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


Sunday, September 24, 2017

DC's Naval Lodge 4 on Capitol Hill

I always find these things out late. Back in July, a bit of Masonic history was made in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington DC. Each year, the members of the District's historic Naval Lodge 4 hold a meeting inside the Capitol building. Their lodge, originally chartered as a Maryland lodge in 1805 (Washington Naval Lodge 41), has a longstanding historic tie to the building itself, and their magnificent lodge room features an altar made of scraps of marble from an 1858 expansion of the landmark. Because of their physical location, it has long been nicknamed "the lodge on Capitol Hill."

Click to enlarge

This year was a little different, and they held more than just a meeting. On July 6th, 2017, four candidates of Naval Lodge were initiated as Entered Apprentices in a special room just steps from the Capitol Rotunda. This is believed to be the first EA degree performed in the U.S. Capitol building.

In the early years of the republic, there were occasional meetings of Masons in the Capitol, including at least one unsuccessful effort to start a movement to form a national Grand Lodge. In more recent years, there have been a number of lodges that have held meetings in the various congressional office buildings near the Capitol, and ceremonies and processions in the Capitol itself.

If you visit Washington DC, you owe it to yourself to visit Naval Lodge 4's unique lodge room, featuring its strong Egyptian motifs. Their distinctive building on Pennsylvania Avenue SE was erected in 1894, and still features its manually operated antique elevator (tip your driver). If the Library of Congress wasn't plopped in the way, you could see the Capitol from their doorstep. The lodge's members took part in hauling the foundation stone of the Washington Monument from the Washington Navy Yard all the way to the site where the Monument would slowly rise over the decades. Consequently, when they designed their lodge room's decor, they took the Egyptian-styled obelisk's theme of the Monument as their inspiration. It's well worth your visit, and there are more than a few unique dining and drinking establishments in the surrounding neighborhood to sample while there.

(All photos from Voice of Freemasonry, courtesy Naval Lodge 4.)

H/T: Paul Rich

"Brother to a Prince and Fellow to a Beggar, if he be found worthy."

In 1926, Rudyard Kipling published a collection of short stories called Debits and Credits. In it there are four Masonically inspired tales, all centered around an imaginary London Masonic lodge called 'Faith and Works No. 5837, E.C.' The stories are In the Interests of the Brethren, The Janeites, A Madonna of the Trenches, and A Friend of the Family.

Earlier in the month while I was away from home and a real keyboard, I received the following message from a brother in Portland, Maine. If you are up in his corner of the country on November 13th, he and five other brethren will be presenting an original dramatic production based upon Brother Kipling's Masonic-themed short story, In the Interests of the BrethrenKipling’s original takes place in 1917 during WWI, but unlike the other three, this one revolves entirely around the lodge and a visitor during sessions of their Lodge for Instruction. 

Despite its older inspiration from the period of the First World War, this dramatic version will be a modern-day variation written by Brother Aaron Joy, the webmaster for the Maine Lodge of Research, and a seasoned and talented actor and director:
On November 13 Deering Lodge #83 AF&AM in Portland, under the Grand Lodge of Maine, will bring a unique event to Maine's Masonic community. The Lodge will host the debut of the one act Masonic themed play, "In The Interests Of The Brethren", written and directed by Brother Aaron Joy of Portland, with a six man cast drawn from across the district's nine lodges.
Calling this is a 'unique event' is meant quite literally. This will be the first time a play combines all the variables of being explictly about the Masonic experience, taking place present day and not historically themed or a dramatization of a historic event, written by a Maine brother and not a former Scottish Rite degree or Brother Carl Claudy play, and performed for the public with no cover charge. All those variables make for a unique moment in Maine Masonry and the Portland theater scene as no previous Masonically sponsored show has brought all these variables together.
The show is open to the public and all are invited, whether Masonic brother or curious about Freemasonry or just a theater attendee looking for a new experience, men and women, though the show is not thematically relevant for youth. This is not semi-public nor in open lodge, but a fully public informal event. Optional dinner at 6:30, show at 7:30, normally scheduled Stated to follow for attending brothers. Guests are invited to stay after the show to discover more about Masonry. No tickets or entry cost, but those who come for dinner are asked to give a small donation to cover food costs and RSVP for a head count. Other attendees, in lieu of tickets, are invited to instead contribute to the Lodge's annual collection of personal items that are boxed together for the homeless. A donation can be something like a wool hat or a toothbrush.
The play, written 2016, was loosely inspired by the Rudyard Kipling short story of the same name, which is about a soldier discovering how a lodge transcends world problems and turns enemies into friends on the level. The play is about a man that left Masonry after the first degree on the eve of his father not being voted in as Master, and who would also leave the Craft to soon die heart-broken. Years later, when Masonry is a forgotten bitter taste, the man finds himself unexpectantly attending Lodge. Here he discovers what Masonry really means, comes to terms with his father's death, and understands why even in the face of disappointment his father still encouraged him to stay with Masonry.
The play will be presented as a reading. This is not to be confused with poetry readings but is a performance without formal set or costumes and with script in hand. While eliciting interest in staging future or more eleaborate productions is welcomed, the goals of this reading is to share a local brother's creative work, get writing feedback for further development, introduce a new social activity into Lodge culture, open the lodge to visitors and remind brethren that Masonry isn't just about memorizing ritual but it can go wherever one wants to take it.
Its author/director has over 200 theater shows under his belt, ranging from community theater acting to historical re-enactments to technical work to directing Off-Broadway to writing an award-winning musical. Currently, he can seen acting lead in Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction degrees and in 2016 was in a largely improvised 2 act gangster themed show for DeMolay and Rainbow. To direct his own show is a lifelong dream and Masonry provided the much needed source of inspiration while seemingly aligning the stars. Brother Joy is a member of Portland's Triangle Lodge #1, Gorham's Harmony Lodge #38, Scottish Rite NMJ and is the webmaster for the Maine Lodge of Research.
Contact playwright/director Brother Aaron Joy at aronmatyas@hotmail.com or call/text 646-597-1583 (leave a message) for more information, questions, and to RSVP for dinner.
Deering Lodge #83 AF&AM is located at 102 Bishop Street, Portland, Maine. 

