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


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Volume 26 of SRRS 'Heredom' Arriving Now

All week long, two-pound boxes of Masonic knowledge have been thumping onto front porches everywhere. Volume 26 of Heredom, the annual collection of papers from the Scottish Rite Research Society (SRRS), is now arriving for their members. 

Heredom is always one of the most eagerly anticipated Masonic publications every year, and this one is particularly packed with a fascinating lineup of research papers by some of the world's best brainboxes writing about the fraternity: Robert L.D. Cooper, David Stephenson, Ric Berman, Leif Endre Gutle, Pierre Mollier, Jeff Croteau and Marsha Keith Schuchard have all contributed to this latest volume. 

A special shoutout goes to Josef Wäges who, between his own article - Etienne Morin and the Santo-Domingo Manuscript - and others in the volume, wrote, edited, or translated nearly half of the book. I can barely write and understand plain English, so Joe is truly astonishing in his foreign language and translation prowess.

Heredom's indefatigable editor, S. Brent Morris, even let in an article by a Dummy this time. Brent gave me the opportunity to slightly enlarge the Indiana Freemasonry and the Ku Klux Klan chapter from my book Heritage Endures, and to illustrate it with photos, which I couldn't really do in my volume. The Grand Lodge of Indiana bicentennial deadline in 2018 couldn't move and I had to stop wherever I was in time for it to be ready that January. So I was grateful that my Heredom article could be slightly expanded.

Members of the SRRS recently received a complete bound index of all Heredom articles from the first twenty-five existing volumes. The challenge has always been that to reference prior papers you had to rely on your own fading memory of reading one in the past, then painstakingly opening every book and scanning the table of contents for it. Brent solved that with a comprehensive index, and he updates it annually.

I was extremely disappointed that he didn't include the entry "Dummy - see Hodapp, Christopher," but to quote the great philosopher Doris Day, "Que sera sera." Wisdom indeed.

Just as an aside, Brent has taken on huge indexing jobs for the fraternity. The most ambitious was his work to fully index almost a full century of Short Talk Bulletins for the Masonic Service Association when he edited the hard-bound collections of them. He also put together a bound edition of all issues of the SRRS' The Plumbline, also fully indexed. These are all goldmines for Masonic researchers, thanks to Brent's tackling this tedious and meticulous job.

Indexers are a special breed of person and get almost no recognition from anyone besides grateful authors of major reference works. It is a very specialized skill, and you never notice it unless you pick up a book that has no index at all. This is sadly all too common in self-published books that are all the rage now. Authors are usually too daunted (or exhausted and sick of their own manuscript) to do the task themselves, and too strapped for cash to be willing to pay someone else to do it. The consequence is a book that is far less useful to future readers and scholars. If you're writing a non-fiction book of any kind, set aside the money to pay a truly decent indexer. 

The Scottish Rite Research Society is an offshoot of the AASR-Southern Jurisdiction, but do not let that dissuade you from becoming a member if you are out of their territory. The articles in Heredom tend to favor the AASR-SJ's evolution and history, Pike-centric rituals, and culture, but not exclusively. Every volume always contains well-written and well-documented papers of interest to any Freemason, even if you aren't interested in the Scottish Rite. Along with a lineup of papers about the Scottish Rite and its precursors, the latest volume has Bob Cooper's history of Robert Burns; Ric Berman's telling of Masonry and the Portuguese Inquisition that lasted all the way up through the late 1700s (in case you thought it was just a medieval aberration); Marsha Keith Schuchard's search for ancient origins of "Antient" Masonry; plus my own article on Masons and the KKK. 

Plus, the SRRS has an extremely aggressive publication strategy with its bonus book program. You don't even need to be a Mason to join. 

Annual SRRS membership is $55 and includes the annual Heredom, the quarterly Plumbline, a bonus book or other item every year (!), plus a discount on books and items from their shop at the House of the Temple (also available online). To join, CLICK HERE.

Friday, August 30, 2019

GM Edict Bans 'Exterior' Slovenliness: 'Interior' Masons Go Berserk

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld was once asked by a reporter why he wears a suit onstage every time he performs, since the whole world has decided that dressing down is the normal way to live these days. "It's a signal," he replied. "I'm not loafing up here."

