't said publicly whether Forge is a Mason or not, and probably has no intention or desire to reveal if he is. Judge Ibold has acknowledged his membership, and there's certainly no reason for him to hide from it, since the Swedish Order is so deeply connected with the Swedish royalty. But the former band members and their lawyers have obviously decided it's worthwhile to try to make something out of it all by making the allegations of impropriety a part of their most recent legal actions, along with the prerequisite yakking to the press just to make sure that Freemasonry gets branded as something suspicious.

And there's the question that sits at the top of the whole tale. If Forge is a Freemason in the Swedish Rite, how does he explain his purported adherence to Satanism? Or was it always an act all along? And how did the brethren who investigated him manage to reconcile that to admit him into a Christian-only Masonic lodge? Is he really a Mason at all, or is it just a desperate anti-Masonic accusation made by a desperate attorney with desperate clients who are desperate to claim a conspiracy instead of paying their legal bills? 

Or is it all just an elaborate circular hoax on everybody's part?

Just remember that Alice Cooper, the godfather of heavy metal shock rock who is credited with introducing horror and occult imagery into rock music theatrics, is a Born-Again Christian.





NEW FOR 2018


Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Ideals of a Freemason


I encountered one of the most moving descriptions of the ideals of a Freemason today on the Grand Lodge of Alberta's website, originally written in 1888 by M.W. Bro. Otto Klotz and published in the Canadian Craftsman magazine:

"If you see a man who quietly and modestly moves in the sphere of his life; who, without blemish, fulfils his duty as a man, a subject, a husband and a father; who is pious without hypocrisy, benevolent without ostentation, and aids his fellow man without self-interest; whose heart beats warm for friendship, whose serene mind is open for licensed pleasures, who in vicissitudes does not despair, nor in fortune will be presumptuous, and who will be resolute in the hour of danger;
"The man who is free from superstition and free from infidelity; who in nature sees the finger of the Eternal Master; who feels and adores the higher destination of man; to whom faith, hope and charity are not mere words without any meaning; to whom property, nay even life, is not too dear for the protection of innocence and virtue, and for the defence of truth;
"The man who towards himself is a severe judge, but who is tolerant with the debilities of his neighbor; who endeavors to oppose errors without arrogance, and to promote intelligence without impatience; who properly understands how to estimate and employ his means; who honors virtue though it may be in the most humble garment, and who does not favor vice though it be clad in purple; and who administers justice to merit whether dwelling in palaces or cottages.
"The man who, without courting applause, is loved by all noble-minded men, respected by his superiors and revered by his subordinates; the man who never proclaims what he has done, can do, or will do, but where need is will lay hold with dispassionate courage, circumspect resolution, indefatigable exertion and a rare power of mind, and who will not cease until he has accomplished his work, and then, without pretension, will retire into the multitude because he did the good act, not for himself, but for the cause of good!"
(Source: The Canadian Craftsman, March 15, 1868. M.W. Bro. Otto Klotz
If you ever meet such men, you will have seen see the personification of brotherly love, relief and truth — and you will have found the ideal of a Freemason. 

Can you envision yourself striving to be such a man?



UPDATED 12/4/2018:

This is why Freemasonry is a lifelong course of study and discovery. After I posted this earlier yesterday, several Canadian brethren informed me that the above is actually a small excerpt of a much longer Charge given at the conclusion of officer installation ceremonies in many Canadian jurisdictions. 

The entire Address to the Brethren, of which Otto Klotz' portion above is a part, can be found HERE, and I heartily recommend it to your attention. I can't help but think it would be a fine unofficial addition to any installation ceremony anywhere, but then, I'm a Masonic heretic. Klotz' description of the 'Ideals of a Mason' is all the more impressive when you realize that the author was a German whose second language was English.

In addition, the story behind the entire Charge and its origins is described in a paper written in 1998 by Mark S. Dwor can be read HERE on the incredible Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon website.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Freemasonry in the Age of Woke


There's a disappointingly superficial piece on the Washington Post website today by feature writer Sadie Dingfelder about the George Washington National Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. As I read it, I was immediately struck by a picture it paints of a growing number of Americans these days and how Freemasonry is seen by them. 

