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


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

'Inside the Freemasons' TV Series DVD Now Available Worldwide

Inside the Freemasons, the five-part video series produced by Britain's Sky TV network in full cooperation with the United Grand Lodge of England, aired starting in April as part of the run-up to the 300th anniversary of the London founding of the Premiere Grand Lodge. From all accounts, the program was well received throughout the country. What I was able to see was respectful, factual, and blessedly free of the typical madness and 'woo-woo factor' that usually characterizes TV shows about the fraternity. But while the episodes have been viewable online for those living inside of Sky's official broadcast region, the rest of the world has been shut out of legally being able to see it.

Now, UGLE's official shop, Letchworth's in Great Queen Street's Freemasons' Hall, is now offering the entire series as a DVD set for preorder sales online HERE. While a few of us die-hard British TV fans have actually blown for our own region-free DVD players so we can order obscure Carry On movies, Up Pompeii episodes and such from Amazon.co.uk, not everyone else is quite so deranged as Hodapphäus. 

The price is £12.49 (currently about US$16), plus shipping. Expected release date is June 15th, and the Royal Mail to the U.S. is generally pretty efficient.

Be good boys and girls and don't go hunting and circulating bit torrent files or cruising for pirated copies from Russian file sharing sites, most especially since it's for sale legally now.

UPDATE 6/21/2017: 
According to the description, this was supposed to play "in all formats," implying the discs were to be viewable no matter what part of the world you happen to be in or where your player is officially set up for. THAT IS DECEIVING! The disc set that arrived this week is NOT REGION FREE. IT IS A REGION 2 DISC ONLY, which means primarily Europe, Japan, and the Middle East! You MUST play this in either a region-free DVD player, or on a computer that permits you to switch regions. Most computer DVD drives allow you to do this, but ONLY a limited number of times. My iMac only lets me switch back and forth 4 times before it locks forever on the last one it is set it for. So, be aware of this limitation. It probably will NOT play at all in your older home DVD player hooked to your TV in the U.S. (The U.S. and Canada are Region 1, in case you wondered).

A TRUE Region-free DVD should be labeled for region 0.

If none of this means anything to you, check out the Wikipedia article on DVD Region Codes HERE.

UGLE 300th Anniversary Website

The United Grand Lodge of England has a website dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the founding of the premiere Grand Lodge of England in London in 1717. The site at www.ugle2017.org.uk lists all related events and celebrations throughout their jurisdiction in the run-up to June 24th and after, with photos and links.

And of course there are links to purchase their official Tercentenary ties, breast jewel, and more.

UGLE's own official celebration will culminate a bit later in the year on October 31st with a massive meeting at the Royal Albert Hall, simulcast to an additional venue across London for those who can't get into the main event.

Check in with the site throughout the year to keep up with the festivities.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, take a moment and watch the story of my Masonic Brother, Illus. Sammy Davis 33° and the events that led to his being awarded the Medal of Honor.

Undobtedly, what little is left of the local newspaper in your town today has a story of one or two area service members who survived a war, or didn't. They do it every year. And if you look a little deeper, you will find comments posted from family members who just want more than anything else for their loved one to simply be remembered, if only for one day of the year. 

Please remember all of those thousands upon thousands of men and women whose names never got in the paper, except perhaps for a brief obituary, who have given so much for all of us.

From Sammy's citation record:
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Battery C, 2d Battalion, 4th Artillery, 9th Infantry Division. Place and date: West of Cai Lay, Republic of Vietnam, 18 November 1967. Entered service at: Indianapolis, Ind. Born: 1 November 1946, Dayton, Ohio.
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Davis (then PFc.) distinguished himself during the early morning hours while serving as a cannoneer with Battery C, at a remote fire support base. At approximately 0200 hours, the fire support base was under heavy enemy mortar attack. Simultaneously, an estimated reinforced Viet Cong battalion launched a fierce ground assault upon the fire support base. The attacking enemy drove to within 25 meters of the friendly positions. Only a river separated the Viet Cong from the fire support base. Detecting a nearby enemy position, Sgt. Davis seized a machinegun and provided covering fire for his guncrew, as they attempted to bring direct artillery fire on the enemy. Despite his efforts, an enemy recoilless rifle round scored a direct hit upon the artillery piece. The resultant blast hurled the guncrew from their weapon and blew Sgt. Davis into a foxhole. He struggled to his feet and returned to the howitzer, which was burning furiously. Ignoring repeated warning to seek cover, Sgt. Davis rammed a shell into the gun. Disregarding a withering hail of enemy fire directed against his position, he aimed and fired the howitzer which rolled backward, knocking Sgt. Davis violently to the ground. Undaunted, he returned to the weapon to fire again when an enemy mortar round exploded within 20 meters of his position, injured him painfully. Nevertheless, Sgt. Davis loaded the artillery piece, aimed and fired. Again he was knocked down by the recoil. In complete disregard for his safety, Sgt. Davis loaded and fired 3 more shells into the enemy.
Disregarding his extensive injuries and his inability to swim, Sgt. Davis picked up an air mattress and struck out across the deep river to rescue 3 wounded comrades on the far side. Upon reaching the 3 wounded men, he stood upright and fired into the dense vegetation to prevent the Viet Cong from advancing. While the most seriously wounded soldier was helped across the river, Sgt. Davis protected the 2 remaining casualties until he could pull them across the river to the fire support base.
Though suffering from painful wounds, he refused medical attention, joining another howitzer crew which fired at the large Viet Cong force until it broke contact and fled. Sgt. Davis' extraordinary heroism, at the risk of his life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
It bears noting that Sammy was just 21 years old. Sammy says, "I didn't do anything heroric. I just did my job." If you let the YouTube page continue to unspool the other stories of these men, it is a refrain you will hear over and over.

