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


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Press: England's Masonic Police Officers Get a Last New Year's Swipe

Ah, it wouldn't be New Year's Eve without one last 2017 swipe against the fraternity by the stalwart English press, and the Guardian stepped right up to the plate. 

Today's Guardian brought a story about Steve White, the departing chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales. Since cops there are not permitted to unionize, the Federation represents 120,000 rank and file officers as what sounds like their counterpart to the Fraternal Order of Police in the U.S. (and if anyone can clarify this, please feel free). It was created by an act of Parliament in 1919 specifically because police there are prevented by law from taking "industrial action," most notably, striking. However, when White was elected in 2014, the Federation was widely regarded as a corrupt wreck internally, so much so that then-Home Secretary Theresa May gave a speech at their annual assembly declaring that the government was poised to take them over if they didn't clean up their act by enacting a laundry list of three dozen reform measures—which they immediately did. There were financial shenanigans and allegations of favoritism and discrimination, but apparently the biggest scandal was the habit of top Federation officials "bladdering" (to wit, hanging out at the headquarters building all hours and getting plastered on their members' money). So, White has been on a clean up crusade ever since. His three year term ended in August, and he steps down on New Year's Day. But from the sound of it, he just couldn't manage to get everything done that he wanted to in the way of reforming their internal practices in those three short years.

So what does he declare to be the biggest obstacle to further police reforms? You guessed it. When all else fails, rattle the bones of Freemasons in the ranks of the English police, who apparently run about with rolled up trouser legs, exchanging dodgy handshakes, secretly giving all their lodge brothers pay raises, secretly winking at their brother criminals, secretly shutting out the women and minorities from the really choice jobs, and doing other secretly secret stuff secretly...

Or something.

And naturally the Guardian was obliged to proclaim this totally baseless smear in 72 pt. type, because the English press eats up anti-Masonic stories with a very large spoon. From their article today, Freemasons Are Blocking Reform, Says Police Federation Leader:
Reform in policing is being blocked by members of the Freemasons, and their influence in the service is thwarting the progress of women and people from black and minority ethnic communities, the leader of rank-and-file officers has said.
Steve White, who steps down on Monday after three years as chair of the Police Federation, told the Guardian he was concerned about the continued influence of Freemasons.

White took charge with the government threatening to take over the federation if it did not reform after a string of scandals and controversies.
Critics of the Freemasons say the organisation is secretive and serves the interests of its members over the interests of the public. The Masons deny this saying they uphold values in keeping with public service and high morals.”
White told the Guardian: “What people do in their private lives is a matter for them. When it becomes an issue is when it affects their work. There have been occasions when colleagues of mine have suspected that Freemasons have been an obstacle to reform.
“We need to make sure that people are making decisions for the right reasons and there is a need for future continuing cultural reform in the Fed, which should be reflective of the makeup of policing.”
One previous Metropolitan police commissioner, the late Sir Kenneth Newman, opposed the presence of Masons in the police.
White would not name names, but did not deny that some key figures in local Police Federation branches were Masons.
White said: “It’s about trust and confidence. There are people who feel that being a Freemason and a police officer is not necessarily a good idea. I find it odd that there are pockets of the organisation where a significant number of representatives are Freemasons.”
The Masons deny any clash or reason police officers should not be members of their organisation.
Mike Baker, spokesman for the United Grand Lodge, said: “Why would there be a clash? It’s the same as saying there would be a clash between anyone in a membership organisation and in a public service.
“We are parallel organisations, we fit into these organisations and have high moral principles and values.”
Baker said Freemasonry was open to all, the only requirement being “faith in a supreme being”. He said there were a number of police officers who were Masons and police lodges, such as the Manor of St James, set up for Scotland Yard officers, and Sine Favore, set up in 2010 by Police Federation members. One of those was the Met officer John Tully, who went on to be chair of the federation and, after retirement from policing, is an administrator at the United Grand Lodge of England.
Masons in the police have been accused of covering up for fellow members and favouring them for promotion over more talented, non-Mason officers.
White said: “Some female representatives were concerned about Freemason influence in the Fed. The culture is something that can either discourage or encourage people from the ethnic minorities or women from being part of an organisation.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for ethics and integrity, the chief constable Martin Jelley, said: “While we recognise that there has been concern in the past around serving officers also being Freemasons, it is clear that concern over real or perceived threat to impartiality of this has decreased. Regular external scrutiny of the police service by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has not raised this as an issue of concern.
“Strict guidelines require officers to declare anything which might be deemed a conflict of interest in their force’s register of interests. If convincing evidence ever came to light which clearly showed that Freemasonry was adversely affecting the integrity of the police service then we would take appropriate action.”
As usual, there's never any actual allegation, never any proof of wrongdoing, never anything that can be pinned to the tail of police officers who are Freemasons simply by virtue of the fact that they ARE members of the fraternity. It's always left hazy and non-specific. It's always just a possibility, a perception—and one that is happily promoted by anti-Masons to serve their own ends or to explain their own shortcomings, or their own failure receive promotions. 

In Mr. White's case, he's leaving his position not because he was such a terrific success that his job is finished, but because he was about to get it in the face with a vote of no-confidence from the rank and file police officers. So, it's far easier to leave and then claim all those hordes of secret, dastardly Freemasons blocked him at every turn. Naturally, the Guardian didn't mention that part. No, he was just "stepping down." 

