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


Saturday, March 31, 2018

New Masonic Tobacciana

My friend John Bridegroom has been at it again. He's part of a handful of Masons dedicated to improving the state of modern fraternal-related material culture by offering lovingly designed items for sale. Case in point: have a look at his latest creation. 

The "Crucible" pewter Masonic ashtray, perfect for the cigar lovers out there, and rugged enough for us pipe smokers to bang our bowls on, too. It's 12" across, and 1 1/2" thick. 

He's charging $99.95 for its basic version (above), and another $15 if you want the stained walnut wooden base, too (photo at right).  

Order from The Masters Craft website HERE.

It's beautiful enough to fight to get your Temple's smoking lounge back. Or at least build a deck out back.

(And the first anti-tobacco reactionary who tries to post a screed here gets it right in the nose. This is the Adult Swim end of the web.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

When Builders Built

“What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.”
— John Ruskin
I came across a lament from a Brother Mason over the weekend, and I'd like to share it with you:
"A half century ago, and I am told that even today in some areas, Grand Lodges were ultraconservative, ruled by what properly be called cliques—due to the practice of the Grand Masters appointing their prodigies at the bottom of the official line, who with the passage of time, eventually became Grand Masters of Grand Lodge and, in turn, appointed future Grand Masters and, thereby, denying the Craft in general the right of selection of their governing officials. This undemocratic policy may have resulted in securing some outstanding men as Grand Masters, but it also guaranteed obtaining many incompetents in that office, whose only qualification was being that fortunate appointee of a friend to whom a permanent obligation was obvious. Since it was custom to appoint PGMs as chairmen of the more important committees, and to elect them as Grand Treasurer and Grand Secretary, the entire operating fabric of Grand Lodge was a “closed shop” and woe betide him who would seek to disrupt the plan. Change was opposed by the vested interest and innovation was not only frowned upon but it was usually bitterly contested, and prevented. A new idea had to have more than merit to have a chance of being adopted. Support had to be secured from the PGMs, which was difficult and seldom obtainable. “Change not the ancient landmarks” was more than a cliche, but was the rallying cry of opposition by the majority of the entrenched leadership..."
It sounds so familiar, doesn't it?

It was written 44 years ago, back in 1974, but it was really referring to the period of the late 1920s when Freemasonry was going through an enormous explosion of popularity and membership gains — what we think of today as its 'Golden Age.' But it could be written today just as well.

So who wrote these words? Most American Masons have never heard of him these days, and yet he was one of the most important members of the fraternity during the 20th century, and perhaps of its entire 300 year modern, speculative history.

Allow me to introduce you to J. Raymond Shute II of North Carolina. The reason he's so important is because he didn't just sit on the sidelines and bitch and moan and expect "somebody else" to improve the fraternity. Shute loved ritual and was endlessly fascinated by the huge variety of Masonic rituals and systems that had developed around the world after 1717. In 1930, he and a group of North Carolina brethren founded North Carolina Lodge of Research No. 666, AF&AM, believed to be the first American lodge of that type to be formed. They nicknamed it 'Nocalore' to make the name less cumbersome, and they also adopted that moniker as the name of their published collection of papers.

And then they went to work.

Shute was still in his twenties when they began. He had joined the fraternity at 21, and became Master of his lodge just three years later (in case you think that's a new development these days). In later years he called the group of brethren who worked with him at the time 'The Innovators,' and their research lodge soon organized a Correspondence Circle to build their network of interested Masons far beyond the borders of just North Carolina. In a world long before Internet communications and fast, cheap overseas travel, Shute and The Innovators scoured the world for lesser known Masonic degrees and organizations. They collected their findings under the aegis of Lodge 666, and those documents and research materials today can be found in the 'Shute Masonic Collection' in the Southern Historical section of the Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Out of that group clustered around that one single lodge sprang the overwhelming majority of the smaller, more specialized Masonic bodies in North America, most of which still meet each year at Masonic Week near Washington, D.C. each February. Many were imported from Europe, while a few were homegrown, or at least American hybrids. But consider the scope of the list:
  • Allied Masonic Degrees (originally the Supreme Quarry of the World, Masons of Tyre)
  • Knight Masons of Ireland
  • Knights of the York Cross of Honour
  • Red Cross of Constantine
  • Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis
  • Priestly Order of the Temple (now called the Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests)
  • Knights Beneficient of the Holy City
  • The Operatives
  • Order of the Bath
  • Society of Blue Friars
And just as a bonus, they also helped to corral various, conflicting Chapter and Council degrees floating around in the U.S. into a more standardized format. For the stray rituals that wouldn't fit anywhere else, or that were regarded as too obscure or defunct, they also formed the Grand College of Rites to publish those rituals in their annual Collectanea.

And they accomplished almost all of this between 1931 and the mid-1940s. Note that all of those organizations are still very active. In fact, the Allied Masonic Degrees has been the fastest growing Masonic body in the U.S. for the last fifteen years, and the SRICF is expanding rapidly as well.