If by chance you ever come to Indianapolis, give yourself an hour or so to visit the Medal of Honor Memorial along the banks of the canal downtown. Sammy's story is there, along with all of the names and a few stories of the 3,514 of his fellow recipients since the Medal's creation in 1861.

But as amazing and heroic and tragic and heartbreaking as those histories are, soldiers, sailors, and airmen don't always receive big impressive medals before or after they don't make it home. Most of them don't, and their stories don't always get memorialized. For every one we hear about are hundreds we never do. They have families and histories that need to be remembered too, beyond just a name on a forgotten stone in a grassy field somewhere nobody visits very often. Even on a special holiday just for them.

Don't forget why you have today off.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Those Notorious First Three Scottish Rite Degrees

I have often opined that everything important I know about life, I learned from the movies 1776, Network, and any Warner Brothers Cartoon made before 1963. So, I will herewith quote Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island in 1776 when he voted in favor of discussing American independence in the Continental Congress, "Well, in all my years I ain't never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about. Hell yeah! I'm for debating anything."

Michael Poll, Editor of the Journal of the Masonic Society, was apparently recently invited to speak to a U.S. Masonic research group on the little known subject of the three Craft Lodge degrees worked within what became called the Scottish Rite - only to be dis-invited. Michael partially explains his conundrum in the video above, but for those who were anticipating his presentation, only to be disappointed by the abrupt cancellation, he gives it here (with the appropriate disclaimer for those who may burst into Masonic flames for watching it). 

The short summary is that, yes, the Scottish Rite really does posses their own French-derived rituals for the EA, FC, and MM degrees, even though almost no American Freemasons have seen them and the Rites here say they only confer degrees 4-33; yes, these very different Craft Lodge degrees (sometimes referred to as the "Red Lodge degrees") really are worked in Louisiana, New York, California, D.C., and Hawaii in perfectly regular, recognized, chartered Masonic lodges under their state grand lodges; and yes, if your grand lodge is in amity with those states, nothing should prevent you from visiting them and experiencing these degree rituals in person. Much less just hearing about them.

(Just out of curiosity, if different Craft rituals are heresy in the U.S., how the hell does Pennsylvania get a pass?)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Boynton Lodge Esoteric Research Group Presents Charles Dunning Jr. 7/15/17

Boynton Lodge 236 in Boynton Beach, Florida has had its own robust esoteric research group for many years now, and has invited numerous notable guest speakers for their events over the years. 

On Saturday, July 15th, 2017 the Boynton Lodge Esoteric Research Group (affectionately known as "Blerg") will host Charles "Chuck" Dunning, Jr., author of Contemplative Masonry, who will present a seminar that explores the concepts described in his book.

From the event website:
Part of the work that has become Contemplative Masonry first appeared on the internet in 2000 as an anonymously authored guide to the exploration of Freemasonry through contemplative practices like prayer, meditation, breath work, chanting, and visualization. Sixteen years later, the original author of that material, C.R. "Chuck" Dunning, Jr., has come forward with a substantially expanded edition for those seeking to utilize Masonic symbolism and teachings in a way that is practical, accessible, inspiring, and profoundly transformative. Contemplative Masonry is a much-needed resource for Masons seeking to undertake the challenging and rewarding work of deep self-knowledge and self-improvement. Brother Dunning provides Freemasons with a unique system of practices derived directly from the Degrees of Craft Masonry, without reliance upon other religious, spiritual, or esoteric traditions. He also shares the valuable wisdom and insights that come from decades of personal experience with contemplative practices.
This event is open to Masons only. All MMs MUST bring a valid dues card. All EAs and FCs MUST be accompanied by a MM with a valid dues card who is willing to vouch for them. Brethren are expected to dress in jacket and tie.

Cost of the seminar is $30 and includes lunch. Registration begins at 10:00AM and the seminar starts at 10:30AM. The event concludes at 3:00PM.

Registration is required. Visit their Eventbrite website HERE.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

UGLE Masons' Fund for Manchester Victims

Following the devastating terrorist bombing at Manchester Arena in England on Monday night, the area Freemasons in the Province of East Lancashire (of which Internet Lodge 9659 is a part) almost immediately established a fund to aid the numerous victims and families. At the request of the UGLE's Masonic Charitable Foundation, the Provinces throughout UGLE who wish to offer support are asked to do so via the East Lancashire Fund HERE.

While there is no direct way that I have found to donate to the Fund via credit card as of today, there is direct contact information for their office available on the website. If I am able to find a simplified way for brethren outside of the U.K. to donate to it, I will update this posting as soon as possible.

UPDATE 5/26/2017:

Lacking a direct link to simplify donations, I have used TransferWise, which is a very low cost service to transfer money directly to foreign accounts via your credit card or bank account. It also seems to be the best way in regards to the exchange rate. I'm not shilling for them, just saying it's successful, simple, and a global service (Richard Branson was one of its founders, partially out of frustration over international money transfer costs). 

Be sure you specify the East Lancashire Masonic Charity as the recipient, use the email, address, and bank account information from the Province's web page, and put "Manchester Bomb" in the memo line (looks a bit odd, but it won't accept anything longer).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lodge Vitruvian at Age 15

Fifteen years ago today - May 21st, 2002 - a year after first receiving a dispensation to work, a group of Indiana Masons assembled at the Temple of Broad Ripple Lodge on the north side of Indianapolis to receive our official charter for Lodge Vitruvian No. 767. Technically, that makes us 16 years old today, but fifteen under an actual warrant.