(Although, as one Brother wryly quipped today on Facebook, "Freemasons Are Blocking Reform" is not an entirely unbelievable headline, given some of our own grand lodge sessions.)

Of course, lest you think we are entirely immune on this side of the Atlantic, we're not. The Boston Globe tried to get into the act out of the blue back in November. In the midst of all of the caterwauling last month over Alabama's special election, the Boston Globe went on its own witch hunt and came up with Brett Tally, a judicial nominee for the federal bench nine states away from Massachusetts (where he once lived and attended Harvard). Because federal judges are appointed by the President, naturally Tally is now part of the scorched Earth political climate in the U.S. that brands all people as either saints or Satanic, depending on their partisanship and who's wielding the branding iron. 

It should probably be noted for foreign readers that Massachusetts is overwhelmingly a state that is in political opposition to the current Administration, and in the case of one of its Senators, vehemently so. That would be the equally "controversial" Elizabeth Warren, who immediately declared she would vote against Tally's confirmation.

The Globe took up the cause of helping to declare Tally as "unqualified" to be a federal judge, and so it published this little gem on November 15th, Brett Tally, Controversial Nominee For Ala. Federal Bench, Has Mass. Masonic Ties (note that he must be "controversial" because the headline screams it):
By now you’ve probably heard of Brett Joseph Talley, the 36-year-old Justice Department lawyer and horror writer nominated to the federal bench in Alabama by President Trump.

You’ve probably seen the unflattering headlines, too — from the American Bar Association deeming him unqualified to a Washington Post report that Talley failed to disclose in a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that he’s married to a Trump White House lawyer.
Less attention has been paid to Talley’s Massachusetts ties, which he cultivated as a student at Harvard Law School. He graduated from Harvard in 2007 and later took a job as a writer for Mitt Romney’s 2o12 presidential campaign.

In addition, he identified himself in the Senate questionnaire as a member of The Harvard Lodge A.F. & A.M., a Masonic group based in Massachusetts that requires university affiliation for membership.
“One of the many unique characteristics of The Harvard Lodge is that its members don their academic robes and regalia at the Lodge’s regular meetings,” the group’s website says.

The site adds that a “Mason’s duties are first to his God, then, to his family and those dependent upon him, and then to his fellow men.”
Among the lodge’s charitable efforts is the Masonic Angel Fund, which supports Cambridge schools and children in need, the site says.
Speaking on behalf of the lodge, Christopher Rooney of the Massachusetts Freemasons said Talley joined the Harvard group in 2006, but further information about his involvement wasn’t available Wednesday.

Talley couldn’t be reached for comment.

He noted in his Senate questionnaire that the lodge is a “masonic, fraternal organization limited to men, although there is a corresponding organization for women.”
May the dawning of A.L. 6018 bring a more calming year for us all. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Going To Lodge Could Extend Your Life

Back in 2000, researcher Robert Putnam published his landmark book, Bowling Alone, in which he discussed problems in society that have only worsened in subsequent years: solitary lifestyles, civic disengagement, and the loss of what he defined as "social capital." All of that and more adds up to the overall collapse of communities and a functioning democratic society. 

In his book, Putnam asserted that when people have fewer friends, less personal contact with others, and remained isolated, their lifespans shortened. 

Well, a new Israeli study of people between 70 and 95 has just backed up Putnam's contention: the more you get out of the house, the longer you will live. And that could bode well for Freemasonry if we'd look beyond just Millennials for a while, and to the aging Baby Boomers who never joined anything in their lives before. 

From Reuters today:

For older people, getting out of the house regularly may contribute to a longer life - and the effect is independent of medical problems or mobility issues, according to new research from Israel. 
For study participants in their 70s, 80s and 90s, the frequency with which they left the house predicted how likely they were to make it to the next age milestone, researchers report in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
“The simple act of getting out of the house every day propels people into engagement with the world,” said lead author Dr. Jeremy Jacobs of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem in a phone interview.
“We saw similar benefits that you’d expect from treating blood pressure or cholesterol with medicine,” Jacobs said. “Social factors are important in the process of aging.”
At all ages, people who left home less frequently tended to be male, less educated and to have higher rates of loneliness, financial difficulties, poor health, fatigue, poor sleep, less physical activity, bladder and bowel problems, history of falling in the last year, fear of falling, visual and hearing impairments, chronic pain and frailty.
The link between leaving the house and longevity, however, remained after the researchers accounted for medical or mobility issues such as chronic pain, vision or hearing impairment, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease.
“We included people who had mobility difficulties, so this isn’t just about people moving their legs up and down,” Jacobs said. “That’s quite exciting. There’s something about interacting with the world outside that helps.”
The whole study can be seen at the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society HERE.

Baby Boomers are retiring in massive waves now. They haven't been joiners in the past, but their Dad or Grandpa was a Mason, and Masonic images and stories in the media (or their friendship with you, perhaps) just might set off a spark. Anecdotally, I’m seeing more and more men in their 20s and 30s bringing their 60+ and 70+ year old Baby Boomer fathers into their lodges. That's never happened before in the history of this fraternity in enough numbers to take notice.