Rudyard Kipling was scarcely a famous Freemason in name only. He was active and enthusiastic at two distinct periods of his life, and believed strongly in the precepts of the fraternity. When he was 20, he was initiated, passed and raised in 1886 into Hope and Perseverance Lodge 782, an English Constitution lodge in Lahore, Punjab, in what is now Pakistan. Indeed true: he was immediately made the lodge Secretary before his MM degree night even ended, and entered his own degree record in the Minutes. In the same region, he also was a regular visitor to Lodge of St John the Evangelist No. 1483, a military lodge at the time in Lahore. He took the Mark Degree in Fidelity Mark Lodge on April 12, 1887 and was elevated in Mt. Ararat Mark Mariners Lodge at Lahore on the same day. After being transferred to a newspaper in Allahabad, Bengal, he joined the Lodge of Independence With Philanthropy 391 there. 

Something obviously disgruntled Kipling about the fraternity while still in India, because he abruptly resigned from all of his Masonic Craft lodges in 1889. But after he relocated eventually to Britain, in 1909 he joined the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (what we in the US call the MSRICF). On top of several honorary memberships bestowed on him in England, he became a member of the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle in 1818 after his son's heartbreaking death in the war. In 1921 he would be a founding member of the Imperial War Graves Commission lodge, The Builders of the Silent Cities Lodge 12 in St Omer, France under the Grande Loge Nationale Francaise in the Province of Neustrie, the ancient French name of the region between Normandy and Flanders. Its poetic name in memorial to the graves of the dead is commonly attributed to him, and he would remain a paying member of it until his own death. London's Freemasons' Hall itself was built by the UGLE as a memorial to those Brethren who lost their lives in the First World War. In 1924, Kipling visited Rosemary Lodge 2851 in England, giving his lodge affiliation to the Secretary and brethren as London's Motherland Lodge 3861, of which he was actually an honorary member.

In 1925, Kipling wrote in the London Times
"I was Secretary for some years of Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782, E.C. Lahore which included Brethren of at least four creeds. I was entered by a member of Bramo Somaj, a Hindu; passed by a Mohammedan, and raised by an Englishman. Our Tyler was an Indian Jew. We met, of course, on level, and the only difference anyone would notice was that at our banquets, some of the Brethren, who were debarred by caste from eating food not ceremonially prepared, sat over empty plates."
If you want to know much more about this deeply thoughtful and fascinating gentleman and brother, author Richard Jaffa has written an excellent Masonic biography called Man and Mason—Rudyard Kipling. Jaffa goes into great detail about him and into the Masonic influences that shaped both his life and his writings. 

In the original story that this dramatic updating in Maine will be based upon in November, the lodge's visitor who is quite likely echoing the thoughts of Kipling so many years after almost completely severing his memberships, says to a Brother next to him,
"It’s Heaven to me, sittin' in Lodge again. It’s all coming back now, watching their mistakes. I haven't much religion, but all I had I learnt in Lodge.' 
Recognising me, he flushed a little as one does when one says a thing twice over in another’s hearing. "Yes, 'veiled in all'gory and illustrated in symbols' the Fatherhood of God, an' the Brotherhood of Man; an' what more in Hell do you want?"
What indeed.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Freemasonry as Wallpaper

Add another stick onto the pile of why we get petitioners who knock on our lodge doors with a bizarre misconception of just what it is they think they're joining.

I figured out decades ago that it is the God-given mission of every new generation to make their parents cry. And as a result, each succeeding generation of parents requires a higher and higher threshold of shock applied to them in order to make their collective tears flow because of the ratcheted-up levels perpetrated during their own youths themselves. 

"Smoking behind the corn-crib?" Don't burn it down.

"LSD?" The flashbacks aren't what they tell you they are.
"I'm pregnant?" Great, a grandkid.

"Flame red mohawk?"  Look at my high school graduation portrait.
"Body piercings?" I'll show ya mine in the men's room.

"Flaming skull with snake and swastika tattoos?" Pass the salt...
On my forehead??!! How does this new damn TV box work?
As a partial result of that escalating Mutually Assured Distress campaign over the last 75 years or so, the "Is nothing sacred?" question got laughed right out of the auditorium with the NEA and Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ." Hell, the 1920s beat the pants off of the 2010s. 

Doing irreligious or deliberately provoking things inside of churches was already past its sell date after Anton Levay got into Time magazine in 1966. So, I'm really only posting this here as my own placeholder to mark the point in time that Freemasonry became not even a punchline or a cheap fashion accessory from the Gap anymore, but just pop culture wallpaper. 