Jeffrey D. Naylor was our founding Master, and he received the charter that day from Roger S. VanGorden, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Indiana. Jeff would serve in the East for the first two years, and was responsible for much of what we did, how we "looked," and the philosophy that guided us (and still does even today).

It started as a conversation between Jeff, Eric Schmitz, Nathan Brindle, and me one Saturday afternoon in 2000 about how to create a new kind of lodge, and it turned out that other Masons around the U.S. and elsewhere at the time were (or had already been) coming to many of our same conclusions. Kent Henderson in Australia first noodled some of these ideas in a paper called Back To the Future back in 1992, along the lines of a “European concept," and he and a handful of brethren established Lodge Epicurean 906 there. Meanwhile in College Station, Texas, Pete Normand labeled their local experiments as "traditional best practices" and established St. Alban's Lodge 1455 along similar notions. So did John Hilliard with Independent Royal Arch Lodge 2, in New York. By about the time we were talking in Indiana, a different group of brethren was assembling their own thinking under the umbrella term "traditional observance," and Dennis Chornenky and others came up with the Masonic Restoration Foundation to promote their similar evangel. Independent from all of these others, our own growing circle of guys explored concepts and collected our thoughts into what became a paper called Laudable Pursuit.

All of us sought to approach the problem of the dull monthly lodge business meeting that offered Masons no education or enlightenment, bad or no food, under-financed programming, lackluster participation and retention, and little actual brotherhood - in short, any sense of "specialness" that Freemasonry had promised us all, but sadly, rarely delivered. We all went at it a little differently, but we all knew that lodges could be better than what most of us were experiencing if they would only demand excellence from themselves and their members.

Those of us starting Vitruvian established several primary tenets:

  • Dignity and high standards are to be maintained by the Lodge in all its undertakings.
  • Nothing short of excellence in ritualistic work is acceptable.
  • Masonic education - especially original papers or guest speakers - will be expected for every meeting.
  • Candidates shall be advanced only after having undertaken an intensive program of Masonic education and proving themselves proficient in open Lodge.
  • The Lodge enjoys the fellowship of the Festive Board at a local restaurant following all Regular and Emergent Meetings of the Lodge.
  • Members are expected to dress properly to attend to the duties of the Lodge. 
  • The Lodge shall create its own distinctive regalia, within the limitations of Grand Lodge regulations.
  • Attendance is mandatory. Members receive a summons for meetings and are required to attend or provide apologies. Those unable to do so will be politely asked to demit after a year and find another lodge.
  • The Lodge officers are to be elected based on merit and active participation alone, and not merely advanced through the chairs as an annual expectation.
  • A Lodge of excellence and high caliber must be paid for.

We agreed to meet quarterly, not monthly. We also informally agreed that we would deliberately not accept more than 36 members, because a man can't truly get to know and care about more than three dozen members or so. We felt that if we got that popular, the answer would be to spin off a "daughter lodge," not expand our own size. At the time, we had the highest dues in the state, and numerous predictions of our imminent demise were commonly expressed by naysayers. But when we circulated the word about what we were proposing, twenty-three brethren eagerly jumped on board:

  • W. Bro. Dale Adams, Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 77 (*)
  • Bro. Wallace K. Aiken III, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643
  • W. Bro. William K. Bissey, North Park Lodge No. 646
  • W. Bro. David Bosworth, PM, Calvin W. Prather Lodge No. 717 (†)
  • W. Bro. Nathan C. Brindle, PM, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643
  • W. Bro. Jerry T. Cowley, PM, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643(†)
  • W. Bro. Howard A. Farrand, Centennial Lodge No. 541
  • W. Bro. James Guffey, PM, Millersville Lodge No. 126 (†)
  • W. Bro. Christopher L. Hodapp, PM, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643
  • W. Bro. Michael W. Klepper, PM, Morristown Lodge No. 193
  • W. Bro. Rodney A. Mann, PM, Farmers Lodge No. 147, Current Grand Master of Indiana (2017-2018)
  • W. Bro. Jeffrey D. Naylor, PM, Losantville Lodge No. 674 (*)
  • W. Bro. Irwin H. Sacks, PM, Monument Lodge No. 657(†)
  • Bro. Travis G. Sandifur, Monroe Lodge No. 23
  • W. Bro. Eric T. Schmitz, PM, Monroe Lodge No. 23
  • W. Bro. Edward R. Smith, PM, Spencer Lodge No. 95(*)
  • W. Bro. John B. Stevens, PM, Grant Lodge No. 637
  • W. Bro. W. Keith Stiner, PM, Quincy Lodge No. 230 (*)
  • Bro. Louis P. Tompkins, Monroe Lodge No. 22
  • M.W. Bro. Roger S. VanGorden, Past Grand Master of Indiana (2001-2002)
  • Bro. Jack D. Weagley, McCulloch Lodge No. 737
  • W. Bro. Roderick V. Welker, PM, Jonesboro Lodge No. 109
  • W. Bro. Cleon H. Wright, PM, Eureka Lodge No. 397
(*) Past Master of Vitruvian
(†) Deceased

All of our members at the time communicated electronically - unheard of then. We also regularly had a 90% participation rate among all of our members - also unheard of. And when we strolled into a local restaurant for our Festive Boards in our tuxedos - a supremely unusual scene in America anymore, outside of a wedding reception - we actually turned heads, and attracted questions from other diners merely because of the group of Masons they saw. Shallow? Maybe. "Elitist" looking? Possibly. Putting forth a public image of the fraternity as the world's premiere society of gentlemen? You betcha. We still do today.