Here are some excerpts from Dingfelder's article, 'Unlock the secrets of the Freemasons - or at least gawk at their strange costumes':
“Is it usually pretty quiet here?” I asked the person checking me in, who later turned out to be my tour guide.

“It can get pretty busy in the summer,” he replied. In warm months, busloads of Masons visit the memorial, he said.

“I must admit, I don’t know much about Freemasons,” I said, which prompted my guide to launch into a short history of the group.

“It’s basically a fraternal organization,” he concluded. “They do a lot of service and charity work.”

“Oh, so it’s like the Rotary Club, but with costumes and secret handshakes,” I said...

[snip]

The memorial also houses a museum of Masonic history, and we’d just arrived on a floor devoted to that when a muffled voice emanated from my guide’s walkie-talkie. He rushed off to fetch a late-arriving tourist, leaving me alone in a room full of creepy mannequins attired in the costumes of various Freemason subgroups and affiliated societies, including Shriners’ fezzes, Arabic-looking turbans, militaristic uniforms and one costume with a jeweled breastplate, an imitation of vestments worn by ancient Israelite priests.

I found this to be a fascinating glimpse into a less-woke era, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any explanatory text about why these groups of (I imagine) white men wore Middle Eastern-ish garb, and whether similar costumes are still used today.
Some of the Freemason costumes on display struck this reviewer as Orientalist,
militaristic or just plain strange.
Scattered around the mannequins were displays of random club ephemera — plus a few inexplicable objects, including a jaunty bobblehead doll of the controversial Christian figure Jacques de Molay, a monk who fought in the Crusades and was later sentenced to death. De Molay’s medieval order, the Knights Templar, inspired the modern-day Knights Templar — a Christian-focused subgroup of Freemasons, my guide explained after returning with a mysterious man in a trench coat...
[snip]
If I’m right, he’s an increasingly rare breed. Freemason membership has been in decline since the 1960s, according to a chart on display in the museum’s basement. “Civic life declined as people spent more time alone in front of a television or computer screen,” the accompanying text explains. Fair enough, but I’m betting that the Masons’ fraught racial history and continued exclusion of women have also contributed to their diminishing relevance.

I mention this because the Masonic memorial may be on its way to becoming just that: a memorial to a bygone organization, where powerful men once gathered to socialize, plan charitable work and wear Orientalist costumes. Perhaps a lot of this is best left in the past, but it seems to me — a person who spends way too much time alone, in front of a computer — that there’s something here worth bringing into the future.

The benefit of resources like LinkedIn is that you can go and find out about the background of people whom you otherwise don't know at all, and Sadie's profile yields a few items worth noting. She's not a teenager or a college student — she graduated in 2001, so she's in her mid- or even late-30s. Sadie's a graduate of Smith College (a private liberal arts college for women only in their undergrad program), and she's been working as a writer for the Post in the Washington D.C. area in various capacities for ten years. She lives and works in the very city that a lot of Masons (and even non-Masons) regard as one heavily influenced by Freemasons from the past, and (if you believe in such things) filled with Masonic symbolism even in the street map. TV producers of programs about Freemasonry are obsessed with the idea. So it surprised me a bit to see just how little knowledge or awareness of Freemasonry she seemed to have when she walked into the Memorial — and apparently, how little she had actually learned by the time she left. After touring the place, she declared that Freemasonry is little more than a bygone organization.

This isn't a hit on Ms. Dingfelder, not at all. It's a comment on how diminished we have become in the collective American psyche. I thought we had reached rock bottom in that regard back before novelist Dan Brown put Freemasonry back on the map in the early 2000s. Since those dark days, cable television has had loads of programs about Masonry. Stacks of factual, intelligent, and truthful books (including mine and Brent Morris') got poured onto the market. Freemasonry worked its way into pop culture references like movies, music and TV shows. I had thought we had even turned a tiny corner and tipped the scales slightly back into our favor, at least as far as a basic awareness of Freemasonry was concerned.