What makes Freemasonry such a unique creation is the essential construct of all Masons being on the level, regardless of age, wealth, or social status. While we concentrate on the religious and economic equality fostered by our rituals, the Ancient Charges, and customs of the lodge, that equality extends to age as well. In his book, Millennial Apprentices, 24-year-old Brother Samuel Friedman cites a study that showed 8 out of 10 millennials tend to believe that older generations have "higher morals," and 60% of them say they consult their parents for advice about adulthood. Being around men of all ages benefits everybody involved.

The walls of a successful lodge are elastic, and in the best ones anyway, Masons across all age groups work together, govern each other, mentor and assist each other, seek spiritual awakening, and socialize. The broader definition of the Masonic family has enough variation and sub-interests within it to appeal to just about anyone, as long as they satisfy the most general requirements of a good character, a belief in a Supreme Being of their personal conceptualization, and the agreement to tolerate their fellow Masons' beliefs. That is a message that perhaps the onrushing mob of 75 million baby boomers in the U.S. who have, or will soon, reach their retirement years may have missed in their younger days (statistically, they certainly did). Even though we live in tough economic times, most retirees won't be working into their 70s to make ends meet, unless they really want to. They will, as a group, have plenty of spare time, along with having enough spendable money to be comfortable. And as Robert Putnam's groundbreaking sociological study, Bowling Alone demonstrated, socializing actually makes your life last longer.

So, it could just be that joining a Masonic lodge might turn out to be the very best thing that could happen to the Baby Boom generation. Consider that the next time your grand lodge magazine arrives with some myopic concentration on appealing to Millennials and Gen-Xers. 

And while you're at it, pick up the phone and check on your existing older members. Offer to drive them to lodge next month.

By the way, Putnam's most recent book, Our Kids: The American Dream In Crisis, is an examination of the enormous class disparity in America today. In it, he makes a passionate plea for us all to put aside our constant political bickering and Internet flame war obsessions for the ultimate good of our communities. 

If ever the neutral sanctuary of the Masonic lodge was needed in this country as a place to gather on the level and pull together for a change, it's right this very minute.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Clickbait Story Attempts To Invent Controversy Over G. Washington Masonic Statue

A few months ago, a local memorial to Confederate Civil War dead at a Union POW camp here in Indianapolis was hacked away at by some criminal vandal who had gotten himself all triggered by the national news mania for statue removal. After that, I was hoping this complete non-issue had otherwise passed normally sane Indiana by. But I popped onto the Indianapolis Star website this morning to be greeted by the most appalling, deliberately incendiary headline I’ve encountered there in a long time: “6 Indiana Statues That You Might Find Offensive.” It was just a triptych that highlighted six area statues for future vandalism, destruction, or removal, and some nonsensical, stirred-up “controversy” where none actually exists. In other words, irresponsible clickbait. Hey, what the hell - everybody's doing it these days.

So, sure enough, the statue of "George Washngton As a Master Mason" on the south lawn of the Indiana Statehouse was number two on the list. Reporter Dwight Adams wrote, "it shows him in breeches with an apron and medallion adorned with Masonic symbols. Washington was a slaveholder in Virginia and a member of the secretive Masonic organization."

This statue does indeed depict Washington in full Masonic regalia as Master of Alexandria Lodge, and it was placed there by the Grand Lodge of Indiana in 1987 as a gift to the people of Indiana. Adams doesn't say it IS "offensive," but it MIGHT be to somebody, somewhere. 
This article very specifically infers 'Here's a public statue of a famous slaveholding Freemason you MIGHT (or should?) be offended by, just in case anybody wants to do something about it.'

Too bad it didn’t also feature locations where spray paint and sledge hammers were on sale with holiday prices, so the "reporter" could actually have influenced some bored teenager to take action and scared up a real story to cover. 

This pure agitprop is more suited to The Daily Worker than a supposed mainstream newspaper. But that's where we are these days.

So, I can’t wait for Mr. Adams' next hard-hitting investigative series, “6 Oil Refineries You Might Want To Blow Up,” or perhaps “6 Hated Political Figures You Might Like To Assassinate,” or perhaps more the artistically themed “6 Ugly Indiana Buildings You Might Consider Fire Bombing.” I have a better list, and a shorter one: “One Indianapolis Star Reporter You Might Find Offensive.” 

With luck, this waste of pulp and electrons will pass as unnoticed as everything else in this Gannett-owned rag, and our statue of Brother George won't become our local version of the Albert Pike "controversy" to bear. But one never knows anymore. 

Meanwhile, at least the public servants responsible for the upkeep and protection of these statues all now know exactly to whom they should send the bill when they are damaged in future. That would be Mr. Dwight Adams at dwight.adams@indystar.com

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Make Your Masonic Week 2018 Reservations

Sorry I forgot to post this sooner, but the website for making reservations for the 2018 AMD Masonic Week  has been up and running for a while now. This annual event will be held between February 8-11, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia (a mere cocktail glass' throw from Reagan International Airport, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.). Eighteen Masonic appendant bodies, invitational groups, research organizations, and others will be holding their annual meetings, degree conferrals, elections, banquets, speeches, and other assorted sundry activities. There is also always a healthy dose of Masonic product vendors on hand. 