Fifteen years later, there are only about 50 lodges similar to Vitruvian around the U.S. and Canada - a lot maybe, but not an overwhelming flood of acceptance - though northern Indiana now is crafting a similar alternative with Garfield Lodge 569 in Highland. Sadly, some grand lodge jurisdictions have actually banned anything remotely looking or sounding like what are now being generally branded as "observant" styled lodges, under a mistaken and unfounded fear that we are practicing something odd, foreign, elitist, spooky, or even antithetical to the equality of Freemasonry's basic tenets. That is a shame. Those of us who are members of these lodges or just visit them know that nothing could be further from the truth. 

No other lodge or grand lodge has anything to fear from these observant styled lodges. None of us actually proclaim (or shouldn't be, anyway) that anyone else is practicing Freemasonry incorrectly, nor that we have some higher moral ground and that only we are "doing it right" Observant lodges have not taken the Masonic world by storm, nor are they some silver bullet that will magically save the fraternity from plummeting membership numbers each year. But they have become a home to numerous Freemasons who might otherwise have left the fraternity because their longing for a more affecting personal lodge experience was not being fulfilled.

Moreover, we know that we actually look forward to Vitruvian's lodge night, enjoy our meetings and Festive Boards, learn something new each time, linger late into each evening, and are truly "happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again." I'll take that to be a good development, and one I encourage every lodge to emulate, no matter how they choose to accomplish it.

Today, Vitruvian has more members than we started with and demits have been rare for the last eight or ten years now. We've had our ups and downs, our family fights, and other challenges. But we solved them as men and Masons should. We still have not bumped up against our limit of 36 members, although we're close. That's okay, because what is more gratifying is that we regularly have handfuls of visitors from across Indiana and even neighboring states who are eager to see what we are doing differently. They then return to their own lodges and argue for their officers to adopt some of our practices because they've seen how successful we have been and how much they actually enjoyed a stated meeting for maybe the first time in their Masonic lives. 

Perhaps that is the most satisfying aspect of what Vitruvian's example has accomplished in these 15 official years in Indiana. Maybe we haven't turned the whole U.S. Masonic culture on its ear or solved every issue. But we are influencing the leaders of tomorrow to go home and make their own lodges the very best they can be, along whatever path that leads them. By doing so, a rising tide raises all boats - or lodges, as the case may be. And that is a success our little lodge has hopefully been a contributor to.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Former LA Scottish Rite Cathedral Rises Again, At Last

Photo: Elizabeth Daniels for 'Curbed'

Someone cleverer than I am once opined the sentiment that he studied old buildings because he'd rather learn from those who built civilization than those who tore it down. 

Frank Lloyd Wright famously wrote, "Noble life demands a noble architecture for noble uses of noble men. Lack of culture means what it has always meant: ignoble civilization and therefore imminent downfall." Freemasons of the 20th century certainly agreed with that sentiment. It could be argued that we kicked it off with a bang in the late 1890s with the Chicago Masonic Temple, which was the tallest building in the world for the moment. We kept at it up into the 1960s, which was maybe the sputtering end of the era when we still Thought Big, dreamed great dreams, and put our money where our dreams were.

Thursday's edition of Time Out Los Angeles featured a story about another treasure of our fraternity lost to us, but saved and preserved by the outside world: the former Scottish Rite Cathedral of the Los Angeles Valley.

The Cathedral originally opened in 1961, and was designed by famed mid-century LA architect Millard Sheets. It eventually became home to more than 11,000 Scottish Rite Masons by 1974. Almost ironically, it closed for all intents and purposes in 1994 - perhaps appropriately just 33 years after it opened. It was a victim of plunging membership, finances, Baby Boomer demographics, the changing American culture, NIMBY neighbors, and zoning regulations.

After its closure, the building sat almost entirely abandoned for almost two decades, ignominiously surrounded by a chain link fence. The unsympathetic neighborhood groups fought any plans that would bring in crowds, claiming potential noise and parking problems. As a result, the Scottish Rite was stuck with a massive, empty facility that did nothing but cost money just to keep it from crumbling. Nevertheless, they held on, hoping for a buyer. 

Finally, in 2013 the Maurice and Paul Marciano Art Foundation bought the property from the Rite for $8 million, according to public title documents. The Marcianos are co-founders of Guess Jeans. (Can you get any more Masonically esoteric-looking than their logo?) The pair actually were a blessing to all parties involved: they had very deep pockets, no intention of razing it, and a plan that would shut up the neighborhood complainers. It was to become a museum for the Marcianos' massive private collection of modern art.

That was almost two years ago. The museum opened this week for a sneak preview for the world's press and art critics, and area Freemasons will have the opportunity to at last get inside of the Cathedral that their fathers and grandfathers once believed in and sacrificed to erect for them a half century ago.

Photo: Michael Juliano

From Contemporary art and Freemasonry collide at the new Marciano Art Foundation by Michael Juliano:
The Marciano Art Foundation has taken over an old Masonic temple on Wilshire Boulevard and turned it into a massive contemporary art museum, due to open on May 25. Though it's mainly a means for Guess co-founders Maurice and Paul Marciano to store and show off their private collection, the brothers also intend for the space to be an artist's playground. In turn, they've birthed a museum that balances traditional white-walled gallery spaces with cavernous halls whose only limitation is an artist's creativity.
Architect Kulapat Yantrasast set out to take something secretive—the members-only Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, a Millard Sheets structure that dates back to 1961—and repurpose it for the public. But he also made sure to maintain the integrity of the Masonic culture, and the fraternal order's familiar iconography is still all over the space, including in a dedicated archive that showcases all sorts of exotic costumes.