The Innovators included Masons who were enormously active and influential during their time: J. Hugo Tatsch, Harold Van Buren Voorhis, Dr. William Moseley Brown, Ray V. Denslow. Many of them were also involved with writing articles for The Builder magazine, which went defunct in 1930.  So, Shute was far from alone, but he was the glue that bound them together. He was the one who always wanted to know more, discover more, accomplish more.

And that's why I'm telling you about him now. We are almost 80 years beyond the days when Shute and the Innovators accomplished their incredible feats of research, organization, and building — and we are living off the fruits of their labor, no more and no less than those of us who take for granted the majestic temples our brethren built for us in the 1920s. They were dreamers, builders, visionaries, storytellers... and leaders. They expected the very best of the fraternity, and then they went out and made it happen.

In my new book Heritage Endures about Indiana's Masonic bicentennial this year, I talk about our great achievers and visionaries from our own past. In particular, I write a lot about Dwight L. Smith and all that he accomplished and left behind for us between 1940 and 1993. His works Whither Are We Traveling? and Why This Confusion In The Temple? continue to challenge and inspire Masons today, more than 50 years after he wrote them. And they were mere footnotes to his enormous Masonic accomplishments.

All of those men are gone now. It's a new age, a new century, with new horizons to conquer now. And that means one thing.

You and me and all of the rest of us are today's Dwight Smiths and Ray Shutes. It's up to us now to take up the torch, to lead, to build, and to see a vision of what can be, instead of just strip mining our own past and living off of what we inherited. 

Just as important, it's up to all of us to record what we have lived through, to document and preserve those events and past achievements before they die with us, so that others can learn from what came before. I woke up earlier this month to discover I'd been a Freemason for nineteen years, and I've seen so much come and go in what seems to me to be just a tiny sliver of my own lifetime. We have lived history ourselves, even when we didn't realize it at the time. You and your lodge and your experiences are important, because history is what happens when you aren't paying attention.

Texas congressman and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn once famously said, "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one." Ray Shute was impatient and expected his fraternity to be better than it was in 1924. So instead of carping about the leadership, or the ' good old boys,' or his grand lodge, or their egos, and its politics, he decided to go out and improve Freemasonry, and he convinced a group of likeminded brethren to do the same. They didn't expect "somebody else" to present them with a pre-digested, ready-made course of Masonic enlightenment. They didn't complain about the lack of "esoteric education" in their lodges. They didn't break the rules or stomp off and start a competing storefront 'Grand Lodge of Chapel Hill Incorporated.' They worked within the system, dreamed big, worked very hard, and then they left American Freemasonry better than they found it. 

The only consequence is what we do.

(Read J. Ray Shute's own encapsulated memoir of those formative years on the website of the Grand College of Rites HERE.)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

French Police Officer Killed By Terrorist Was Freemason

Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame
If you live in the U.S., you probably missed an event that happened last week in France. Because the American news media has become so toxically self-absorbed with a few square miles of land and a handful of characters who inhabit our Federal City, you can be forgiven if you haven't seen any actual news that doesn't involve Washington D.C. antics lately. 
Radouane Lakdim, 25

On Friday, an Islamist extremist living in southern France murdered four people and wounded sixteen more before he was killed by police in the small, quiet town of Trèbes, outside of Carcassonne. Radouane Lakdim was a 25-year-old French citizen born in Morocco. He was a petty criminal already on the radar of French police for his links to radical Salafist networks.

Lakdim began his spree with a carjacking, by shooting and wounding the driver of a car and killing the passenger - a retiree. The gunman then shot at a passing group of police officers who were returning from a jog, wounding one.

After he left the hijacked car in a nearby Super U supermarket’s parking lot, Lakdim stormed into the store where about fifty people were shopping for groceries at the time. Shouting "God is great," that he was a soldier for ISIS, and that he was ready to die for Syria, he then shot a customer and a store employee, who both died on the spot. In addition to a handgun, Lakdim was also armed with three homemade explosive devices and a hunting knife. Some shoppers escaped through emergency exits at the back of the market, while others hid. One group locked themselves in a meat locker and telephoned police.

Then, one of the police officers outside, Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, offered to exchange himself for a female hostage being held in the store at gunpoint by Lakdim, to save her life and try to negotiate with the terrorist. Lakdim agreed, the woman was released, and Beltrame became the new hostage.

After about two hours, and for reasons still unknown, Lakdim suddenly opened fire on Beltrame several times. Beltrame had left his phone on so police could hear his interactions with the gunman. As soon as they heard gunfire, police went in and killed the jihadist.

Beltrame died Friday night from a shot in the neck. He was 44.

The death of Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame brought the death toll from Friday’s attack in southern France to five, including the gunman. Sixteen others were wounded. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but the wording suggested that the attacker was inspired by ISIS, rather than directed by it. It was just the latest in a string of smaller-scale, individual terrorist acts to rattle France. They have been on a high terrorist alert since horrific attacks in Paris and Nice in 2015 and 2016.