The direct link to reserve a room at the Hyatt with the convention rate is HERE.

If you've never been to Masonic Week before, the real benefit of going is that it is the largest concentration of seriously proactive Masons from across the country and around the world you'll find on an annual basis, along with many of the best known Masonic researchers, authors, editors, and other personalities. While the bulk of the groups require existing York Rite membership as a precondition for their own admission (and a few are invitational only), you will still find plenty to keep you more than occupied for these three and a half days. And there is as much to be absorbed at the bar or in the hospitality rooms as in the meetings themselves. 

Plus, if you've never been to Washington, D.C. before, this is the perfect excuse to go. I will tell you from experience that there is a 50/50 chance of the weather either bringing three feet of blowing snow, or 70 degree sun-drenched days. Sometimes both. That's just Washington in February. (Take an extra set of underwear in case your flights get canceled. Old hands know this.) But add a day to your trip to sightsee, and be sure you visit the Scottish Rite's House of the Temple no later than Thursday, because it is CLOSED Fridays and weekends. Visit the Capitol, the monuments, the Smithsonian. Have drinks and cigars at the Old Ebbitt Grill (you'll find Masons there nearly any night that week). Or go the other direction to Alexandria and visit the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, and have dinner at Gadsby's Tavern. There's no shortage of historic sites tied to Masons concentrated in the area.

(Yes, I know the graphic at the top of the Masonic Week pages has a glaring spelling error. No, I don't have anything to do with their website myself, beyond linking to it here. Yes, I informed the site admin over a month ago, which is why I delayed posting it much earlier. No, I don't want to hear about it anymore.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Last Minute Book List For Christmas 2017

Five days before Christmas morning, and the dreaded phone call comes from your relatives: "Gift cards are so cold and impersonal. So, what do you want for Christmas?"

Here at Hodapphaüs, the traditional answer for forty-one years has been "Books!" The result is becoming owned by the problem of how to downsize when you require a minimum of 96 linear feet of blank wall space with no windows and doors just for all of the bookcases. However, with luck, most of you still have space to expand your own collection, so allow me to toss a couple of recent Masonic-related acquisitions your way. Some are newly published this year, but there are a couple of slightly older (but still modern) works.

I'm in a quandary over my favorite book of the year—especially since I still have quite a few to finish yet—so I'll split hairs. Unquestionably, I tend to favor the historical and cultural study side of Masonic scholarship over the esoteric. That's just my personal bias. Nevertheless, without question, the most thought provoking Masons I have encountered in almost twenty years of membership have been Brethren who have studied theology, either as their personal interest, or in their educational training. These men frequently see meanings and make connections that the rest of us would never discover on our own. Such a Brother is my friend Piers A. Vaughan. Consequently, I wholeheartedly put his book from late last year, Renaissance Man & Mason ($21.97), on top of my list of books to own. Not just of this year, but of all time.

Piers has one of the most diverse and fascinating backgrounds for the study and understanding (and explanation) of Masonic, appendant, and other esoteric orders you will ever encounter. Originally, he is from England, and he belongs to lodges in England, Canada, and the U.S. In his life, he has lived in several European countries, Canada, and now resides in New York. He has a Master's degree in Divinity and another in Experimental Psychology; experience in both the Anglican and Catholic denominations and traditions; an MBA in Business Studies; a teaching diploma in Music; and much, much more. Piers has made extensive studies in history, alchemy, language (he has translated many texts from French to English), symbolism, cultures—truly what anyone would acknowledge to be a "Renaissance Man." 

The reason I think this book is so important starts with its disarming construction. It is a collection of twenty-two of Piers Vaughan's speeches and presentations of various lengths and topics, given over a quarter century. Each one reads like a personal conversation with him, and each essay is a trip through the paths of Piers' way of thinking and approaching complex subjects. And occasionally simple ones, too.

We've all encountered Masons who say, "I'm really interested in the esoteric side!" If you say that without understanding just what that really entails, this book should be your first serious introduction. Likewise, if you are a member of one of the appendant bodies like the SRICF, the Red Cross of Constantine, AMD, or others, and you have only a vague understanding of concepts heard or seen during the rituals (or only joined it because you thought it was an honor, whatever it was), buy this book. And even if you have studied these topics and rituals and orders all your life, will still discover surprises and connections you were never aware of before when seen through Piers' unique viewpoint. Be sure you read it with a pack of Post-It bookmark tabs next to you. You will encounter more avenues to explore on your own than you ever thought possible. And I suspect you will do as I have already done myself this year—namely, return to it again and again because of its many layers of concepts and references. 

Piers also is the proprietor of Rose Circle Publications that is a source of other fascinating books along similar explorations of esoteric thought that mirror his eclectic mind and interests. 

(BTW, he wrote an outstanding article for SRRS' The Plumbine this fall about the origin of the famous engraving of Solomon's Temple so many lodges have copies of from the 18th century that first appeared in the famous George Washington Inaugural Bible printed in 1767. Piers never fails to tell very special stories.)