The Marciano Art Foundation, located at 4357 Wilshire Boulevard, is open Thursday through Saturday. Admission is free, though timed tickets are required and are available a month in advance.

In stark contrast to the modern surroundings and occasionally bizarre art installations, the Marcianos have thoughtfully reserved a quiet room that tastefully displays numerous aprons, jewels, and other ephemera of the fraternity left behind when the Valley walked away in the 1990s.

Photo: Michael Juliano

A notebook compiled at the time of its groundbreaking festivities on January 16th, 1960 through its completion the next year, with descriptions of many of the Cathedral's paintings and details, may be found HERE. On that January day it was estimated that 500 Masons were on hand. 

Today, the LA Valley has a total of just about 1,000 members, less than 10% of their 1974 peak.

When Millard Sheets first sat down to dinner at the invitation of the Valley's building committee in 1959, he somewhat prophetically recalled asking them, "Why do you think you need a temple? Maybe the idea of Masonry isn't even practical today." Since he knew almost nothing about the fraternity at the time, he asked them 25 questions that would help to guide his ultimate Cathedral designs, which included the building itself, as well as the sculptures and mosaics that combine to make it so distinctive even today with its new owners.

From an extensive recorded interview with the architect in 1977:
They had worked terribly hard on all of the questions and had, I thought, some imaginative answers. They were not in any way tying me or any other designer down, but they had some very good thoughts about the new relationship of Masonry to society and why they felt this was an important time to build the temple and why they wanted to truly represent the spirit of Masonry. So without further ado, I made many sketches, I think three different concepts, which I presented to a smaller committee that they had decided would be easier to operate with. I made the presentation of these three different concepts, from which they selected one. It was the one that we finally followed, but it grew considerably in the development, as most of these kinds of things do, both in character and in detail.

Well, I think I suggested to you that I was surprised by the tremendous number of things that had to be incorporated in this temple. First of all, the upper degrees of Masonry are given in an auditorium, and they are given in the form of plays. They have incredible costumes and magnificent productions of the basic concepts that are ethical and have at heart a religious depth, and they draw from many religions, as far as I understand. I'm not a Mason, but I do feel that it's a tremendous attempt toward the freedom of man as an individual, and the rights of man as an individual, and respect for various races and creeds. I won't say this is always obtained, but certainly that's been the spirit. They felt that they wanted to depict this in every form. That's the reason there's so much decoration involved in the temple.
Photo: Elizabeth Daniels for 'Curbed LA'

The huge mosaic on the exterior east end of the temple at that time was the largest mosaic I'd ever made. It starts out with the builders of the temple from the days of Jerusalem, and King Solomon, who built the temple, and Babylon. Then it jumps up to the Persian emperor, Zerubabel. I showed the importance of [Giuseppe] Garibaldi, the Mason who broke away from the Roman Catholic church because of what he felt was its limitations and dogmatism. Then there is King Edward VII in his Masonic regalia as one of the great grand masters. We had the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, which is part of the King Edward section. I think the final part of that mosaic shows the first grand master of California in his full regalia being invested in Sacramento. It's a kind of historical thing going way back to the ancient temple builders and coming right up through to actual California history, which the California sun at the top symbolizes.
 Photo: Elizabeth Daniels for 'Curbed LA'

...the concept of the sculpture along the south facade, which I worked in collaboration with Albert Stewart to design, and then he made all of the models — it seems to me there were eighty scale models, which I took to Rome and had carved by a very fine sculptor in solid travertine. These were, of course, eventually sent back and placed on the facade. And here again are all of the temple builders, each one representing a special builder going back to ancient Egypt and coming on through the time of King Solomon and the Persian emperor, up to and including George Washington. There are also Albert Pike, who was one of the very great men in the early part of the twentieth century or latter part of the nineteenth century, and Christopher Wren, who built the great cathedrals in England. The two St. Johns were interesting, because they were said to be patron saints, and they depicted two different meanings entirely. Then there's the Gothic builder, so it symbolizes the whole meaning of the building of the temple.

The double-headed eagle, which was the symbol for the Scottish Rite, Albert Stewart designed, and I think it makes a stunning logo. We used it in four spots on the temple. Then all of the inscriptions which we did were carved in travertine, and the different insignias of the degrees are all parts of the actual rites themselves. On the inside, there are several sculptured and mosaic decorations on the interior of the auditorium.

 The History of California Freemasonry mosaic by Millard Sheets. 
Now, sadly, removed during the building's most recent repurposing.
Photo: Irwin Miller for 'Curbed LA'
 There's a large mural depicting the history of Masonry in California, starting with the first houses which were erected by Masons. It's all involved, and I can't remember all the details. There's also a large mural in the main reading room off the main library, which was not symbolic. It was the kind of thing I liked to do, a very interesting mood of some ancient trees, and it's a totally different type of mural. Then I did murals in the dining room. The temple is like a city. It has a huge auditorium where they hold performances for the degree. Then there are four lodge rooms upstairs, where the various blue lodges meet to give the lower degrees. There is a recreational floor that has nothing but library facilities and pool tables and a combination of reading room and card room. There is a very fine library, which we had a lot of fun designing. There are, of course, the locker rooms and all of the other things that make it a tremendous, big building. It's four stories above ground and one below. There is a huge dining room on the top floor that seats 1,500 people, where you get an excellent view of the city. 