Indeed, the Scottish Rite NMJ did a survey two years ago and discovered that a full 81% of respondents had at least heard of Freemasonry, even if they didn't know what it was. But as I think back over the last five or six years now, and reflect on my own contacts with the public about it, I fear more people are even less aware of what Freemasonry actually is than in the 1990s. In that same survey, less than 30% actually knew what the values of Freemasonry were. And the most common question I get asked by non-Masons under 35 these days once I get my basic elevator speech out of the way is, "But just what is it that you guys DO? What's the point?"

That shouldn't be a shock, since we are about one generation removed from the 1990s. The adults in 1990 were having children at that moment in time, and we are now encountering those former infants as adults today. Already by 1990, Freemasonry had been waning, along with a raft of other social changes taking place then. By 1990, the fraternity was already down in membership by more than 30% from its 1958 height. It was blatant that the Baby Boomers had steered clear of Freemasonry, just as they had so many other so-called "Establishment" ideals of their parents. Organized religious attendance was decreasing. Divorce rates had skyrocketed. Childbirths were down substantially, and most concerning, single parent households (usually single moms) were taking a major upswing. It was into this period that today's current Millennial adults now in their late-20s and 30s were born.


According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than half (46%) of American kids under 18 years of age are living in a home in 2018 with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage - what is quaintly called a traditional family household. This is a huge change from 1960, when 73% of children fit this description, and 1980 when 61% did. At less than 50% today, it's certainly a dwindling tradition.

One of the most enormous shifts in family structure is this one: 34% of American children today are living with an unmarried parent—up from just 9% in 1960, and 19% in 1980. In most cases, these unmarried parents are single, without a live-in partner of any kind to help raise and educate the children. And by far, the largest number are single mothers.

When I wrote Freemasons For Dummies in 2004, there was still a reasonable chance that enough grandfathers had been Freemasons in sufficient numbers that their grandchildren had at least encountered the fraternity in their lives. But that percentage has done nothing but drop since then.

Fewer children today have full-time fathers than ever before in recorded history, and even fewer of them have a grandfather to pass along older traditions like Freemasonry and numerous other important values. 

(Interestingly, 5% of children are not living with either parent at all. In most of these cases, they are living with a grandparent—a phenomenon that has become much more prevalent since the recent economic recession.)

When you take into consideration all of this stew of statistics, it's clear that Freemasonry as a subject for observation by children has a pretty paltry chance of being passed along to the current and future generations by many fathers, grandfathers, siblings, uncles or other influential men in their lives. 

In other words, there's no statistically significant reason why Sadie Dingfelder would have encountered Freemasons in her family. She doesn't mention any sort of family connection to the fraternity, so the only way she knows anything at all about us is from what she picked up by cultural references she has encountered as a teenager and adult. Like going to the Memorial, poking around on the Internet, or catching a rerun on A&E or the History Channel. I suspect she may not have a single family member, friend or acquaintance who is a Mason, or was in recent memory.

Mull that over. And if she has children of her own today, what chance will they have as adults to inherit any sort of collective, cultural knowledge of Masonry in another 20 years?

Note her comments about Masonry being from a "less-woke era" (a colossally imbecilic adjective if ever there was one) and her pronouncement that our "fraught racial history and continued exclusion of women have also contributed to their diminishing relevance." Whether you believe that or not, that is one narrative being circulated about us today in this hyper-heightened period of describing every single subject on the face of the Earth in terms of gender, race, offense, privilege  and oppression. Young people are being taught a dramatically different (and arguably damaging) version of Western and American history now than older generations, and the values, traditions and institutions of the Founders and prior important historical figures are being derided or ignored altogether. The images of George Washington and Ben Franklin as Freemasons don't carry the sort of influence and impact they had even 20 years ago – some today would even argue that they are a negative.  And let's not even venture into the demographics regarding religious beliefs among Americans in 2018, or how religious Americans are almost uniformly portrayed in a negative light by the pop culture. 