Best book of the year over on the history side of the shelf for me has been John Bizzack's Island Freemasonry: The Final Bastion of the Observant Lodge ($29, published by Macoy). John's book is a unique take on explaining the very real history and philosophy that has driven frustrated Masons for 25 years to find a way to return even just a handful of American lodges to the traditions and visions Masons first had when the fraternity began to spread westward across the wilderness after the Revolution. He makes the case that Freemasonry's first big burst of growth around the turn of the 19th century was too much, too fast, and too far for its own good. It's a convincing argument that the Morgan incident may very well have been a result of new, unsupervised Masons on the frontier who weren't properly instructed about the fraternity, and too uneducated in general, who might have taken the "ancient penalties" to be the legitimate way to truly handle squealers.

John is physically in a unique place to research his thesis. He is a Past Master of Kentucky's Lexington Lodge 1, which was originally chartered out of Virginia in 1788 as the first Masonic lodge west of the Appalachian Mountains. From that single lodge, Masonry quickly expanded into more than what would be nine new states (my own included). There were political calculations wrapped up with that expansion, and Island Freemasonry  (together with Steven Bullock's seminal 1998 work, Revolutionary Brotherhood) examines who was where, and why they may have been selected to simultaneously expand the fraternity along with pushing the frontier farther and farther into the frontier. Bizzack's case study of Lexington Lodge takes up the middle of his book, and it maddeningly arrived at the end of the summer, giving Alice and me just enough time to cram together a chapter in my own new book, but not enough time to do it all justice before the deadline. 

Bizzack's ultimate aim is to make the case for "observant" styled lodges, while perhaps removing the two decades of baggage that has been attached to the terms like "traditional observance," "European concept," or "best practices." Misunderstandings, egos, and hubris over the years have tainted those brands in various parts of the country, to the ultimate detriment of the American fraternity. John sees such lodges as "islands," of different ways of thinking about Masonic lodge practices, about what Masonic "education" was intended to be by the founders versus what it became before dying out altogether,  and how and why it's so important at this moment in time to look to these original ideas as one path to the future.

I place Island Freemasonry at the co-equal top of my best-of list this year, because both his and Piers Vaughan's books made me totally upend the way I thought about things I had previously neatly filed away in my head. It's rare to get TWO books in the same year that make you look at things completely differently than you did before.

While Freemasons For Dummies has remained popular in the U.S. pretty steadily since it first appeared in 2005, and its French editions have as well, the book has admittedly never sold especially well in the U.K. and the rest of Europe. It was designed to be as generic as possible to appeal to as many jurisdictions as possible, but it's unarguable that other English-speaking Masonry and Continental Masonry are quite different from the U.S. in many respects. That's why I was always astonished that the very popular Oxford University Press "A Very Short Introduction" series never published a book about the fraternity for the European market. It's likely that these pocket-sized books pack as much information into half the size of their For Dummies and Complete Idiots Guide competitors by using thinner paper, very little white space, and much tinier fonts. 

Well, in 2017 they finally got around to it, and they hired the perfect author for the job. Freemasonry: A Very Brief Introduction written by Andreas Önnerfors ($11.95) is just what the title says, in a diminutive size. Andreas is currently Associate Professor in the History of Sciences and Ideas at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. But for three years between 2008-10, he was Director of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism at the University of Sheffield in England. Consequently, he is one of the most respected historians of the fraternity within the academic community, with a wide range of experience and understanding of the history and developments of Freemasonry all over the world. The book he has crafted is noteworthy as much for what it is not: it's not biased or idolizing; it's not a dry, scholarly reference tome, nor does it take the sort of less reverent approach of my book or Brent Morris'; it's not so detailed that it is not applicable in some countries, yet it doesn't leave anything out that is vital to fundamentally understanding the fraternity. The result is an outstanding primer about Freemasonry for those who have zero knowledge whatsoever about the society, and with a more European viewpoint than the better known yellow or orange books over here.

In time for the 300th anniversary of the founding of the premiere Grand Lodge of England in 1717, Lewis Masonic published a massive collection of papers delivered at the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research's Tercentenary Conference on the History of Freemasonry from back in September of last year. The book is called Reflections On 300 Years of Freemasonry, edited by John S. Wade (hardback, approx. US$30). The volume contains more than 700 pages of papers from many of the finest Masonic researchers currently writing today, and I cannot stress how much information is covered in nearly fifty presentations. (Don't panic when it arrives - the cover is actually black, not blue).

The book does, by the way, contain the original presentation of Andrew Prescott and Susan Mitchell Sommers, Searching for the Apple Tree: Revisiting the Earliest Years of English Organized Freemasonry. This is the paper in which they cast some doubt on the 1717 founding date, Read and decide for yourself whether their evidence is compelling.

In a similar vein, the Philalethes Society presented its own slightly less ambitious collection of papers for the anniversary year - Exploring Early Grand Lodge Freemasonry: Studies in Honor of the Tricentennial of the Establishment of the Grand Lodge of England. It is published by Plumbstone and co-edited by Christopher B. Murphy and Shawn Eyer. By now, both a hardback ($47.97) and paperback ($34.97) edition are available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Check both, as availability has been changing.