Oral histories are always fascinating. Sheets later designed a building for Notre Dame University. In that same set of interviews, he recalled his initial meeting on that new project and was concerned his previous work for Freemasonry might pose a conflict for his new Catholic clients:
"Well," I said, "now there's one other thing I'd like to discuss with you before I start home and get into this thing. I am not a Roman Catholic. I have no prejudice whatsoever toward any religion or any faith or any race, but I'm not a Roman Catholic, and on top of that I've just finished a huge Scottish Rite cathedral, a Masonic temple, in Los Angeles. I just don't want to go on under any false colors. You know, I'm not a Mason, and I'm not a Catholic. Now, if these things don't interfere, that's fine." Father Hesburgh laughed — he just laughed out loud — and he said, "Well, you know, the Masons and the Catholics used to fight a little but, what the hell. I did a lot of research on you, I was in California about four months ago doing a Catholic motion picture, and while I was out there I did a lot of research on you, and I knew you were building that thing. There's just one promise that I want you to make: that is, that someday, in my street clothes, you'll take me through it." [laughter] I'm delighted — and forget it. I want to tell you something: Even if I have to get an infidel, I'm going to get who I want to do this job. And you're my infidel."
Today, the Los Angeles Valley of the Scottish Rite meets in more humble surroundings, at the Santa Monica Masonic Center, 926 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, California. 

Nevertheless, their once proud landmark Cathedral still stands across town, still shines, and still dazzles as a noble achievement. Even if only preserved by others.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2017 California Masonic Symposium: The Moscow Archives

The Grand Lodge of California is presenting an amazing and important program on June 3rd and 4th that nobody is really talking about. And that's a damn shame.
"In the dark days of World War II, the Nazis stormed Paris, introducing their reign of tyranny by flying a swastika from the famed Arc de Triomphe. One of their first actions was to seize the entire archives of the Grand Orient of France and ship them to Berlin.
"Similar pillages followed in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg, capturing an astonishing 27,000 dossiers of Masonic history.  
"Why did they do this? Were they afraid of Freemasons? Or were they trying to discover Masonic secrets that they could use as a source of power? Then, when the war was lost, and the Russians occupied Berlin, one of the first things the Communists did was to seize those same archives and take them to Moscow. Again, why? What was in them that was so important to both the Nazis and the Communists?
"The 27,000 dossiers that have become to be known as the "Moscow archives" shed a light on the life of European lodges for more than two centuries. During this period, the continent experienced tumult and change, as society adjusted to the ideals of the Enlightenment... "
When the Soviet troops marched across Eastern Europe and rolled over Germans from their own end of the continent, virtually everything that the Russians found among the Nazi's archives and vast storehouses became isolated from the rest of the world. Freemasonry was no exception. For example, according to Czech researchers, the SS's RSHA Amt VII unit was assembling a vast library on the occult, witchcraft, esoteric, and Masonic books, eventually estimated to be in excess of 160,000 volumes. That massive collection was eventually destined to be housed in Himmler's infamous private temple for the SS elite members, Wewelsburg castle. But it never got that far.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Soviet Union, historians slowly began uncovering knowledge that was lost for 60 years. In 2001, the Moscow Archives began being returned to the West. Suddenly, the full scope of Nazism's anti-Masonic activities and destruction could be seen for the first time. In 2002, 750 crates of Masonic objects and papers stolen from occupied lodges and Grand Lodges across Europe and held by the Russian Military State Archive were delivered to the Museum of Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of France in Paris. These included membership lists that were used to help round up Freemasons to be sent to concentration camps. Equally important was that more than 200 years worth of lost objects, books, and documents were at last being returned to their former owners.

This spectacular story and the discoveries (and RE-discoveries) from those boxes and archives have not been discussed very much outside of Europe. Now, a very special opportunity is taking place in California, and it's important enough that it will be presented in both San Francisco and Pasadena.

The 2017 California Masonic Symposium will present, "The Moscow Archives," and will feature two outstanding visiting scholars from France: Pierre Mollier, director of the library of the Grand Orient de France and curator of the incredible Museum of Freemasonry in Paris, and Jean-Jacques Zambrowski, Past Grand Master, grand orator and grand chancellor of the Federal Council of the Grand Loge de France. They will be joined by California's Grand Master John R. Heisner and Past Grand Masters John L. Cooper III and R. Stephen Doan.

The Symposium will be held in San Francisco at the Scottish Rite Center on June 3rd, and in Pasadena at their Scottish Rite Center on June 4th, 9AM - 3PM. Cost is $30 which includes lunch, or $15 for the Symposium only.  See the website here for information and to make your reservation.

By the way, this story hasn't ended yet. Just last March, some 13,000 books, confiscated by the SS from the library of the Norwegian Order of Freemasons and others and recently rediscovered in Oslo, were being turned over in a joint project between state libraries in Norway and Czechoslovakia. 

(Nobody tells me anything anymore. I have to pick it up on the streets from the rough crowd. If I had known earlier about this event, I would have crawled on broken glass to be there. So it goes.)

Grand Lodge of Indiana 2017

The afternoon of Wednesday, May 17th slipped quietly into history with the official changing of the guard that ends the 2017 annual communications of the Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM. Congratulations to Past Grand Master Carey B. Carter for his successful year just passed. Thank you for all you have done for the Craft in Indiana.

Indiana is often considered to be unapologetically a state of remarkable unremarkability. Our state is the quintessential "average" place in America. The famous Muncie "Middletown" sociological studies were done here in the 1920s-30s. Our capitol city Indianapolis is not large or small, but just large enough to be the 14th biggest in America. While we have provided the U.S. with just one president in our 200 years of statehood, we've provided eight men nominated to be vice-president of the United States, and fully six of them have been elected to that office—more than anywhere else, apart from New York. In fact, former Indiana Governor and Freemason Thomas R. Marshall, who served as V.P. under Woodrow Wilson, once remarked that because of our noteworthy status, Indiana is "home to more second-class men than any other state." 