None of this is an indictment of anyone, because there's no single villain we can isolate and counter, argue with, or shoot out behind the barn. These are simply the current circumstances we find ourselves struggling in. That's what we're facing going forward as we try to craft messages for the profane world, design our museums, and sit for interviews with the press. Once again, the culture has shifted under our feet, and this time, we find ourselves potentially tap-dancing on a minefield.

As bleak as all of this may seem, at its core, Freemasonry is and will remain important and relevant and needed as time marches on, but it's up to each of us to do our part to ensure its future by not hiding what's left of our light under a bushel and permitting ourselves to be ignored to death. Remember that even Sadie recognizes this, and concluded her essay with this thought: "Perhaps a lot of this is best left in the past, but it seems to me — a person who spends way too much time alone, in front of a computer — that there’s something here worth bringing into the future."

There is indeed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Florida Eagle Scout Restores Masonic Lodge Sign


If you think the public doesn't pay attention to how our Masonic halls look on the outside, think again. 

We read a lot about Masons helping their communities, but this is a unique story of a young man deciding his town's local lodge needed help he could provide to them. Seventeen year old Eagle Scout candidate Austin Sherwood took on a community service project in Ocala, Florida, and he noticed that the signage of his local lodge had been in in need of a facelift for several years. Their old sign wasn't an eyesore, but it was generic and not illuminated at night. So, Austin used his computer and drafting skills to help out the members of Marion-Dunn Lodge No. 19 in Ocala by crafting a more impressive public face for them.

From the Ocala Star Banner website today:


The project was a renovation of portions of the outdoor sign and decorative mount, including surrounding landscape, at the Marion-Dunn Masonic Lodge No. 19 on Southeast 36th Avenue.
Austin, 17, an Ocala native, got a tip from his math teacher about the sign and decided to take on the repairs for his community project, one of the requirements to reach Eagle rank.
He finished repairs and upgrades to the sign backboards and stone column supports and planted landscaping last week.The mount holds LED lighted components, which were upgraded and fastened to each side of the backboards by a lodge member. The sign now gives off a soft blue glow at night and announces the lodge to passing motorists 24 hours a day.
The old sign Austin's has replaced had been inoperative for seven years.
Randy Strong, secretary for the 205-member lodge, said the sign has been inoperative for about seven years. The lighted sign portion is a large Masonic symbol with a “G” in the center, which represents God. A blue “G” on one side of the sign and purple “G” on the other side pertain to aspects of the lodge and leadership, he said.
“This is a big deal for us. Austin worked hard in this,” Strong said.
Lodge member Norman Getchell called the completed project “beautiful.”
Austin’s project included pre-treating and pressure cleaning, and adding stucco and special reflective paint on both sides of the backboard, which measures 9 feet tall by 9 feet wide.
The Eagle candidate wrote a letter and made personal visits to a number of local businesses to solicit donations for the project. He logged 72 hours on the project and enlisted aid from his father, Doug Sherwood Jr. and his grandfather Doug Sherwood Sr., who is an adult Scout leader.

Doug Sherwood Jr. said striving for Eagle had a positive effect on his son’s “maturity and leadership” and set a good lesson in “seeing a project through from start to finish.”
Austin deserves every possible accolade and reward that the lodge is able to provide for him for stepping up and accomplishing what their own members hadn't over the years. 

By the way, Austin has earned 43 merit badges. So far.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Saving the Temples




How I hit on two Atlantic articles in a week, I have no idea. On Sunday afternoon, author Johnathan Merritt posted an article on The Atlantic website that directly relates to my ongoing obsession to save our most important Masonic temples. 

America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches is about large churches across the U.S. that have ginormous and significant buildings, often in downtown areas, and what happens when congregations can no longer afford to keep them. 

Just like our major Masonic temples, their congregations are substantially smaller today than when these buildings were first erected. Just like our Temples, they are infused with enormous sentimental value and neighborhood importance. Just like our Temples, they present peculiar challenges for adaptive reuse, taxes, zoning, infrastructure, parking, and more. Merritt's article talks specifically about what has been done with older church buildings in several cases, and not all of them result in selling off the building to outsiders and vacating the premisses.