I posted what became a notorious picture on this blog about six or seven years back. In it, a handful of brand new Master Masons were posing for a group photo after having all been raised to the Sublime Degree on the same day. A Grand Master from another state sent it to me to express his dismay over the lack of any sense of decorum in the unnamed lodge. All of the new Brethren were dressed in rumpled or torn tee shirts with a variety of logos and sayings on them. Some wore jeans, but others had baggy cargo shorts and sandals, while one prominent Brother in the front row sported ripped up pants with both knees torn apart. Aside from wearing white aprons, they might have been inducted into a local motorcycle club or posing for a group photo before getting to work laying floor tile. They certainly didn't look like anything special had gone on that day.

By the time the photo was sent to me, it had been fashioned into an early Internet meme style called a "de-motivator," which was a parody of the brief fad of motivational posters at the time. The headline read, "Standards. It's nice being reminded that you still have them." The goal was not to shame the new Brethren in the photo who had obviously just taken their degrees. It was really to call into question just what kind of standards the more seasoned members of their lodge were teaching them and to express a desire for higher expectations. That's what a mentor is partially supposed to be teaching new members - to remind new Masons who don't know any better that yes, we do indeed have standards in this fraternity. We're not loafing in here.

I blocked out the lads' faces, thinking I was being appropriately circumspect, while still making the point. And I can honestly say that less than 24 hours after I hit the send key, all hell broke loose.

The two angry groups of commentators immediately divided into their separate camps: those horrified over their slovenly appearance at such a solemn, once-in-a-lifetime event, versus those horrified that any Mason could under any circumstances possibly object to the way any other Mason would dress. The battle was waged with the sort of religious vehemence usually found only in Middle Eastern geopolitics or NFL playoffs. The aged canard was fully stuffed, inflated and flapped about like a sputtering zeppelin: "It is the INTERNAL, not the EXTERNAL qualifications that Masonry regards!" That wretched misapplication of a perfectly fine philosophical lesson got belabored, flogged, and dragged across the aether so many times that I was convinced hundreds of angry Masons had a speed key set to punch out the phrase with a single keystroke. Right next to the 'Fixed income!' key.

After three days, a member of the unidentified lodge in the photo contacted me and was dutifully apoplectic. That photo had pierced these new Brothers straight through the heart, he said. At least they had showed up, he said. And now they'd probably never be seen again, thanks to my cruel and un-Masonic post, he said. I should be ashamed of myself, he said. Someone should have me up on charges, he said. Plus, I didn't have anyone's permission to post the photo, so I was violating copyright laws, a Constitutional Amendment or three, and probably International Maritime Law. He said. 

Finally, like the compassionately craven milksop I was at the time, I licked my surgical scars and removed the post.

I was admittedly biased against slovenly appearance in lodge myself. I recalled in my first go round as a Master of a lodge we were called to perform a funeral service for a fallen Brother and pay our final respects to his family and friends. All of my officers and regular attendees arrived at the funeral home appropriately dressed in black or dark suits and ties, without being asked. But at the last minute, in loped a member none of us had ever seen or met before (or since), gave a grudging nod to the rest of us, and signed in to the minute book. He was dressed in sweat-stained yellow golf shirt and cargo shorts, a Nike swoosh cap, and his sock-less feet sported a ragged pair of Sperry topsiders. It appeared as though we had interrupted a hot afternoon of polishing his boat. I thanked him for coming, but told him he wasn't properly clothed for a Masonic funeral service. He immediately lunged for a white apron, but I told him that wasn't what I meant. His angry parting shot as he stormed out of the room was, "At least I showed up."

Well, just like everything else in life, there's more to Masonry than merely showing up. If there isn't, we're doing it wrong.

Grand Master Michael H. Wilson
Now it seems that someone else - no less than a grand master - has also lamented the plunging level of standards of decorum in Masonic lodges in his own jurisdiction, and he's decided to do something drastic about it. MW Michael H. Wilson, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Georgia F&AM, has just issued an edict, and it's a beaut. In it, he says that Brethren have been attending meetings, degrees and events "wearing attire much too informal to maintain the decorum of a Masonic Lodge." 