The book contains the "historical account" of the founding of the first organized Grand Lodge by James Anderson, and another eight long papers, including Murphy's excellent Assessing Authentic Lodge Culture: Moving Beyond the Tavern Myth. I recently saw his live presentation of this exploration that makes it quite clear that early lodges meeting in taverns were not doing so simply because the ale ran freely, nor were those Brethren gathering merely for conviviality. They were quite serious about contemplating the serious questions of the day—especially Mankind's place in the Universe—and educating their Brothers. Just because these Freemasons drank didn't make them drinking clubs. In the best of all possible worlds, own both the Philalethes and the QC collections.

A few books fell into the category of published a little longer ago, but new discoveries to me (and i'm still going through the pile). 

If you are fascinated by Gothic architecture, operative masons, and the connection to our modern fraternity, you would be hard-pressed to find a more beautifully presented book than Russell Herner's Cathedrals Built By The Masons (2015, $45). Illustrated by more than 250 original color photographs in an oversize hardback format, it is truly a labor of love.

Speaking of architecture, I finally replaced my loaned and lost copy of Thomas Gordon Smith's outstanding edition of Vitruvius On Architecture (2003, published by Monacelli Press, sadly out of print). Another beautifully illustrated, oversized book. While it doesn't include all ten of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio's famous books dating to around 25 B.C., it has the most vital ones that cover the fundamental orders of architecture that remain cornerstones of the art right up to today. If the Fellow Craft degree has eluded you when it came to the orders depicted by the columns, this is an excellent place to start. Even modern architecture schools still begin with Vitruvius' books more than 2,000 years later. Better still, if you want to understand why certain buildings just seem to feel more beautiful, more harmonious than others (and why Freemasons need to immediately stop building faceless, charmless, invisible pole barn "temples" in cornfields just because they are cheap), start here. And I'm not just plumping for it because we chose to name one of my lodges after him.

(And as Albert Pike said, "There is no trust to be put in borrowers of books, as I have found to my cost.")

Brother Angel Millar has just published a newly revised, hardback edition of his The Crescent and the Compass: Islam, Freemasonry, Estoricism, and Revolution in the Modern Age ($25). There are few books on this topic of our non-sectarian fraternity based on Old Testament and hermetic symbology and philosophy intersecting (or clashing) with Islam's religious, tribal, and political culture in the Middle East in the last century. There are even fewer in English. (Also be sure to check out Dorothe Sommers' 2015 Freemasonry in the Ottoman Empire. Reading both will provide you with a substantial understanding of Freemasonry's role in the region over the last two centuries.)

I heartily recommend Angel's excellent book as a succinct reference work any Mason should have on his shelf. This topic is just not found in many reliable places in English language volumes, and as migratory patterns have so rapidly shifted all around the world from political, economic, and religious unrest in the region, a basic understanding of Freemasonry and Islam and how they relate (or often don't) is more and more essential than it's ever been.

I have mentioned two unique books translated by Brother Kamel Oussayef from French into beautiful English language editions for the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction previously, but they bear repeating here: The Book of Wisdom (2013, $34.95) and this year's The Spirit of Freemasonry ($75). Both were originally written in the early 1800s by Jean Doszedardski, a Polish member of French lodges in Paris, and eventually, New Orleans. They are filled with early descriptions of haut grades ritual, different customs, lodge practices, even table lodges. I heartily recommend both, and a third book in this series is expected to be released soon. They are available from the AASR-NMJ online shop along with the NMJ's tremendous edition of the Francken Manuscript. All of these books are loving examples of the book publishing arts, of the very highest quality, and well worth the investment.

And I would be remiss to not mention the very lovingly crafted bonus book of the Scottish
Rite SJ's Scottish Rite Research Society from 2015, Reprints of Old Rituals ($55), compiled and annotated by Arturo De Hoyos. Included are some of the earliest known printed versions of the Mark Master, Past Master, Royal Arch, Royal Master, Knights Templar, and others that were assembled to become what became the York Rite in the U.S., along with a few other stray gems There are competing variations of many of these same degrees all compiled in this volume, making it a unique work to see the development of what we know today. For dedicated students of ritual, it is a fascinating treasure trove buried with what are today forgotten nuggets that were lost over time.

I also recommend two books that are compilations of writings from two long-time leaders of the fraternity who, throughout their Masonic careers, have created an enormous body of observations on a monthly basis. The first is The Questing Mind Is A Salient Characteristic of a Freemason by John L.Cooper III, PGM and Past Grand Secretary of the GL of California (2015, $25). John has been writing a column in the California Freemason magazine in every single issue since 1999, and this is a collection of 71 of these short essays. You will find insights, surprises, philosophy, trivia, history, symbolism, and nearly anything else you can imagine. After more than a half century of being a Mason, John continues to write on a regular basis, and the editor of this collection, Allan L. Casalou, promises additional volumes to come.

The other has literally just arrived in the mailbox over the weekend. The 33 Principles Every Freemason Should Live By: The True Meaning of being A Freemason (2017, $14.95) has just been published by Westphalia Press as a similar collection of short writings by the late C. Fred Kleinknecht, Jr., former Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite SJ. The manuscript was discovered in the back of a closet shelf by his family, and has just been published by Westphalia Press. Much of it was adapted from his monthly columns in the Rite's magazine at the time, The New Age (longtime precursor to today's Scottish Rite Journal). As the title suggests, each essay is divided under simple concepts of tolerance, fraternity, character, family, teamwork, and twenty-seven others. Through them, the reader gets a well rounded image of the broad range of facets that make up the well-rounded man and Mason. In addition, the appendix features a collection of Kleinknecht's full editorials, in which he explores many of the ills of modern society that Freemasonry has the strong potential of helping to turn around, if only we would apply it in daily life. They make a case that s perhaps even more compelling today than they were when he wrote them between 1985 and 2003.