Simply replace "church" with "lodge" as you read, and you'll find some useful information and inspiration. Here is a large excerpt:



Closure and adaptive reuse often seems like the simplest and most responsible path. Many houses of worship sit on prime real estate, often in the center of towns or cities where inventory is low. Selling the property to the highest bidder is a quick and effective way to cut losses and settle debts. But repurposing a sacred space for secular use has a number of drawbacks. There are zoning issues, price negotiations, and sometimes fierce pushback from the surrounding community and the parish’s former members.

A church building is more than just walls and windows; it is also a sacred vessel that stores generations of religious memories. Even for those who do not regularly practice a religion, sacred images and structures operate as powerful community symbols. When a hallowed building is resurrected as something else, those who feel a connection to that symbol may experience a sense of loss or even righteous anger.
[snip]

Calling it quits isn’t the only option for dwindling congregations in possession of expansive, expensive buildings. Some are moving upstream of the crisis, opting to repurpose their buildings before they go under.

Larry Duggins left a successful career in investment banking a decade ago to attend seminary at Southern Methodist University. There he met a professor of evangelism named Elaine Heath with whom he brainstormed ways to help dying churches who maintain a will to live. The pair eventually found the Missional Wisdom Foundation, a 501c(3) that functions as a kind of think tank for “alternative forms of Christian community that makes sense for traditional churches that may be declining.”
“Years ago, the neighborhood church was the place many in America got together and, along with local schools, was where they got to know their neighbors,” Duggins told me. “But this model is no longer relevant for many people, so churches have to think creatively about how to help people encounter others and God in their everyday lives.”
In order to test their idea, Duggins and Heath approached the pastor of White Rock United Methodist in Dallas about collaborating. Half a century ago, it was a massive congregation with robust weekly programming, a strong reputation in the community, and a 60,000 square foot building. But the neighborhood’s demographics shifted in recent years and church membership waned. Its combination of sprawling space and shrinking attendance made White Rock the perfect guinea pig for Duggins and Heath’s experiments.

Missional Wisdom moved into the bottom 15,000 square feet of White Rock’s building and got to work. It converted the fellowship hall into a coworking space and transformed Sunday School rooms into a workshop for local artisans, including a florist and a stained glass window artists. It formed an economic empowerment center where the group teaches a local population of African refugees language and business skills. And it finished out the space with a yoga studio and a community dance studio. Today, the church building is bustling most days and the congregation is both covering expenses and generating revenue from its profit-sharing agreement with Missional Wisdom.
Next, the Missional Wisdom team partnered with Bethesda United Methodist Church in Asheville, North Carolina—a congregation with challenges similar to White Rock’s. Together, they created a community center called Haw Creek Commons. In addition to coworking space, they retrofitted the building with a textile and wood-working shop, meeting rooms that are used by local business and AA groups, a retreat space that can sleep up to nine, and a commercial kitchen in the basement for local bakers and chefs. Outside, Missional Wisdom constructed a community garden, food forest, beehives for the Haw Creek Bee Club, a greenhouse, and a playground for the children who attend the school next door.

Duggins says that the goal of these two experiments was simply to create opportunities and space for the community to gather and connect with each other. But as with White Rock, Haw Creek Commons has had residual positive effects on its host congregation.
“We wanted to transform the church into a place that would draw people who might not otherwise come, and in Asheville, we’ve seen it break down stereotypes of what the church is,” says Duggins. “At Bethesda, there were less than 10 people in the church on a given Sunday, but now there are more than 50.” Multi-purpose spaces lower the barriers to entry. When someone using a co-working space experiences a personal crisis, they have a comfortable place to turn...
See the whole article HERE.

There is zero reason why very similar uses cannot be found for Masonic temples, especially larger ones. And the ownership can remain in the hands of the fraternity on into the future.  All that's seriously missing in most cases is creative thinking, visionary leadership, and a common goal to keep what is ours in the most responsible manner possible.

See also: What's In A Building?