Some "boundary-pushing fashion designer" from Turkey named Dilara Findikoglu, whose press releases describe herself as "an up-and-coming rebel in the fashion industry," figured out she wasn't getting any attention from any actual talent or product she produced. So she scheduled her "London Fashion Week" parade of what are ostensibly "clothing designs" for her "Spring/Summer 2018 Collection" to take place in London's St. Andrew's Church in Holborn. And just to make sure everybody looked, she filled it with imagery of symbols like inverted pentagrams, demonically-horned models, skeletons, all-seeing eyes, and the whole standard melange of pseudo-occult-Satanic-Illuminati-Masonic appropriation. And to make sure everybody got just how "edgy" she was, she covered up the church altar and erected a backdrop of an enormous square and compasses with a Jachin and Boaz for good measure, and made certain the term "Black Mass" got wedged into the tabloids along with it all. 

All that was missing was the Aleister Crowley photo in the middle of it all so everybody could  really "get it." But then, I guess that'd be like a comedian admitting he stole stale jokes from an old Henny Youngman act.

That was Monday. By Tuesday, the Church was already issuing their official apology:
The parish of St Andrew's has always supported London Fashion Week. We took this booking in good faith and were not aware of the content or design before the show took place.
This was obviously a mistake, and the content of this show does not reflect the Christian faith of the Church. We will be looking at our booking processes going forward to ensure this does not happen again.
As for Ms. Findikoglu's future career successes, it is apparently assured. Stories about her seem to be rife with precious gems like this:
Findikoglu is considered an up-and-comer in the fashion industry, and as a result is alleged to have been substantially influenced by the Illuminati. Among her biggest fans are musicians and other artists who also reportedly have Illuminati connections.
Pull the other one... 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wrap Up: Masonic Society's 2017 Conference, Lexington, KY

This is really lengthy, but I've been working on it for 10 days.

I’ve been unconscionably remiss in not following up after the the Masonic Society's 2017 Conference, "Centuries of American Freemasonry" in Lexington, Kentucky September 8-10. Dr. John Bizzack (right), the members of Lexington Lodge 1, and the Kentucky’s Rubicon Masonic Society along with the other organizers did an incredible job at arranging what was one of the very best and most useful Masonic symposiums I’ve attended in a long time. Even the graphics and other printed materials were all beautiful and top flight. And the Festive Board they hosted at the nearby Spindletop Hall is something I wish I could pick up and transplant into at least one location in every jurisdiction of America to show others how to do it at least once. There were at least 85 attendees from 13 states and Canada, and if you weren’t there, you should have been. 

The overall theme to the whole event was to look forward to the future by using our past as a vast history lesson.

Thomas W. Jackson led off on Friday with his keynote, The History of the Future of Freemasonry. At 83, Tom’s been a Freemason for 54 years now, and during that time he’s seen some of its greatest successes. Anyone who’s spent time with him knows he’s well traveled, experienced, respected, and loves this fraternity. He’s also, on occasion, given to a pessimistic outlook about it in the US. I’m not hurting his feelings to type that out loud, as he freely admits it himself. But he's experienced so much that it becomes a bitter comparison sometimes to come back to US shores.

Tom didn’t quote this, but Isaac Disraeli once wrote, "It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us." Tom’s speech asserted that external threats have always endangered us, but we are facing our greatest failure today, and the threat this time is internal, not external. This is no Morgan, no Holocaust, no conspiracy theory this time. And it has nothing to do with numbers of members. If Masons have lost our influence on society, it’s because we became something we were never intended to be in the first place. Our influence going forward needs grow out of respect for Freemasons, not how many members we have. 

Mark Tabbert followed Tom, and I'll explain later why I'm saving Mark for the end.

California’s Jordan Yelinek gave his presentation, Developing Lodges in the 21st Century, on starting a new lodge from scratch. He has been giving this Grand Lodge program all over his state, and there have been 14 new lodges chartered there in the last year alone. Starting a new lodge is not difficult as a process, although it certainly is in practice. It takes dedication and a common goal from at least the minimum number required. California held leadership retreats and surveyed 5,000 Masters and Wardens to identify what THEY want for the fraternity. ALL men want real true friends, to learn, and to make a difference in the world around them, whatever that may mean to them individually. If we can’t (or AREN’T) fulfilling that, or helping them to fulfill it, we are failing at what we do.

Consolidations don’t work, especially when two weak lodges form. They create a bigger weak lodge, never a better one. California found that while 70% of all of their members considered themselves to be “very engaged” Freemasons, they never attend lodge. If a lodge looks like crap, people are repelled. This is all common sense, brethren. If a Mason has no reason to come back to lodge, he won’t. And if you can’t convince your lodge to fix itself even with your help (and don’t just bitch, get in there and shovel coal, too), then stick a flag in the ground and start a new one. If it succeeds, encourage imitators, not bigger membership. If it fails, go out in a blaze of glory by showing what you were attempting to do.

Friday night’s Festive Board at the Lexington's Spindletop Hall was, as said above, tremendous in every way. 

The surroundings were ideal, the food excellent, the program just about perfect, and the conversation was hearty and positive. I urge any lodge to find the local historic mansion or library or catering site or other exquisite location and hold at least one event like this a year. Or six. Or twelve.