On Saturday, Philippe Charuel, Grand Master of the Grande Loge de France, paid homage to the officer and made a rare public announcement that Brother Arnaud Beltrame was a member of the Masonic fraternity. According to a post on their Facebook page, he was initiated in 2008 in Jérôme Bonaparte Lodge in the Orient of Rueil-Nanterre. These sorts of messages are unusual there, generally because of widespread public distrust of the fraternity in that country. We don't know just how lucky we are in the U.S. to not be confronted with this on an almost daily basis.

Arnaud Beltrame carrying the flag of France in his St Cyr military academy graduation class
Married with no children, Arnaud Beltrame had served in the French military police. He served in Iraq in 2005 and was awarded for bravery in 2007. Upon his return to France, he joined the Republican Guard, part of the national gendarmerie which provides officers for the security of French institutions. He was a guard at the Élysée Palace, home of the French president, between 2006 and 2010. In 2012, he was knighted in France's prestigious Legion of Honor. Beltrame was also secretary-general in the Ecology Ministry for four years. 

Last year Beltrame was appointed deputy commander of the anti-terror police in the Aude region. Ironically, last December he led sixty police officers in a simulated exercise of a mass killing at a supermarket that was chillingly similar to the one Friday in which he lost his life.

Almost 250 people have died in terrorist attacks in France in recent years. Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame is the tenth member of the nation’s security forces to be killed in a terrorist attack on French soil since 2012, as police and military officers have become regular targets of jihadists. In April 2017, Officer Xavier Jugelé was shot dead on the Champs-Élysées by an ISIS-related terrorist.

This weekend, there has been a massive outpouring of both grief and national admiration for Beltrame's heroic act of sacrifice. He has been hailed as a hero by President Macron, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, and countless other public officials. 

In the traditions of the Grand Loge de France, the Mason is informed that he should be willing to "give up his last drop of blood for values, for the Republic, for the country..." Brother Arnaud Beltrame has indeed held to his obligation, stricken down in the performance of his duty.  He leaves his grieving widow Marielle behind now. Neither she nor his Masonic Brothers shall forget him, even when the rest of the outside world moves on to the next tragedy or headline.

His column is broken, and his Brethren — and his entire nation — mourn his passing.

Requiescat in pace.


I was deeply saddened this weekend as I watched this story about Beltrame's Masonic membership play out on several websites. Countless conversations quickly devolved into squabbles over the recognition and regularity status of the Grande Loge de France. Because the majority of the regular, recognized Masonic world chose in the 1950s and 60s to shift their amity from the GLdF to the Grande Loge Nationale Française from pressure by the UGLE, many Masons chose to make this an issue in this story of a gallant man's sacrifice. 

I find that especially galling, because I was involved in investigating the GLdF for my own grand lodge in 2002 when we considered recognition. They are as regular as any mainstream U.S. grand lodge, and I have sat in their meetings for myself and seen it with my own eyes.

But more to the point, why was this even a topic of conversation over this Brother's death? Is that all Freemasonry means to some of our own members — nothing but rules, regulations, edicts, and pronouncements? Have so many of us forgotten what our rituals teach us?

I was going to type out an angry rejoinder over this, but then I came across the following response over on Reddit from 'Tyler_Zoro'. He states it far more eloquently than I could:
I recognize Freemasonry in the hearts of men (and women!) where it erupts. That doesn't mean that I feel I have the right or authority to recognize them as Masons. Where the virtues of Freemasonry arise, we should acknowledge that fact, regardless of what our administrative view of local organizations might be.
As far as this particular man being a Brother. All men are Brothers (and I mean that in a generic sense which includes all mankind, not just people with man-parts). The essence of Freemasonry is the bond that we form, but if you thought that bond was between only you and the officers performing your degree, you mistook the symbol for the thing symbolized. If you thought that it was only between you and the members of your Lodge, then you misunderstood the nature of the relationship between the part and the whole. If you thought that it was only between you and those who have used the word "Freemasonry" to describe their part of the Western Initiatic Tradition, then you did not understand which was above and which was below.
When you decided to cross from the profane into the sacred of your own free will and accord, you entered into a larger Brotherhood than that of a jurisdictional contract formed by your Lodge's Charter.
In that Brotherhood, I am full of such hubris as to claim that Arnaud Beltrame and I are equals, meeting on the level.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Turmoil In Japan

Freemasonry in Japan is quite similar to what American Masonry was back in its heyday. The fraternity there today remains small (just 1,600 members), quite exclusive, is extremely charitable and well-respected, but it is also highly scrutinized by the public. As a result, they have historically been very careful about their outward image.

Despite the fact that foreign lodges have been operating in Japan since 1862, the Grand Lodge F&AM of Japan itself is actually a fairly young one—constituted on May 1, 1957.  Far East Lodge No. 124 had been chartered originally out of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines in 1949, and received their Japanese charter as Far East Lodge No. 1 when the new Grand Lodge of Japan was first established. While there are much, much older English and Scottish lodges there, on paper Far East No. 1 is the oldest Masonic lodge in the country under the GLofJ's banner.