While not as well known as Macoy, Lewis, or Cornerstone publishing companies, don't overlook Westphalia Press as a source of a growing list of quite unique Masonic books you won't find from any other source.

As for me, I'm currently taking a stab at Jay Winik's massive 2007 masterwork, The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World 1788-1800 ($17.93). Because I'm a masochist and I need a bit of reminding of what we all once used to know about our own nation before we collectively lost our minds.

Have a very Merry Christmas and may you enjoy many happy hours of reading and discovery!


My copy of this absolutely magnificent book just arrived today after I first posted this list. If you have a dull as dishwater lodge room in desperate need of redecorating and you don't know where to start, run, do not walk, to order yourself a copy of A la Découverte des Temples Maçonniques de France (A Discovery of the Masonic Temples of France) by Ludovic Marcos and photographed by Ronan Loaëc from French Amazon.fr. Over 600 full color, oversize pages of some of the most diverse-looking lodge rooms (mostly from the last half of the 20th century) you'll ever encounter anywhere. The book has just been published in the last month €49 (about US $58).

It won't arrive in time for Christmas (unless you're in France), and be aware that the shipping box from Amazon Global needs to be a lot sturdier (mine was open on both ends), but order it anyway. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, December 18, 2017

"Knock, Knock. We're Not In."

Sometimes you find inspiration and clarity in the darnedest places.

Brother Greg Starr posted an incredibly powerful message tonight, buried deep in a Facebook thread. The first man in Greg's family joined the Craft in 1754. The fraternity is honored by his family, he believes, because the good practitioners outnumber the bad. But then came the thunderbolts. 

Before I reveal its original source (he admittedly paraphrased the bulk of it to adapt it to suit Freemasonry, but its real origin will surprise most of you), please read it and consider the ideas and philosophy it contains. But here's the $64,000 Question: Would you have the strength to stand up in lodge and speak these words? 

If you are a Grand Master, would you say them at your annual communication, print them in your magazine, repeat them in every lodge you visit? 

If not, why not? If not you, who will?:
Knock knock knock.
 We're not in. Brother Masons, from this day forward, we're not in for just anyone knocking on our door. We're in, but only for the worthy. 
From this day forward, everything that was wide open is going be closed.
Opening lodges to public viewing?. We've already done it.
Kowtowing to stylish trends?. Been there, done that.
Tolerance having been replaced with Acceptance? Doesn't live here anymore. It's been evicted. It vacated the Lodge for the new tenant, who has diametrically opposite tastes in decorating.
We've been reaching out to others for years now. It's time to stop!
We are not going anywhere. We are here. Because, what are we? We are stone. And stone doesn't move. We are stone without windows. So, we don't look to the outside world. 
"To be true, and to seek to find and learn the Truth, are the great objects of every good Mason", said Bro. Albert Pike. And he was right. We have no reason to look out and seek the approval of the mundane.

Instead, look over there. What do you see? That's the West Gate. The only way in. Small and extremely uncomfortable. And anyone who wants to know us has to find out how to get through that door. Brothers, we need to go back to being prohibitive.
Inaccessible and mysterious.
That's the only way we can once again become desirable. That is the only way great love stories are born. We don't want any more part-time Masons. We want great love stories. We want passion for the Craft and its teachings. Because the fire in passion is love. Everything else is strictly a surrogate, and it stays outside the Order.
With the attitudes of recent leadership around the globe, the Craft won for itself great expressions of fondness from the masses. It became popular. Isn't that wonderful, you might be thinking! We received plenty of esteem and lots of friendship.

We really have no idea what to do with the friendship of the whole wide world.

What we want is absolute love and total devotion to the Craft.
Could that mean Masonry only for the few? That's a hypothesis, and a hypothesis isn't the same as reality. But even this hypothesis isn't so scandalous. I say: better to have a few that are reliable than to have a great many that are distractible and indifferent.

The public squares have been jam-packed, but the hearts have been emptied of our teachings.
You can't measure love with numbers, you can only measure it in terms of intensity. In terms of blind loyalty to the imperative. Fix that word firmly in your souls: Imperative.
From this day forth, that's what the Brethren want, that's what the Craft wants, that's what Humanity wants. And so the ritual will no longer be blind recitation, it must be understood, internalized, and will become hard work. And misdeeds and scandal will no longer be forgiven at will.
 We don't expect any applause; there will be no expressions of thanks. None from me and none from you. Feigned courtesy and good manners are not the business of Sons of Light.
What is expected is that you will do what is correct. There is nothing outside your obedience to the Landmarks and Teachings. Nothing except Darkness. A Darkness you may not recall, but should. Because it stands right behind that gate: the Abyss.

We can't be afraid to lose Brothers if they are faithless, corrupt, recidivist, or stain the Craft, and that means we do not negotiate. On anything or with anyone. We cannot be enticed, blackmailed, threatened, lured, or cajoled.
From this day forth, with regard to membership, the word "compromise", has been banished from the vocabulary.
When our Grand Master Hiram willingly suffered, he was not making compromises. 
And neither will we.