Andrew Hammer's speech that evening, The Heart, Mind and Soul of Freemasonry, only reaffirmed what I have known about him since he first began writing and speaking: that all he and the thousands of Masons who have bought and read his little volume Observing the Craft have wanted all along is the opportunity and the freedom to established regular, recognized American lodges that demand higher standards of behavior, manners, and what used to be called the "gentlemanliness" that most men once voluntarily sought to attain for themselves. Many still do want it. If Masons today want to be an organization non-Masons admire and seek to emulate and even perhaps join, why can't a handful of Masons at least be permitted enough flexibility to create such a lodge? 

Andrew didn't say it, but elitism is what Freemasonry was always intended to be from the start, and it's not he same thing as "snobbery," not at all. An ashlar cannot by definition polish itself. It needs patterns to model itself after at least, with the help of likeminded craftsmen. And hundreds of cookie-cutter lodges across a state do not provide the sort of encouragement and standards countless disappointed men seek. The truth is that variety and affinity lodges of all types are the only future our wider American Masonic fraternity has if it is to be anything but a tiny, boutique clutch of practitioners, no more significant than a monthly gathering of Japanese tea ceremony enthusiasts.

Anyway, I can't compliment everyone enough for the entire evening.

On Saturday, Alan Casalou’s presentation looked at the damaging effects that 20th century bigness have had upon American Freemasonry. Once we moved out of 18th century taverns, and then out of our 19th century town centers, we settled into our bigger and bigger “cathedrals” built in the last century. As much as I personally love them architecturally and historically, our grandest temples represent almost all that has subverted and eroded us as a fraternity. Throughout the 20th century, the vast and overwhelming majority of men felt that receiving the Master Mason degree was the ultimate experience the fraternity offered, and then never went back again. Attending lodge didn’t mean you were a Mason—a dues card did. Yet my own recent research has shown me, here in Indiana, we had several lodges with well over 1,000 members and even more than 2,000 in the 1920s. Nobody had to attend to be a Mason—we even tell them that in the EA degree today. Alan pointed out the avalanche of sheer idiocy (my term, not his) that got enforced by grand lodges, in part because of the human sea of members who knew nothing about the fraternity they joined. California forbade publishing Masonic papers in the 1920s, and banned tracing boards in the 1950s. Lodges of Research were specifically created in the US to control what was written about the fraternity at the GL level. It would take the anonymity of the Internet to finally upturn that grip on information nationwide (or almost, anyway). 

And even today, there is a US grand lodge that still enforces a recently enacted rule that doesn't even permit the open discussion of any Masonic ritual besides their own, much less a demonstration of one—even if it's from a jurisdiction THEY recognize as regular! 

As our membership skyrocketed and more and arguably “rougher” men poured in unchecked and unbalanced by more refined or educated or successful ones, the mania of obsessive rule making only exploded and GL rule books became thicker and thicker, as GLs stopped relying (or were able to rely on) the judgement and common sense of their own members. Alan didn’t say it, but when “Did his check clear?” and “Does he have a pulse?” replaced “How long have you been friends with him?” and “What does the community think of him?” GLs couldn’t rely on members to be the best and do the best anymore. And then the “best” of men in communities saw no reason to join anymore. And the cycle only perpetuated itself. 

Dr. Oscar Alleyne gave his presentation about Clandestine Freemasonry the US, and I have written a quite long entry about it before HERE. I earnestly recommend every jurisdiction to consider inviting Oscar to give this same talk to their own members, and as much as I don’t like to pick on anyone, I especially encourage Prince Hall grand lodges to do so. It should be given at both the Conference of Grand Masters and the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters, because this is a problem that continues to grow because of the Internet. Bogus “leg o' mutton" degree peddlers are at least as old a phenomenon as 1752, and they’ll never go away. But American Masons need to get ahead of this ongoing problem, and Oscar does it better than anyone. New “masonic” or “Illuminati” bogus groups pop up on a weekly basis in my email inbox alone, and they are damaging to the entire fraternity.

Patrick Craddock’s many years of research and work at creating bespoke Masonic aprons that harken to an earlier age has permitted him to spread that knowledge and interest to Freemasons all over the country. If you have seen his high quality, handcrafted aprons at The Craftsman's Apron based on historic, symbolic designs, you know the detail he puts into each one. The result has been his program, “Admit Him if Properly Clothed: Three Centuries of American Masonic Regalia.” Patrick’s presentation is an excellent one, and like Oscar’s, I encourage you and your lodge, district, or grand lodge to invite him to give it in person. 

In 2016, Jon T. Ruark sent out an appeal for responses to what he called the “Ultimate Freemasonry Survey,” and on Saturday, he gave his most extensive presentation of his results and analysis to date (he did do a much shortened version earlier this year at Pennsylvania's Academy of Masonic Knowledge, but he wasn’t quite finished with all of his collating and dot-connecting yet). Jon received 2,300 responses to his survey, and given the inherent bias in an internet-circulated poll taken this way that had zero support or assistance from a single grand lodge anywhere, certainly it has built-in lopsided results. But if you are the person who counts Masonic success by numbers and believes in analysis projections, things don’t look at all good as soon as 2027, and they look like an institutional gravesite no later than 2040. By then, we’ll all be able to meet in a phone booth. If anyone can find an antique phone booth on Ebay by then.