Or it used to be.

Far East's sitting Master Shunji Suzuki suddenly had his jewel yanked and was expelled late last year, and the lodge's charter was arrested with very little notice inside or outside of the country. Lodge No. 1 has vanished from the rolls.

Then in November 2017, grand lodges around the world were sent the following letter from the Grand Lodge F&AM of Japan. It announced the expulsion of their Junior Grand Warden, Napoleon Abrugena Sison following a Masonic Trial. No details were given at the time, but there was little online chatter over it. The letter was signed by Grand Master Shinya Takeda.

Now this week comes yet another announcement from Japan, this time notifying the Masonic world of the suspension of Takeo Nakada for "un-Masonic conduct" by Grand Master Shinya Takeda. (The letter is erroneously dated March 21, 2017, but actually refers to a Masonic trial on March 3, 2018.)

But there's a slight problem. It seems that Takeo Nakada was not even at his Masonic trial, and was never informed of such a thing. He received an email informing him after the fact.

A second letter was sent at the same time, again with the incorrect dateline, further announcing that the Immediate Past Grand Master of Japan, Norihiro Inomata, was ALSO tried for "un-Masonic conduct" that same March 3rd, pronounced guilty, and expelled, which was affirmed by Grand Master Shinya Takeda.

Immediate Past Grand Master
Norihiro Inomata
Inomata (image at right) is well known around the Masonic world. He is on the board of the World Conference of Regular Grand Lodges, and this announcement was something of a major shock inside and outside of Japan. In fact, he was out of the country at the time of the trial, and has denounced the charges as being "fabricated."

Past Grand Master and Grand Secretary Philip A. Ambrose signed the two recent letters.

At the Annual Communication currently going on this week, the charter for the aforementioned Far East Lodge No. 1 wasn't returned. There was a motion proposed to do so, but the Grand Master did not allow for discussion, gaveling it down immediately. 

So what's going on in Japan?

To say that the Grand Lodge of Japan is in turmoil at the moment is an understatement, and it all centers around an entity known as the Tohidu Foundation. The outfit turned up in about 2016 hawking coffee mugs, toy bears, women's handbags, and all sorts of other tchotchkes with squares and compasses and Masonic phraseology, which seems to contravene established Grand Lodge rules (or at least customs) about such products. 

Tohidu Foundation is allegedly operated by the Grand Secretary Philip Ambrose, who has apparently been using his authority to sanction approved Masonic items to sell throughout Japan. The Japanese grand lodge traditionally keeps a tight grip on the public image of the fraternity there, and that includes domestic sellers of Masonic-related products. Making it even more troublesome is that none of Tohidu's profits benefitted the Grand Lodge, but only the few individuals involved in running and approving the scheme. The Grand Master at the time and several PGMs openly endorsed it.

Whether or not any of this is actually a violation of the GLofJ's rules may be subject to interpretation. The issue of monetizing anything having to do with Freemasonry has always had its share of detractors and critics. No one "owns" the words and generic symbols of the Masonic fraternity, any more than an individual can own the Christian cross, the Jewish Star of David, the No Smoking symbol, or a stop sign shape. But there has been a long history of grand lodges, even in the U.S., attempting to exercise stern control over their members who attach the word Freemasonry or the square and compass to any sort of product or publication. There is no single correct answer that can be universally applied, but an increasing number of Japanese Masons are getting angry about the practice there.

Immediate Past Grand Secretary,
Philip A. Ambrose
The end result is that those who have most loudly spoken out against the Tohidu Foundation have been punished, suspended, or expelled. The highest visibility critic has been PGM Inomata, and he's now out on the street. A growing group within the fraternity there have been questioning Grand Lodge finances in general, and Grand Secretary Ambrose's actions in particular. And whether or not other PGMs have also benefitted from the sale or approval of Tohidu Foundation's merchandise (which has been alleged), it looks to many Japanese Masons as though the expulsions are clearly being done to silence the critics.

On Friday at the Annual Communication, all visitors were cleared from the auditorium so that the membership could handle their business in private. Grand Secretary Ambrose stepped down from his position, and attempted to run for the position of Deputy Grand Master (he served as Grand Master before in 2002). A new Grand Secretary (another PGM) has been named, but he is not widely seen as a new broom by any means. Meanwhile, an unsuccessful attempt was made to try to alter their Code in order to prevent the position of DGM from being an automatic ascension to the Grand Master's office. It failed.

With a new Grand Secretary and new Grand Master taking office this week, and PGM Ambrose now out of the Grand Lodge office, Japanese Masons are hopeful that this situation can be resolved, that Masonic careers can be restored, and reputations repaired. Tragically, this entire fraternity doesn't have the best track record when it comes to reversing expulsions, in any jurisdiction.