And no, no one here really and definitively can tell anyone else just what the hell a Hoosier is. We just know that's what we are.

Masonically, we rarely appear at the top of the list in leading national trends or movements. When big ideas start somewhere, Indiana's Freemasons aren't usually at the front of the line, but we are fairly quick to recognize a good one when we see it, and we don't generally kick too hard to remain dead last in very much. We have our victories and our scandals, our visionaries and our scoundrels, but we're usually not the top of the class. We have always been, however, a great place for national conventions and a safe haven for large gatherings of Masons and our related appendant bodies in which good and even great things are hatched. Likewise, in very recent years, Indiana's Masons have led numerous national Masonic organizations: Michael Brumback for president of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial; Larry Gray, longtime General Grand Secretary at General Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons; our late Grand Secretary Max Carpenter as the head of the Conference of Grand Secretaries; Duane Vaught, GM of the Grand Encampment of the U.S.; John McNaughton, SGC of the Scottish Rite NMJ; Roger Van Gorden and Jim Dillman, Past Presidents of The Masonic Society, with Nathan Brindle as its Secretary. There are and have been countless others, and loads of individual Indiana Masons have led a lot of Masonic charges up Freemasonry's own San Juan Hills.

So while our annual communications are rarely headline making, this one in 2017 is special. Worldwide, Freemasons are celebrating the fraternity's 300th anniversary of its traditional founding date of 1717. But this year begins our own countdown here to January, when we will kick off our celebration of 200 years of Freemasonry in Indiana. 

Leading us into this celebratory year will be my longtime friend and Brother, Rodney A. Mann, now the 167th Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Indiana. Gary Brinley joins the line as Junior Grand Deacon, and Tom Fallis is our new Steward and Tyler.

Congratulations and nothing but the best of wishes to Rod, and to Malia (who will have a loooong year, I'm afraid).

However, don't read this message and get a sense that nothing of serious import happened this past week. PGM Carey Carter provided a list of recommendations, as all of our GMs do in their year, to be potentially voted on as legislation. One of those was for the establishment in Indiana of a new Grand Almoner's Fund, "to help, aid, and assist all poor and distressed Masons, their widows, and orphans." PGM Carter made his appeal to the assembled brethren to create such a fund modeled after the Grand Almoner's Fund of the Scottish Rite NMJ, and it was appropriate that the Rite's Sovereign Grand Commander John McNaughton was sitting in the visitor's section of the auditorium. Even before a motion was put to the floor or the vote to approve it was taken, Commander McNaughton came to the podium and generously handed Indiana a check for $260,000 as seed money for this new fund. The motion was quickly moved, seconded, and adopted to great applause and approbation.

In fact, as soon as the motion was adopted, we were told that a deceased Brother's body was currently laying in a funeral parlor in northern Indiana, being held hostage by that establishment for payment of a bill his family could not afford. Members of his lodge were called to the stage, and a check for the bill was immediately handed to them so that he might be buried at last with the honor and dignity he deserves.

This is no outside charity. No industrial sized institution, no specially sponsored body part, or appeal to buy public love and admiration for the Masons. It is a fund strictly to aid Indiana's Freemasons and their families when disaster strikes or when they can find no assistance from others. The goal is to make an appeal for aid simplified. The brother or his family simply calls the Grand Secretary's office and explains their circumstances, and the decision will be made quickly. It will largely replace the role of our Masonic Relief Board, whose duties will now become much more limited. Frankly, it is astonishing that Indiana has not technically had such a program before now. But it does today. And we have SGC McNaughten and PGM Carter to thank for it. And our voting delegates.

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to speak briefly on the floor Tuesday, and I will repeat my own appeal here. I am writing the commemorative book for Indiana's 200th anniversary that will be available at Founder's Day 2018. My deadline is looming fast, as I need to be essentially finished writing by the beginning of this September. If you are an Indiana Freemason and your lodge or your members have done something or had a very special event in its history, especially in the last 50 years, and if you believe that other Freemasons in Indiana and around the world would find it interesting, inspiring, or otherwise important, PLEASE forward it to me as soon as possible to hodapp@aol.com and if you could put "Indiana history" in the subject line, that will help me find it. I do not want to miss anything of true importance with this book, so please help me to tell your story. 

We have a custom in Indiana that not every jurisdiction follows, that the outgoing Grand Master's own home lodge assembles on the floor and officially opens a tyled meeting of Master Masons on Tuesday morning so the work of Grand Lodge can begin. Perhaps appropriately punctuating our 199th year on the highest of notes, PGM Carter's home lodge, Waynedale Lodge 739 performed the opening, led by Worshipful Master Dominic Hamblin and his officer line for 2016-2017. 

Waynedale Lodge's WM Dominic Hamblin prepares to open Grand Lodge for 2017.

It was the first Grand Lodge session of the Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM ever to open with an African-American brother wielding the gavel in the East. And it was in its own way remarkable in its unremarkability. In other times, such an event might have at least caused a murmur or been big talk in the lunch lines. But not this year. Perhaps we have at last arrived at that point in our history when we can finally cease heralding these "firsts" as special anymore and just concentrate on smoothing our own ashlars instead of chipping away at someone else's for a change and get back to being Brothers.

Le Grand Lodge est mort, vive le Grand Lodge!