But those “numbers” didn’t really interest most of the Masons in that room, because we don’t count Masonry’s success or death by dropping beans in a jar. Jon will be making his results (and I believe a follow up that is planned) in a later publication. As a result, I’m not going to blurt them out here. He did the work, the results are his to share or hold back as he sees fit. But there were several figures I found just interesting enough that I WILL drop here. Just to set the stage:
  • All 2,300 of his results were from self-declared Masons (no real way to verify, but he didn’t include anyone who didn't say they were). 
  • The average age of his respondents was 45. 
  • 72.8% were married, 69.5 have kids, with an average income of $25-75,000 (just 12% made $100-250K)
(Jon also asked if his respondents had a declared religious preference, just out of curiosity, since we require a faith in a Supreme Being. It was a major issue for a very long time in the fraternity, both inside and outside of the US, so this is just an interesting observation: out of all of his respondents, 17.5% were Catholic. I have long suspected this, being raised as a Catholic and educated by Jesuits—though I attributed it to post-1966 Vatican II longing for the old Latin Mass and love of ritual and ceremony. But we're far enough away from those years that it's probably not the reason these days.)

But for our symposium, here were the money figures: 90% said that “Masonic Education” was “very important” or “important.” The vast majority of them specifically noted they wanted “esoteric” education. Out of those members who described themselves as being “disengaged” with the fraternity, 56% received NO education in their lodge. Pay attention to this.
  • 92% WANT “brotherhood.”
  • 80% liked ritual
  • 83% want “history”
  • And less than half want “higher degrees” 
I shared these numbers with a friend over the weekend who said they are almost identical with the results found in a recent survey by a large appendant body in the US.

Of course, all of these numbers are nice to have, and reaffirm what scores of us have yammered about for decades. But no one has ever figured out the role of the individual Freemason in all of this “wanting” and “preferring” and “very important-ing.” Masonic “education” (whatever that is) can’t be spoon-fed to our members. It can’t be shined in their eyes by some app on their phones. It can’t be found in a single article or book, or even a whole shelf of books. It has as much to do with improving ourselves and real human interaction as it does with some external person or force improving us—arguably more, MUCH more. 

So, John Bizzack, Cameron C. Poe, Richard A. Graeter and I took part in a panel discussion and audience back-and-forth about the future of the fraternity. As the ostensible moderator, I insisted that we NOT engage in any barstool air-bending about “Ya know what’s wrong with this fraternity…” Yes, we know. We ALL know. The conversation was a nuts and bolts, nitty gritty one about what does a single lodge do to either remake itself, fix itself, or give up and start again from scratch. The resulting discussion was constructive and worthwhile, hopefully for everyone. I hope somebody was taking notes, as I was busy.

To sum up, the overall thread that ran all throughout this event by accident or design was a very basic one: Excellence. Quality. Freemasonry is shrinking, but that’s probably all for the best. And history tells us, it is inevitable. Alan Casalou’s presentation centered around the phrase we have all heard countless time, “That the tender branch thereof will not cease.” (Job 14:1-12). On the eve of its first Revolution, France had a thousand lodges. Just seventy-five throughout that entire country survived the Terror. There's a big, fat lesson in there for all Freemasons going forward as each year's statistics roll in and long faces get longer.

Mark Tabbert’s talk on Friday morning brought up events and periods and developments from US Masonry’s history that few may have been aware of before. Mark has studied fraternalism on a much wider scale than just Freemasonry, and he can often see insights that Masons may not, and may never have. 

He mentioned a scandalous event in Vermont that predated the Morgan Affair in the 1820s, and despite all the press Morgan received nationwide, it was the earlier incident that nearly wiped out Freemasonry in that tiny and still young state. If we as modern Freemasons believe that we are living through rough times and woe is us that we have a budget shortfall this year over our state’s industrial-sized charities, consider this. The Grand Lodge of Vermont was saved by just two individuals and preserved by those two men for 20 years. Their entire state membership plunged to a mere 30 Masons at its worst. 

Yet, what was said by a Vermont Mason in the very darkest moments of their history? 
'Better we turn away unworthy men than to accept them just to survive.'
How about proposing that for your Grand Lodge’s motto next year? I'll second it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Indiana Grants Dispensation To New Lodge

Just a quick post to congratulate all my Indiana brethren up in the northwest corner of the state for receiving their new dispensation from Grand Master Rodney Mann for their brand new lodge, Crowned Martyrs Lodge U.D. My understanding is that it is styled as a "European Concept" lodge.

Their lodge's mission statement is:
"To provide a Masonic Experience focused on dignity and decorum, provide substantive education presentations, and foster true brotherhood. To expand the Masonic experience to engage all of the senses, strive for perfection in our Masonic work, and create a sacred space where all brethren are elevated to a state that, while it remains level for all present, is elevated high above our common lives in the profane world outside our tyled doors. To break bread with one another as a way to bridge all distance between us, heal all wounds and absolve all greivances that may obscure the Light between brethren. To serve the Grand Architect, and erect ourselves as Temples for him to dwell within."
In the early 2000s, the Grand Lodge of Indiana dramatically reduced the number of Masons required to charter a new lodge from twenty-five down to just ten. That was done deliberately to make it much easier to establish a lodge than in more than a century, and to encourage more smaller, intimate ones. The philosophy at the time—and continues to be—that a smaller lodge helps to foster closer and greater brotherhood than a large one can. It was that sentiment that we originally had when we founded Lodge Vitruvian 767. In fact, we declared at the time that we would keep from accepting any more than just 36 members. That was done specifically because the more and more members a lodge has, the more anonymous they become to each other, which has long been the philosophy in Masonic jurisdictions outside of the U.S. The smaller the lodge, the closer the friendships, and when you keep the number below 36, you all know when Brother Charlie misses a meeting or loses his job, and are far more likely check on him. Additionally, it was always our intention that if more than 36 Masons ever wanted join us in future, they would be deliberately encouraged to start their own new lodge instead of increasing the size of ours. 