Time will tell if Japan has the fortitude to buck that unfortunate trend.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Masonic Renewal Committee Essay Winners for 2017

The Masonic Renewal Committee of Canada, the United States, and Mexico is charted by the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America, Inc. Its purpose is to facilitate innovative endeavors of Masonic Jurisdictions as they strive to move the Craft forward. To do this, the Masonic Renewal Committee draws on the expertise of a number of Past Grand Masters as well as representatives from the Northern and Southern Jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite, Shriners International, and other distinguished Freemasons.

Just before the Conference, the Masonic Renewal Committee announced the 2017 winners of the David R. Bedwell Essay Contest. The contest was named in honor of Ill. Brother Bedwell, 33°, a pillar of the Scottish Rite, NMJ, who served as an Active Member and Deputy for Michigan. He was also Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Michigan, 2002-2003. David passed to the Celestial Lodge Above in July 2016.

In the flurry of activity around here during the Conference of Grand Masters in February, I neglected to post this message in a timely manner. So my apologies to the contestants for the delay—although it's not as though no one else covered this elsewhere.

The theme of the essay contest was “Masonic Renewal – What Does it Mean to You Now and in the Future?” Prize money was awarded to the winners: first place, $1,500; second place, $1,000; third place, $500.

The 2018 winners are:

First Place:
Thomas Ubriaco III
Essex Lodge #7
Grand Lodge of New Jersey
Click here to read the essay

Second Place:
Chase William Gordon
Glendale Lodge #23
Grand Lodge of Arizona
Chase is also the International Master Councilor, Order of DeMolay
Click here to read the essay

Third Place:
John A. Staples
Morning Star Lodge, No. 17
Grand Lodge of New Hampshire
Click here to read the essay

Congratulations to all!

The Masonic Renewal Committee is sponsoring the David R. Bedwell Essay Contest again in 2018. The theme is "What is the Purpose of Freemasonry Now and in the Future?" Details will be available soon on the MRC website

In addition, the MRC is in the early phases of an exciting new program. If it goes as planned, all Masonic lodge officers and members will find it inspiring, informative, and most of all, helpful in reinvigorating lodges at the local level. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Exploring Masonic Values in Everyday Life: 'How Fraternalism Transforms Character' Livestream Event 3/21

Tomorrow night, March 21st, the Scottish Rite NMJ will present a live streaming interactive video event, "Not Just a Man. A Mason: An Educational Series Exploring Masonic Values in Everyday Life."

The inaugural livestream event is entitled "How Fraternalism Transforms Character," presented by William 'Sandy' Karstens of Vermont, and John Sullivan of Massachusetts.

This is NOT strictly a Scottish Rite event. The program is online and open to ALL Freemasons.
"Not Just a Man. A Mason:
An Educational Series Exploring Masonic Values in Everyday Life."
 What does it really mean to be a Mason?

Our core values — how can we infuse them into society as we grow on a personal level?
How can we better using our values in our daily lives?
What are the key drivers of our fraternity?
You asked for more. More Masonic education. More ways to go deeper into the degrees and teachings.
As part of The Path Forward focus on membership service, 32° Scottish Rite Freemsonry, NMJ is launching new live, interactive Masonic education programming.
Led by experienced Masonic educators and mentors (see bios below), these events will explore the impact Masonic values have in our daily lives through the teachings of the Symbolic Lodge and those of the 32° Freemasonry.

The event is scheduled from 7:00-8:00PM Wednesday, March 21st. 
To participate in this program, please register online HERE.

Brother William 'Sandy' Karstens was raised a Master Mason in Washington Lodge #3 in Williston, VT in 2004, and served as Master from 2008-2011. He currently serves as the Grand Lecturer for the Grand Lodge of Vermont. Sandy joined the Scottish Rite, Valley of Burlington, and received his 32° in April of 2004. He was coroneted with the 33° degree in 2010 in Philadelphia, PA, and has served as a Deputy’s Representative. He is presently the Membership Chair for Vermont Council of Deliberation.

In his professional life, Brother Karstens is a full professor in the Department of Physics at Saint Michael’s College, and served two terms as Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics.

Brother John Sullivan was raised a Master Mason in Morning Star Lodge in Worcester, MA in 2007, and served as Master in 2014. He is currently a District Deputy Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. John joined the Scottish Rite, Valley of Worcester, and received his 32° in 2008. He was coroneted with the 33° degree in 2017 in Rochester, NY. He is presently the Membership Chair for Massachusetts Council of Deliberation.

In his professional life, Brother Sullivan is Principal at Thin Red Line Consulting which provides consulting and training services to fire and emergency service organizations worldwide.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Masonic Con 2018 in Massachusetts: 4/28

On Saturday April 28th 2018, Masonic Con 2018 will once again take place at Ezekiel Bates Lodge, 71 North Main Street, Attleboro, Massachusetts. This event just gets bigger and better year after year, and the organizers must be doing something right. Last year, nearly 700 attended this still-growing event.

One difference this year is that they are requesting a $5 donation to offset the costs of hosting this extravaganza. Children will be admitted free.