I said I'd reveal the source at the end. I suspect it will surprise most of you.

The original version was, ironically, spoken by Pius XIII, the fictional, American, 47 year old Roman Catholic Pope in the international HBO series, The Young Pope, played by Jude Law. The show's Italian creators boldly threw down their own gauntlets over the problems caused within their Church when the obsession to become loved by the outside world and drag in every warm body possible by lowering all standards to make faith "easier," "hipper," "trendier." Sound familiar? After fifty years, these policies have not had the sort of results envisioned post-Vatican II after 1964. In fact, in this scene in the series, Pius' speech is delivered to the College of Cardinals while very deliberately donning the medieval golden, multi-tiered papal tiara and golden robes abandoned in 1964 to show more solidarity with the poor and destitute, and because they seemed anachronistic and ostentatious to the outside world. It was deemed embarrassing, so the Church gave in to public pressure. To answer critics. And kept changing and changing. And shrinking and shrinking. 

That's the point.

Read the original speech HERE.

Or better yet, watch the clip for yourself. (Ignore the spooky music—he's only malevolent to the Cardinals who believed him to be a naive puppet.)

Then think for a moment that Freemasonry has done exactly the same thing and gotten exactly the same results. 

Then reread Greg Starr's version again.

Is a drama about Catholicism a bizarre place to find inspiration for Freemasonry? Sure. Does that blunt the message? Not one bit.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

AMC's 'Lodge 49' Series Update

Someone on another website jogged my memory about an earlier story I hadn't checked on in a while. Back in October 2016, AMC announced preliminary work on a new comedy/drama series to be called Lodge 49 about a fictional fraternal lodge in California. Nothing much beyond what was released at that time came out until August of this year, and I missed that announcement. The 10-episode series has actually been cast now, and is going to premiere "sometime" in 2018. Actor Wyatt Russell (photo) has been cast as main character Sean "Dud" Dudley, a new member of Lodge 49. In real life, he is the son of actors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. 

From AMC's latest release about the upcoming show:

Written and created by Jim Gavin, Lodge 49 is a modern fable set in Long Beach, California and centered on Dud (Wyatt Russell), a likable ex-surfer who attempts to maintain his positive outlook on life while still reeling from the death of his father, the collapse of the family business, and any semblance of the idyllic middle-class life he knew. Dud finds himself deposited by fate at the doorstep of Lodge 49, home to the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx, a dusty dying fraternal order.
There he meets his mentor, Ernie Fontaine (Brent Jennings), a “Luminous Knight” of the Order, who sells plumbing supplies by day. Despite the constant pushback from his more skeptical, pragmatic twin sister, Liz (Sonya Cassidy), Dud and Ernie find themselves drawn by the Lodge into some long-buried secrets and modern day conspiracies. Through his newfound connection with the Lodge, its mysteries and its people, Dud comes to find the missing sense of purpose in his life and confront his deepest fears and greatest hopes.
Other details can be gleaned from the casting bios on AMC's site. 

Ernie Fontaine is an African-American "Navy veteran, plumbing supplies salesman, longtime bachelor, working class 'Renaissance Man,' and longtime member of the Order of the Lynx, Lodge 49." 

Liz Dudley, Dud’s twin sister is "smart, fiercely independent, deeply cynical, and searching for a way to escape her life." 

Scott Mills (Eric Allan Kramer) is a "Long Beach Port Harbor Patrol officer and straight shooter, who enjoys his personal watercraft and playing drums in a surf rock cover band." 

And Blaise St. John (David Pasquesi) is the "resident philosopher of the Lynx. He tends bar at Lodge 49 and runs his own pot dispensary." Sounds like a bartender variation of Claudy's The Old Tyler. Or maybe Wodehouse's The Oldest Member of the Club. The description doesn't say it, but I'm guessing he's "crusty-but-benign."

In its original press releases last year, AMC posted the following:

“Lodge 49 is a show that defies easy categorization. It is, at once, a show about a loveable loser, the idea that life can be magical if you look at it from the right angle, what it means to be on the fringe, and the importance of community. It’s also incredibly funny, poignant and truly entertaining” said Joel Stillerman, President of Original Programming and Development for AMC and SundanceTV. “This is a formidable creative team beginning with series creator Jim Gavin, show runner Peter Ocko, and the awesome producing team of Dan Carey and Paul Giamatti.”
As I have observed over the last year, television seems to have suddenly discovered fraternalism as a worthy subject matter, and not merely as an object of parody. Between Queen Sugar's depiction of a Prince Hall lodge's funeral service, AMC's Lodge 49, Netflix's college fraternity drama Burning Sands, and most recently, History Channel's Knightfall, it may be that depictions of fraternal brotherhood resonate with hope during deeply cynical and fractious times like ours. These programs certainly all seem to reinforce that. I wonder if it will translate into real live interest.

No photos have been released of the sets or of Lodge 49's actors in character. However, the Internet Movie Database has all ten of the episode titles listed, so I presume the series is entirely scripted by now. 

Readers here may be pleased to know that the title of Episode 1 is, "As Above, So Below."