With that in mind, all the very best of luck going forward to Worshipful Master James A. Iles and his officers and the charter members of Crowned Martyrs Lodge U.D!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

MSA Disaster Relief for Florida Issued; Texas Ongoing

I didn't have to wait long after the previous post.

The Masonic Service Association of North America has just issued an official Disaster Relief Appeal for Florida a moment ago (click the image above to enlarge). The press release is as follows:
SEPTEMBER 13, 2017
Hurricane Irma hit Florida with the “longest-lasting powerful hurricane or typhoon ever recorded, worldwide,” according to National Public Radio. More than 60% of the state was without power. Widespread flooding, depleted grocery shelves, and damage from high winds have made life miserable for many.
The Grand Lodge of Florida has requested this Disaster Appeal to care forthe many brethren who live in Florida, and have been impacted by the storm. While the damage is still being assessed, the certainty of many months of recovery is expected.
 Donations can be made online at www.msana.com. When remitting by check, please mark clearly that you wish the funds to go to the Florida Disaster Appeal.
Please forward any donations you feel appropriate to help our devastated Brothers and their families to MSA. Please make checks payable to MSA Disaster Relief Fund and send to 3905 National Drive, STE 280, Burtonsville, MD 20866.
​MSA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
​# # #
Simon R. LaPlace, PGM, Executive SecretaryMasonic Service Association of North America3905 National Drive, STE 280
Burtonsville, MD 20866www.msana.com

PLEASE NOTE: Check with your own grand lodge to see if they are collecting donations as part of the MSA Appeal, just to prevent confusion as to whom is donating to what.  

Remember that the Texas Appeal is also ongoing. When remitting funds directly to MSA, please mark donations specifically to "Texas Disaster Appeal" or to "Florida Disaster Appeal" on the memo line of your check or on the envelope. To donate directly to the MSA Appeals by check, make checks payable to MSA Disaster Relief Fund and send them to: 
Masonic Service Association
3905 National Drive, Suite 280
Burtonsville, MD 20866
You can also donate via PayPal HERE. There are separate buttons for Florida and Texas.

The Masonic Service Association is arguably the best and most effective way to provide financial assistance to Florida and Texas Masons (or to any other jurisdictions that may also request these official Disaster Relief Appeals through MSA). MSA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. That is important to remember, especially if you, your company, or foundation are making a large donation and are in need of a tax deduction in return. The charitable arm of the Masonic Service Association was specifically established for the purpose of raising tax deductible donations, and to effectively distribute and account for the funds provided to Masons who receive assistance. Your entire donation will be sent to the affected jurisdiction. MSA deducts nothing for administrative expenses or expenses of any kind. Meaning if you donate $100.00, all $100.00 gets to Florida or Texas Masons.

Florida Lodge Damaged in Storm

You never want a Masonic lodge to make the news this way.

As I was flipping channels Monday night, I caught a live report during The Five on Fox from Florida, discussing the hurricane damage from Irma and interviewing some of the folks there. What should pop up but a shot of a Masonic lodge with its roof peeled apart. Rick Leventhal reported from Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona Beach on the East Coast:
"The storm dumped eight to 12 inches of rain here in Volusia County in a very short period of time flooding countless streets and neighborhoods like this one in low lying areas and knocking down trees and power lines leaving hundreds of thousands of people in the dark in this county alone.

But some of the locals in the neighborhood just a few miles from us in Ormond Beach say, it was a twister, a tornado that did the worst damage in this storm roaring through like a free train at about 9:30 last night, splintering trees and knocking down utility post and ripping roofs off of houses, dropping them in neighbor's yards and right in the middle of the street. We talked to some folks who hunkered down inside the Ormond Beach Masonic lodge nearby. They'd thought they'd be safe there and instead, the storms ripped the roof, the brand-new roof off the structure and had the people inside thinking that the end could be near."

Brother David Poulin, Senior Warden, was interviewed outside of the heavily damaged Ormond Beach Lodge 326, as an unidentified brother looked on:

"They were sitting there playing cards. The lights flickered three times and they went dead silent and all of a sudden it sounded like a bomb going off. He did two tours in Vietnam..."
"Heh. And I said how close was that to Nam just last night and he says, it ain't going to get no closer than that."
Ormond Beach Lodge 326 has a website HERE and they also have a Facebook page HERE. They announced on the website before the storm hit that several members were in the area offering help, and both members and area residents were in the lodge building at the time using it as shelter. According to brother Chris Van Duyne, they have two lodges, an OES Chapter, York Rite bodies, and a Grotto that all meet there, so it's a vital Masonic link to the community. It's entirely possible, if not probable, that they still don't have power today. Sadly, I suspect that given the breadth of the hurricane with its surrounding effects, theirs won't be the only one that was hit.

I will say that as I drove north from Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday, before the storm even hit the mainland, a mile-long convoy of tree service and power trucks were already headed south to prepare for what they knew was coming.

I have not seen an official MSA Disaster Appeal for Florida yet either, but I will certainly post such an announcement if and when it comes (the Texas one is ongoing). From the sound of reports, everyone across Florida has their hands full right now, so it will undoubtedly take a while for offices to get back up and running. MSA posted last night on its Facebook page that the office of the Grand Lodge of Florida has been closed, but they have been in touch with them. After Grand Master Richard Hoover is able to evaluate the situation, he will decide if a Disaster Relief Appeal is warranted. 