Attendees and speakers alike will be happy to know the Tower Lodge is now blessedly air-conditioned. There will not be a Grotto or Tall Cedar Degree this year. Instead, there will be an open festive board with speakers and a special concluding presentation by the Valley of Boston.

Featured presentations this year will include:

There will be food trucks on site for lunch, and an enormous collection of Masonic vendors as well. Free parking is located nearby.

For more information, see the website at: https://eb1870.org/masonic-con-2018/

And if you are coming to town the night before on Friday, April 27th, Ezekiel Bates Lodge and Bog Iron Brewery have teamed up to host the Masonic Con Pre-Party, complete with two specially brewed craft beers just for the occasion. See this separate page to reserve a spot: https://eb1870.org/bog-iron-night/

Sunday, March 18, 2018

PA Academy of Masonic Knowledge Presentations Online

Yesterday's live streamed event of the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge Spring Symposium has been made available online, and can be seen above. 

The morning speaker was 2016 Prestonian Lecturer Ric Berman - "Foundations: New Light on the Formation and Early Years of the Grand Lodge of England." 
His presentation begins at about 2:30:00.

The afternoon session featured Adam Kendall - "The Geometry of Mystery: Ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, and Secret Societies." 
Adam's presentation begins at around 6:30:00.

Anniversary of the Death of Jacque DeMolay

Today, March 18th marks the 704th anniversary of the death of Jacques de Molay,  the last Grand Master of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ, the Knights Templar. (Some accounts say March 11th. Even the two commemorative plaques at the execution site in Paris have conflicting dates.)

He was born in the eastern French village of Molay in 1244 or 45. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but he joined the Templars at the age of 21, and served 42 years as a warrior monk.

In 1291, the Holy Land fell back into the hands of the infidel, and would never fully return to Christian rule. The Templars and the Knights Hospitallers fell back to the coastal city of Acre, which was quickly lost. Both orders subsequently went to the island of Cyprus. The Templars remained here, while the Hospitallers later took the island of Rhodes. That too would be lost eventually, and the Hospitallers eventually settled in Malta, where they became known as the Knights of Malta. In spite of the modern Masonic orders that unite these two orders of knights, they were bitter rivals for the wealth and favor of Europe and the Church.

Jacques de Molay was elected Grand Master in 1293 at the age of 47. Immediately he set off to England, France, Aragon and Italy to drum up support for a new crusade to the Holy Land, as well as to fend off a growing call for merging the two orders of warrior monks. Politiucally, the Templars were regarded as the men who lost the Holy Land, and monarchies were becoming distrustful of them. France in particular was feeling overrun with returning, aging knights, who still were free from any kind of taxation or even civil laws, by virtue of Papal bulls that held the Order above anyone but the Pope.

King Phillip IV of France and his personal henchman Guillaume de Nogaret had been in severe conflict with the then-reigning pope, Boniface VIII. The pope had declared that the king of France had no right to tax Church property, and the king had, obviously, disagreed. De Nogaret kidnapped an important French bishop, and the pope had come out swinging over it. He issued a papal bull proclaiming that kings must be subordinate to the Church, and that popes held ultimate authority over both spiritual and temporal matters on Earth. To make sure they got the message, Boniface excommunicated Phillip and de Nogaret. Phillip answered his challenge by sending the brutal, devious and bad-tempered de Nogaret at the head of an army to meet up with Italian allies and capture the pope. Boniface was indeed kidnapped and held for three days. After literally being beaten to a pulp, he was released and died a month later. The French king had proved just who was subordinate to whom, and he didn’t mind a little papal blood on his hands. Pope Boniface’s successor, Pope Benedict XI, lasted only a year in office, poisoned, it was said, by de Nogaret.

But there had been diplomatic difficulties to suffer for killing two popes. Consequently, King Phillip decided it would be easier to just buy himself one. He began procuring cardinals, pulling strings behind the scenes until the number of French cardinals in the Vatican’s College of Cardinals was equal to the Italian ones. They then obligingly elected his handpicked candidate, Bertrand de Goth, making him Pope Clement V. The city of Rome was in turmoil, and the safety of the Vatican was in question. So, it didn’t take much to convince the new French pope that his life would be in serious danger by living there. Clement obliged by staying in France, having his ceremony of investiture in Lyons. He remained in France, eventually moving the Holy See to the city of Avignon (which was actually owned by the King of Sicily at the time) in 1309, right on Phillip’s back door step, where he built a new papal palace. Catholics often refer to it as the “Babylonian Captivity.” Nowadays it’s usually called the Avignon Papacy or the Great Schism.

Clement had everything Phillip wanted in a pope: he was puny, weak, new in the job, and owed everything to his French king. Now was the time for the boldest move of Phillip’s reign – the arrest of the Knights Templar.

Jacques de Molay left Cyprus to head straight for a meeting with the new Pope, and he had high hopes for success, especially since they were countrymen. He couldn’t at this point have known of the dark forces that were assembling against him behind the scenes. In June of 1307, de Molay rode into Paris at the head of a column of his knights, with a dozen horses laden with gold and silver, to begin the financing the new Crusade. For the next several months, Phillip treated the aging Grand Master with interest and diplomacy, and de Molay believed he and the Order were at a new turning point.