When the Profane World Protects Treasures We Toss

Here is what happens when a private individual thinks more of a Masonic treasure than our own members, and preserve what we throw away. From the Old House Dreams website comes a real estate listing for a unique property in Little Falls, New York, built in 1914, and recently modernized.
Incredible Building! Former Masonic Lodge in perfect condition. Over 12,000 square feet of space! The walk-out basement, now a ceramics studio, has the wood floors of the original bowling alley! The Main Level is now 3000 sq. ft. of dramatic living space with a large, spacious, open floor plan, including beautiful oak trim and arched openings. One bedroom is in the round turret, the kitchen is amazing with extensive cabinets and huge windows. The dining room and living room are wow rooms! An auditorium with stage and commercial kitchen take up the third floor.
The fourth level houses the Masonic meeting room, complete with domed ceiling and pipe organ. Fabulous property for an artist, an architect, a dancer, an entertainer, wedding planner, and the list of possibilities goes on and on. Make it your Castle today!
Yes, the lodge room is still up there, in magnificent condition. William Moore thought this Temple noteworthy enough to mention it in his book, Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes. It was designed by William Neil Smith with a Templar Commandery drill hall/banquet room (we served "banquets" then, not cold spaghetti on paper plates with plastic sporks).

Even the former Commandery's glass-front uniform lockers are still there in the Armory. All still preserved, but now with a new living space, bedroom, and modern kitchen on one floor. It is artistically beautiful, and architecturally unique. 

And it used to belong to us. 

It doesn't anymore.

It's priced at an almost embarrassing $325,000, and I'll make a bet you couldn't build a new steel pole barn architectural eyesore in a corn field for that today.

(H/T Chad Bromley)

Monday, May 15, 2017

New Book About Scottish Rite NMJ Degrees: 'The Masonic Pageant'

After more than a century of being largely ignored in print, Scottish Rite Freemasons in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the U.S. can finally rejoice. After well over a year of a twisting path to publication, it has officially been announced that The Masonic Pageant: The Scottish Rite Degrees of the Supreme Council, NMJ by Illus. Frank Conway, 33° is finally being released in late summer 2017. It is being offered by Cornerstone Publishing and can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher HERE.
From the website:
The Masonic Pageant is a clearly written and easy to understand explanation of the Scottish Rite Degrees as worked by the Supreme Council 33º, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Frank Conway, Ph.D., 33º, MSA provides a long needed and extremely valuable resource to all Scottish Rite Masons of the NMJ. This is a must have book for all NMJ SR Masons and bodies of the NMJ.
"Dr. Frank Conway has done a great service for Scottish Rite Freemasons with this book. His volume is far more than just a simple, up-to-date guide to the degrees of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Each chapter contains a synopsis of the stage presentation of the degree itself, along with a brief description of its counterpart in the Southern Jurisdiction. But it is in the center of each chapter where you will find the heart and soul of this work. The historic origins, symbols, and myths behind each degree are thoroughly explored, whether it is a story based largely on biblical accounts, medieval sources, or more recent events. Conway draws upon a vast wealth of knowledge, covering more than 2,500 years of history and legends that have gone into the creation of these degrees, and he provides much in the way of background and context. The eager Brother will find much here to enlighten his journey through the degrees." ~ Christopher L. Hodapp, 33°
"Freemasonry encourages its members to engage in a search for light – knowledge and understanding – and this search requires access to accurate information. The Masonic Pageant provides the searcher with up-to-date information on the Scottish Rite degrees of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA. It is a boon to all who seek to understand the complex symbolism and ritual themes of these degrees." ~ S. Brent Morris, Ph.D., 33°, Grand Cross
The last serious attempt to publish a guidebook to the NMJ degrees was the continuously revised Book of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite by Charles T. McClenachan last released in in 1907. Ever since then, NMJ members have been left in the dark regarding the background, symbolism, history, and any other information about the degrees that make up their own distinctive system of rituals that differ almost completely from their Southern Jurisdiction counterparts (and the rest of the world's). Illus. Brother Conway has at last addressed this gaping lack of access to knowledge and performed an incalculable service to the more than 200,000 members of the NMJ who have been starved for information for so long.

The book is 320 pages long and the list price is $26.95, plus shipping. 

Yes, it is worth the investment.

And no, as some have wryly suggested, it's NOT in loose-leaf format for regular revision...

(Please note: In full disclosure, I was deeply honored to be asked to write the foreword to this book, and I did so because I felt it was such a vital work that needed to be actively supported. But it is Frank Conway who has done the very heavy lifting of authoring this incredible resource, and the sole credit belongs to him and to Michael Poll at Cornerstone for bringing it to life.)

UPDATE 5/16/2017:

Just coincidentally, take note that the NMJ has just announced they are publishing a new book that should be of great interest to ALL Scottish Rite Masons.

From the May 2017 Issue of the Northern Light:

The Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, proudly announces the publication of the first officially sanctioned edition of The 1783 Francken Manuscript. This 720-page book includes a complete full-color photo facsimile of the Manuscript with footnoted transcriptions on facing pages. With introductory essays by Alan E. Foulds, Aimee E. Newell, and Jeffrey Croteau. 
The 1783 Francken Manuscript contains degree rituals of the Rite of Perfection (Order of the Royal Secret), from the 4th degree to the 25th. It is the most complete collection of the earliest surviving English-language versions of many Scottish Rite degrees. This book will be indispensable to anyone interested in the history of Masonic ritual and the roots of Scottish Rite Freemasonry. 
The book will be made available through the Supreme Council NMJ on June 1st, 2017 for $95, which includes free domestic shipping.

UPDATE 6/1/2017:

The Francken Manuscript is NOW AVAILABLE from the AASR-NMJ online HERE.