I am unable to find any updated online presence coming from the MW Union Grand Lodge of Florida PHA, aside from their website. Their GL offices are in Jacksonville, and that area got hit as well. If anyone wants to pass along an official Facebook link for them, please let me know.

NOTE: The Scottish Rite-SJ's Tyler's Place podcast interviewed Brother Pedro Nicot Santana in Puerto Rico and Florida's Grand Secretary, Richard Lynn on Saturday.

In the meantime, please keep all of our citizens in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and all of the other affected areas ravaged by both of these recent storms in your prayers. And if you have a lodge meeting coming up, please pass the box of fraternal assistance with them all in mind. It will be needed.

(This post has been updated as of September 13th at 1:25 PM. Thanks to those who supplied new information. More as I get it.)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Curious Decisions of Foreign Book Licensing

Wiley Publishing, the company that produces the whole For Dummies series in the United States, licenses its various titles to different foreign publishers, and I've been especially surprised and happy over the years over the growing number of editions created by the French publisher, First EditionsI was extremely gratified when they hired my French Masonic Brother, Philippe Benhamou as the co-author to rework my initial framework and tailor the French version of Freemasons For Dummies (La Franc-maçonnerie Pour Les Nuls) to better suit that unique market. 

First, there was the original edition, which was a substantially reworked version of my own original book for the French marketplace—but one that went far beyond a mere translation. Take a look at the way that French Amazon describes the book on its website (taken from that book's introduction) and you can immediately see why many alterations had to be made:

"[T]he double door opens. You are invited to enter. You are at first surprised by the calm and harmony of the place. Your eyes adjust to the soft blue light that falls from the star-decked ceiling. You start to see the different elements that adorn the temple: first the Sun and Moon framing a large luminous triangle with an eye in the center. Then, on the ground, black and white tiles and three small columns each surmounted by a lighted candle. On each side, you feel presences, but you dare not even turn your head.
"The door closed quietly. You walk slowly towards what looks like a small altar with an open book that supports a compass partly covered with a wooden square. No doubt, it is indeed a Masonic lodge. Behind the altar, the one facing you seems to chair this meeting. He holds in his right hand a gavel with which he strikes a blow, and then speaks:

"Welcome to the Temple of Freemasonry. Here you'll discover what attracts nearly 3 million women and men around the world to meet regularly in temples like this to work in a rigorous ritual. We will visit all of the varied Masonic landscape. Varied, because there are both atheists and believers, Catholics, Jews and Muslims, young and not so young, ambitious and modest ... While every Freemason has his own individual commitment, all share a faith in man and in his development; they agree on the fact that the world has meaning, which it suits everyone to discover in order to find their place.
"Entering the temple of Freemasonry is to therefore first share these values: freedom of thought, respect for others, tolerance and brotherhood. These ideals were born during a history of almost three hundred years we will explain. You can then explore the differences, for instance, between American Freemasonry and European Freemasonry, between the French Rite and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, or between a "Compangnon Freemason" and a "Compagnon du Tour de France."
"More so, you'll have access to a practical guide to Freemasonry for the use of non-masons: discover the method of initiation by degrees, including the initiation ceremony, visit a lodge, decode the symbolic language. All that punctuates the life of a Freemason since the first day of his initiation will be presented to you in the familiar style of the readers of this [For Dummies] series. 
"So advance one step, approach the square and compass, and let us guide you..."
And that's just the first page.

Philippe's name on the cover is placed above mine for a damned good reason: he had to subtract the strictly US/Anglo-Saxon Masonic material, and then compile all new information that was specific to the far more complicated minefield that makes up the French Masonic world. That meant creating a book that would be applicable to the members (or potential ones) of the Grand Orient de France, the Grand Loge de France, the Grande Loge Nationale Française, and more; PLUS the feminine AND co-Masonic organizations (since women make up more than 20% of French Freemasonry). He had to include all original material specific to French Masonic history that I had no reason to address. And to make it even more complex, French appendant orders and bodies are also very different, as well.

Next came a pocket-sized edition—actually a bit too big for the average pocket, at 400+ pages. Maybe better suited for a sturdy backpack... or a Masonic apron case. But that still wasn't enough for our French publisher.

I was downright, drop-dead jealous when the next version was a hardback, full COLOR illustrated French edition of La Franc-Maçonnerie Pour Les Nuls. Never before had I encountered a hardback For Dummies book in ANY language (much less one with my name on it). And for those too embarrassed to be caught reading a bright yellow For Dummies/Pour les Nuls book that could be spotted from low earth orbit (as the former Prime Minister of Senegal discovered the hard way several years ago), the paper dust jacket was easily removed, revealing a bland, inconspicuous, black cloth volume, complete with a bookmark ribbon sewn into the binding. (Would that Wiley's U.S. editions offered such a beautiful version here, since we have a MUCH larger potential audience.) Philippe and the French publisher amassed an enviable array of more than 100 illustrations of artwork, objects, symbols, jewels, aprons, and lodge rooms, including more than a few images I had argued (to no avail) to be put in my original U.S. version six years before.

Now, First Editions has just released La Franc-maçonnerie pour les Nuls en 50 Notions Clés (Freemasonry for Dummies in 50 Key Concepts), a sort of abbreviated, introductory arrangement of the 50 most important topics needed to have a basic understanding of French Masonry. And a mere bargain at the paltry sum of just €8.50!
"Welcome to Freemasonry!