The circumstances of the arrests on October 13th, 1307, and the next seven years of torture and trials of the Templars are well known to most of us, but we are most concerned with the last Grand Master today. By 1314, both the Pope and public opinion had completely abandoned the Knights Templar. The four senior Templar officers in Phillip’s custody had been waiting in prison for seven grim years. All of them were old, the youngest being Geoffroi de Charney, who was almost 60. Jacques de Molay was in his 70s, and had spent four years in solitary confinement.

On March 18th, 1314, the four men were finally led onto a platform in front of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral to hear the charges and make their public confessions. The charges were read, and two of the men accepted their fate of perpetual imprisonment. They were led away.

But Jacques de Molay and his trusted friend Geoffroi de Charney did not follow suit. Weakened with age and imprisonment, de Molay shouted in a voice that startled the assembly that he and the Templars were innocent of all the charges. They were returned to their cells at once, while Phillip called together his council and quickly pronounced sentence, using the insane logic of the Inquisition; if they had recanted their confessions, then they were considered “relapsed heretics,” and the penalty was the stake.

Late that afternoon, de Molay and de Charney were led to the place of execution, which was a tiny isolated island in the Seine adjacent to the Isle de la Citè, called the Ile aux Juifs, the “Island of the Jews.” The condemned men could see Notre Dame Cathedral in the east, but the site was not chosen for their view. Rather, it was chosen so that King Phillip could enjoy the entertainment without leaving his palace just across the river.

Each man was stripped down to his shirt and tied to the stake. Jacques de Molay, with unbelievable courage, asked not only that he be turned to face the Cathedral, but that his hands be freed, so that he could die at prayer. His request was granted. The two men were then roasted alive by the Inquisitional method that began slowly with hot coals, so that their agony could be prolonged as long as possible.

When the Pont Neuf was built, the Île aux Juifs was joined to the rest of the Île de la Cité, and today there are not one, but two plaques near the bridge to commemorate this event. According to legend, Jacques de Molay did not go to his God in silence. Instead, he died defiantly shouting his innocence and that of the Templars, calling on King Phillip and Pope Clement to both meet him before the throne of God in one year’s time, where they would all be judged together. Both men, relatively young, would indeed be dead within the year. One month after the death of de Molay, Pope Clement V, age 54, died, it was said, of cancer. Phillip the Fair, age 46, would die in a hunting accident probably brought on by a stroke. He died on November 29th.

A non-Masonic order of modern Knights Templar claim deMolay appointed a successor to himself secretly, and the order survived the centuries. Masonic Templars make no such claim, but the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem tells the tale that DeMolay’s skull and leg bones were pulled from the ashes and secretly buried with the document of succession, called the Larmenius Charter

Others claim that during the French Revolution, as King Louis XVI’s head was chopped off by the guillotine, someone rushed up from the crowd and proclaimed, “Jacques De Molay, Thou art avenged!”

The gruesome death of Jacques de Molay is the last act of the Templar story. At least, the last act of the accepted, scholarly story of the medieval Knights Templar that is told in names and dates between the covers of the history books. But in reality, his death is only the beginning. It’s the beginning of the myth of the Knights Templar, which is the maelstrom around which an endless stream of fact blended with speculation swirls, unabated.

In 2001, a document was found in the Vatican archives called the Chinon Parchment, and was later released to the public. The folio had been misfiled and had been lost to scholars for centuries. In it, it was revealed that a private team of Papal investigators had looked into the charges against the Templars, and on August 20, 1308, Pope Clement V had secretly absolved the Order of all charges of heresy. It had been Clement's intention to save DeMolay and the Templars from death at the hands of the French king. But in retaliation, Phillip threatened the weak Pope with military action if he did not dissolve the Order, which was done at the Council of Vienne in 1312.

(Adapted from The Templar Code For Dummies)

BBC/Scotland To Air Freemasonry Program Monday Night

The BBC will air a special program about the Freemasons on Monday on the network in the Scotland (not on BBC/America, I'm afraid), and they sent a crew to visit with Grand Master Charles Iain Robert Wolrige Gordon, Brother Bob Cooper and several grand officers at the Grand Lodge of Scotland to talk about the Craft's Scottish origins. 

At least BBC decided to go to the source, to their credit.

Bob is the longtime curator for the Grand Lodge, and as such, he is the official overseer of some of the most prized documentation of early Scottish Masonry during the transition from an operative to a speculative organization. 

As a prequel to it, BBC/Scotland ran an article online today that includes some of the information from the show, including a short clip with Brother Cooper. The show itself may be a perfectly well done, well researched, and evenhanded presentation. Hard to say beforehand. 

Ah, but the UK press... 

Just when you think they'll disappoint you, they never fail to live down to your expectations.

What's the headline of the article?