Meanwhile, this story appeared this morning. The beautiful Masonic Temple in Chester, Pennsylvania will soon be lost. Chester Lodge 235 is moving out and merging with another one in Concord. The building is to be sold.




Sunday, November 25, 2018

Foreign Language Lodges in America


Brethren of Esperenze Lodge 317 receiving their New Jersey charter on June 27, 2018.
The lodge has actually been in existence for more than 40 years.


If you look through the archives of your own grand lodge, you will likely find a handful of lodges chartered by your jurisdiction way back when that worked in different languages, especially in the 1800s and early 1900s. While they were technically following your state's approved ritual, these lodges performed theirs in the native language their members were most comfortable with. German was by far the most common, but there were noteworthy Italian- and French-speaking U.S. lodges as well. Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington D.C. still have several of these today. D.C. especially has quite a number of chartered 'cosmopolitan lodges' that often serve foreign-born Masons temporarily living in that city in connection with government, lobbying or embassy jobs. Many others like Massachusetts, Florida, and California also have foreign language lodges. 

Those are properly chartered lodges under those mainstream jurisdictions. But there's a relatively recent and growing wrinkle in the realm of 'clandestine' lodges and Masons. With the influx of more foreign born immigrants into America's large urban centers, there are a growing number of independent lodges made up of Cuban, Central and South American, Filipino, or other foreign-born Masons who have been ignored (or even shunned) by mainstream Masonry in this country. To answer their desire to become Masons — or to attend lodges that work in their native languages from back home —  more 'clandestine' lodges spring up every day that cater to them specifically. Some have been connected with legitimate foreign grand lodges which have invaded U.S. jurisdictional claims by chartering lodges here. But a large number of them are independent, self-created lodges. And more than a few have been around for a very long time, operating off of the radar screens of our grand lodges.

MW Roger Quintana, the current Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey seems to have taken the bull by the horns in his jurisdiction. New Jersey being a densely populated state and just across the border from New York, there are scores of clandestine Masonic lodges sprinkled throughout that jurisdiction. Instead of going on the attack against them, or ignoring them altogether, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey is trying a different approach. Portuguese-speaking Brazilian Masons in New Jersey have been hunting a legitimate lodge to join, and so the Grand Lodge is reaching out to find new ways to bring them under the umbrella of proper recognition and regularity. In 2018, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey has announced the transformations of formerly clandestine Esperanza Lodge 317 in Union City and Perucho Figueredo Lodge 370 in Elizabeth into fully chartered and regular, recognized ones under the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. 

First regular meeting of Perucho Figueredo Lodge 370
under its charter from the GL of New Jersey
Further, New Jersey has just received applications to do this from another independent clandestine lodge, Solomon Lodge. According to MW Quintana's letter (see below), their members will be re-obligated at a special One Day Class, and the formerly clandestine lodge will be consecrated with a proper charter from the GL of New Jersey. 

(Similarly, numerous Prince Hall grand lodges in the US have special 'healing' ceremonies in order to re-obligate Masons who joined 'clandestine' lodges first, and then later wished to become PHA Masons. NJ's actions seem to be a lodge-wide extension of that sort of thing.)
Click image to enlarge

While other states have not talked much about this in public, his letter says that the Grand Lodges of New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania have also been doing similar lodge conversions in this manner. (If I'm not mistaken, this has also taken place in Florida with former Cuban lodges – please correct me if I'm wrong. And I'm guessing California has done something similar over the years.) 

I'm told that the Grand Lodge of Arizona has a standard ritual in Spanish, and a handful of other states may also have their own in various languages as well. This is no longer a situation peculiar to just the coastal states and cities, or to southern border states. For the rest of us across the U.S. who find ourselves with growing foreign-born populations and communities in our various states, it is downright foolish and short-sighted to ignore this vast and growing population. And this is not even remotely just a big city issue. Look at these startling statistics. 