"Freemasonry is surrounded by many clichés, assumptions and misconceptions. But close your ears to rumors. This book invites you to discover from the inside one of the oldest secret societies of the Western world: Freemasonry. Clear, precise, playful, it helps to better understand the mechanisms and the sanctity of the initiatory experience while dusting some legends attached to the Freemasons. What is Freemasonry, what is its history, what philosophy underpins its work, the meaning of the Masonic symbols, or what the initiation, many questions, and many others, who will find their answers in a didactic work devoid of jargon!"

Philippe is a talented author and has written several other books on French Freemasonry, and even L'Histoire de l'Aviation pour les Nuls (History of Aviation For Dummies), motivated in part by his role as an engineer in the French aerospace program. He ventured into fiction in 2014 with Madame Hiramabbi: La concierge de la rue des trois frères, which features more than just a little symbolism that some of us will recognize—beginning with the title, along with Mme. Hiramabbi's cat Solomon...

Back in 2007, I also had the happy experience of accidently meeting the Brother who was translating Freemasons For Dummies into Dutch (Vrijmetselarij voor Dummies). Jimmy Koppen is a Mason from Belgium, and I had the pleasure of stumbling into him by total accident in Edinburgh, Scotland at the International Conference on the History of Freemasonry that year. He had contacted the Dutch/Flemish publisher of the Dummies books and asked if such an edition was being planned. He suddenly found himself plunged into the business of translating my American original, AND Brother Phillipe Benhamou's French version, along with making even more specific alterations to explain the variations of Freemasonry in both Belgium and the Netherlands, PLUS incorporating the history of the Craft in those nations. Because of the unique way that Belgium was created with its melding of French, Dutch and German societies, along with having to make the book applicable to both Belgium and the Netherlands, Brother Koppen's job was equally complex.

Sadly, the Dutch/Flemish edition didn't catch on like the French one did, and it was never reprinted after its original publication. However, Jimmy Koppen did establish a Dutch language Masonic blog of his own at VrijmetselarijVoorDummies.blogspot.com that was updated continuously up until at least two years ago. He has also written other books on Freemasonry, as well as Belgian Politics For Dummies (Belgische Politiek voor Dummies).

Over the years, there has also been a German version, Freimaurer für Dummies (a straight translation without any customization by Harmut Strahl, and I have no idea if he is a Freemason or not). Despite the fact that it is just a German language version of a pretty distinctly American book, it too has recently been published in both full sized and pseudo-pocket sized editions. And it's done well enough to warrant a new cover in 2015. It's unfortunate that it doesn't even include at least a chapter about the complex and unique arrangement of the United Grand Lodges of Germany. Theirs is a complicated Masonic landscape to negotiate, and both the fraternity and the general public would have been better served if the publisher had involved a knowledgable German Mason with it.

Over the years, I've heard rumors of a Romanian and a Russian translation on the horizon, but I haven't seen them. Interestingly though, there is a Turkish translation of Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies (Komplo Teorileri ve Gizli Cemiyetler) but not of the Freemasons book. It also appears to be a straight translation without being locally customized for the Turkish market. I suspect the potential audience in Turkey will be woefully disappointed with it however, since Alice and I wrote the book several years before the feud between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his nemesis Fethullah Gülen really kicked into high gear. They'll find no mention of Gülenists anywhere in its pages.

While more than a few people have requested it, there remains no Spanish language version of Freemasons For Dummies for either the U.S. or especially the Mexican market, which is definitely needed (the actual masonic market in Spain is pretty small by comparison). As in Europe, the Mexican Masonic landscape is complex, with its competing grand lodges and supreme councils which are not uniformly recognized throughout the Anglo-Saxon Masonic world. There are more than a few American states, the UGLE, and the other Home Grand Lodges that do not recognize the same Masonic bodies in Mexico, and a version of the Dummies book localized for them (or Brent Morris' Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry, or frankly ANY sort of similar guide, not just mine) would be helpful. And popular.

The same situation is also true for Brazil, which also has large, multiple, competing Masonic groups. A Brazilian Portuguese edition would be invaluable in that country, as well. (NOTE: See below.) And after last week, I have a feeling a Tagalog translation for the Philippines would fly off of shelves, as well. But we authors have almost zero input on licensing decisions like this. It often just takes an excited and qualified translator and author in a foreign country to push for such an edition on their own. That's how Brother Koppen got the Dutch edition published.

UPDATE 9/13/2017

Brother Kennyo Ismail posted a comment yesterday letting me know that there IS indeed a Brazilian edition of Freemasons For Dummies. Maçonaria Para Leigos was published in December 2015 by Alta Books, and he wrote a very kind introduction to it, as well. Kennyo acted as the technical reader and editor on that edition, and he made a few tweaks to ensure it was not baffling to Brazilian brethren when it ventured into purely American Masonic practices and structure. I never received a copy from Alta by way of my own publisher, so I have no way to currently flip through it to see if anything major was adjusted. Kennyo and I had spoken about such an edition back in 2012 and 2013 at Masonic Week, but I presumed nothing had ultimately come of it after that. So I'm happy to know it actually did make it into print. 

I also dug a little bit and saw an old note from 2014 that there is supposed to be a Hungarian edition of the Conspiracy Theories/Secret Societies book published by Taramix Kft., but I've never seen that one, either.