A full FIVE references to The Handshake. THREE mentions of Rolled Up Trouser Legs. And throw in a random swipe about police officers who were Freemasons and an inkling that they let off Brethren from speeding tickets.

Straight out of the Superficial Reporter's Handbook.

The Daily Record did some fishing in the same waters (Scores: 2 Handshakes; 1 Trouser; Extra point for use of the word "nefarious"), along with tossing in needless Illuminati and occult references ("Secrets of Freemasons revealed as Grand Lodge lets in TV cameras and deny Illuminati and occult links").

Let's hope the actual BBC/Scotland program on Monday sticks to facts and not hyperventilated fiction and hyperbole.

I know. "Hope is the thing with feathers."


Friday, March 16, 2018

GL of Kansas Suspends Recognition of Arkansas and Cuba

The following message just came early this afternoon from the annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Kansas AF&AM meeting today in Topeka:
"During the Committee on Foreign Relations report, it was recommended that fraternal relations be suspended or withdrawn from two Grand Jurisdictions.
"With no discussion, the Craft of Kansas voted almost unanimously to suspended recognition with the Grand Lodge of Cuba.
After minimal discussion, the Craft of Kansas voted overwhelmingly to withdraw recognition of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas."
Without further details, I presume the action taken over Cuba stems from ongoing disagreements over Florida. In February 2017, the Grand Lodge of Florida F&AM's Grand Master Stanley Hudson withdrew recognition from the Gran Logia de Cuba for their failure to "renounce the clandestine lodges operating" in Florida's jurisdiction. Their brief period of recognition by Florida had lasted just three months.

That controversy stems from lodges operated within Florida made up of exiled Cuban Masons who are not affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Florida F&AM. They obviously see this as an invasion of their territory by Cuba, and this discussion apparently has gone on for a while. Florida largely looked the other way at the operation of the exile lodges with an understanding that they would cease once relations between the island nation and the US were normalized and the two Grand Lodges reconciled. That apparently did not happen, at least as quickly as the GL of Florida wanted it to. Here is a link to a letter regarding the matter from 2014 and to the story from February 2017. Now it seems that Kansas has decided to weigh in on the matter, as well.

As to the continuing saga with the Grand Lodge of Arkansas F&AM, it is too complex to explain simply here. The Grand Lodge of Oklahoma VERY briefly withdrew recognition of Arkansas in 2016 by an edict of their then-grand master, but that quickly lapsed and amity was restored. Now, Kansas has suspended recognition officially by the vote of the Grand Lodge.

I did not have the opportunity to speak with Arkansas' newly elected (in February) Grand Master Brad Phillips when he was in Indiana for the Conference of Grand Masters, but things have been remarkably quiet out of Little Rock in recent months. Nevertheless, this action just taken in Topeka seems to confirm that Arkansas continues its policies of preventing their own members from receiving letters of good standing when attempting to demit and affiliate in adjoining states. Arkansas has been chaining the exit doors closed for several years now. But recently, Arkansas lodges have also been pointedly refusing to permit sojourning Kansas Masons from visiting meetings. The Grand Lodge of Arkansas has a past history of denying Masonic visitations from jurisdictions that have recognized their Prince Hall counterparts, and both Oklahoma and Kansas have been on the receiving end of this action. Apparently, Kansas has finally had enough of it.

Pertinent updates and links to past stories concerning Arkansas can be traced starting HERE or HERE

Meanwhile, here's a curious oddity on the GL of Arkansas website. Many grand lodge sites have a FAQ section to answer the most commonly asked questions. usually, they are questions that the public would be likely to want an answer to. 

Not so with Arkansas. Their FAQ page has just six questions (and answers) on it.

One of the six concerns the differences between withdrawing and demitting (or dimitting) from the GL of Arkansas. The other explains the difference between someone who lives in Arkansas who is willingly not a member of their grand lodge, versus a Mason who unwillingly is not a member.

I couldn't make this up:

They might consider addressing why those two questions in particular deserve such a prominent public answer, and why so many Arkansas Masons have been asking...

UPDATE APRIL 16, 2018:

During the Kansas 162nd Annual Communication held March 16, 2018, their Grand Lodge withdrew recognition of the Grand Lodge of F. & A.M. of Arkansas, stating "that the Grand Lodge of Arkansas has knowing and willingly abandoned two of the basic principal landmarks of freemasonry, that of the Right to Trial, and the Right of Appeal."

In their subsequent letter this week of April 13, 2018 announcing their decision to all jurisdictions who are in amity with the M􏰀 W􏰀 Grand Lodge of A.F. & A.M. of Kansas, they further stated: 
"The Grand Lodge of Kansas feels strongly that the jurisdiction of Arkansas has abandoned at least two of the core principals of Freemasonry, and continues to this day to tyrannize and oppress their members. We can no longer sit idly by while good Brothers are treated this way. The vote of the Craft in Kansas, and this action, is made, first and foremost, to secure the rights and membership of Kansas Masons living in Arkansas and Kansas Masons with dual membership with Arkansas."