According to a 2017 study by the Center for Immigration Studies,
Newly released Census Bureau data for 2017 shows nearly half (48.2 percent) of residents in America's five largest cities now speak a language other than English at home. Overall, the number of U.S. residents speaking a foreign language at home reached a record of nearly 67 million. The total number is up seven million since 2010 and has increased by nearly 35 million since 1990.
Among the findings:
  • In 2017, a record 66.6 million U.S. residents (native-born, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants) ages five and older spoke a language other than English at home. The number has more than doubled since 1990, and almost tripled since 1980.
  • As a share of the population, 21.8 percent of U.S. residents speak a foreign language at home — roughly double the 11 percent in 1980.
  • In America's five largest cities, 48 percent of residents now speak a language other than English at home. In New York City and Houston it is 49 percent; in Los Angeles it is 59 percent; in Chicago it is 36 percent; and in Phoenix it is 38 percent.
  • In 2017, there were 85 cities and Census Designated Places (CDP) in which a majority of residents spoke a foreign language at home. These include Hialeah, Fla. (95 percent); Laredo, Texas (92 percent); and East Los Angeles, Calif. (90 percent). Perhaps more surprisingly, it also includes places like Elizabeth, N.J. (76 percent); Skokie, Ill. (56 percent); and Germantown, Md., and Bridgeport, Conn. (each 51 percent).
  • Nearly one in five U.S. residents now lives in a city or CDP in which one-third of the population speaks a foreign language at home. This includes Dale City, Va. (43 percent); Norwalk, Conn., and New Rochelle, N.Y. (each 42 percent); and Aurora, Colo., and Troy, Mich. (each 35 percent).
  • In contrast to many of the nation's cities, in rural areas outside of metropolitan areas just 8 percent speak a language other than English at home
Consider that there are sixteen lodges today in New York's 10th Manhattan District, and they grew out of the enormous immigrant populations that came to America and settled in the New York City area. The Tenth Manhattan is home to lodges permitted to work Craft degrees in French, Italian, and Spanish, and more, which differ—often substantially—from the traditional Preston-Webb rituals you find in almost every other state in the U.S. (with the notable exception of Pennsylvania's). It's not for nothing that this group of lodges refers to themselves as the 'Cosmopolitan Tenth,' which is how you'll find them on Facebook these days. Now, New Jersey has just established its own similar 6th District specifically geared to working with their newly christened foreign language and 'cosmopolitan' lodges in order to conform their sometimes very different rituals with current New Jersey practices.

This is a not a new idea, and by no means is it any sort of Earth-shattering innovation. A French-speaking New York lodge was asked to be the first lodge leading George Washington's funeral procession at Mount Vernon in 1799. Foreign language lodges were common a century and a half ago throughout America, and there's no reason why they shouldn't be again. 

Think of it a different way: Freemasonry is actually growing and thriving in Central and South American nations, where the bulk of our current immigration wave originates. Untold numbers of men join Masonic lodges in these Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking nations, only to find no lodges in which they feel comfortable or at home once in the U.S. Their only recourse is to establish or join a clandestine lodge, knuckle under and become proficient in English, or not attend at all. In other words, these are existing Freemasons living in our midst whom we are simply ignoring. It's long past time to be chartering new lodges in our jurisdictions that are permitted to work our official rituals (or at least close to them), just in a different language. 

Almost twenty years ago when faced with Masonic temples that were searching for rental possibilities, I suggested that lodges should be offering their dining room facilities for use by language tutors and schools to teach immigrants English, and/or Americans Spanish. It was clear then that there was already a growing need for such classes, and I suggested it as a new way to highlight the importance of Masonic halls in our communities once again. At that time, immigration wasn't really on many people's radar, and no one took it seriously. As the statistics above show, it's long past time to take it seriously now. 

While Masons haven't been paying attention, America has changed dramatically. Instead of decrying it or hiding from it as our membership continues to plummet, we need to see it as an opportunity to once again adapt to serve the society in which we reside - just as Freemasonry has always done in the past. Improving the world one Mason at a time is still our mission, no matter how our communities may change around us. Let's find a way to accommodate this upheaval in demographics instead of burying our collective heads in the sand.