Click image to enlarge

His order is scarcely draconian or out of the realm of practicality. It's not some outlandish demand for sartorial extravagance. It's not even what any rational human being with any common sense (or standard upbringing in any other decade) would regard as remotely "snooty." Per his edict, henceforth all Georgia Masons of any degree are expected to be "properly attired" at all meetings and events, including cornerstone ceremonies and funerals. And then he lays out exactly what he means: No shorts, no un-collared shirts (i.e. tee shirts or sleeveless 'wife-beater' undershirts), no exercise clothes, open-toed shoes, sandals, or flip-flops (unless necessary for medical reasons). And don't even think of putting on an apron or an officer's collar if you show up that way.

What's astonishing is that this had to appear in print.

Here's what the edict DOESN'T demand. GM Wilson doesn't say Masons can't show up at lodge in jeans, or even overalls, in collared golf-shirts, or wearing a medically required piece of clothing. He doesn't say anywhere that Masons must wear a jacket, tie, and buttoned-down shirt. You'd never know it from the splenetic reactions online, but he also doesn't demand that they wear gloves, an Armani suit, a tailored tuxedo, a hand-tied bow tie, an English morning suit with striped pants and tails, Gucci alligator wingtips, spats, or anything else even remotely "formal." He leaves that entirely to the discretion of each Master over his own lodge and the taste and desires of the members. But he DOES demand that Masons come to lodge and events looking better than a day of spraying Roundup on the kudzu or skimming the leaves out of the pool.

It's interesting to note this development because it's related in a way to Nebraska raising its proficiency standards earlier this year. Dwight L. Smith wrote back in the early 1960s that he feared that the "era of the common man" in Freemasonry may have become too common. After almost 60 years of what really has been the "common era," perhaps some of our leaders are finally agreeing with Dwight after all.

So naturally the online shriekists are already blanketing Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and everywhere else electronic Masons lurk. According to the loudest howlers, Grand Master Wright is being elitist, dontcha know. I'm considering putting that 'controversial' lodge photo back up again. And the first joker who burbles out and misconstrues that "INTERNAL not EXTERNAL!" twaddle again will get a face full of overcooked green beans. Because it's bollocks.

If you travel outside of the U.S., or even just spend a little time looking at online photos of Masons in other countries, you'll quickly discover that Americans are just about the only Freemasons in the world who don't generally demand a dress code in lodge. Some are stricter than others, but it is only the U.S. and perhaps some Canadians who don't uniformly expect their Masons to show enough respect for each other and the higher standards of the institution to show up appropriately dressed for an important occasion. There's a whole raft of reasons why that has been so for three centuries just about everywhere but here. The most basic reason is exactly opposite what you might think it is. And it's not empty high-falootinism.

English Masons have had standards of dress all along.
Masons in the United Grand Lodge of England are required to wear a black suit or black jacket with grey trousers, a white shirt, and either a black or an officially approved Grand Lodge tie. In the U.S., most Prince Hall lodges demand the same sort of uniform look. Both do it for the same reason, and elitism has nothing to do with it. If twenty Masons show up dressed exactly alike, there's no outward way to determine whether the Mason next to you is a bank president, a surgeon, a lawyer, a transcendental odontologist, an expressway toll booth attendant, or a garbage collector. Some jurisdictions also require identical white gloves to hide the hands of everyone so you can't tell at a glance who's a rugged steelworker, a plump-fisted tax accountant, or a dilettante who never hit a lick in his entire pampered lifetime. Every last bit of it comes down to making sure that all Masons meet on the same level in the lodge. Uniformity of dress in lodge is done for the very same reason Catholic grade schools have demanded it for centuries. It actually STOPS the unintended envy of the well to do or scorn of the less advantaged. And in an age when you can pick up a suit at Kohl's for $69 or order a tuxedo online for $79 versus paying half that for a new pair of jeans and twice that for a new pair of cross-trainer shoes, the old caterwaul about extravagance just doesn't carry much weight anymore.

No, everybody doesn't have to look like Oklahoma's Lodge Veritas 556.
But more Masons around the world do than those who don't.
Lots of the bellyachers are comparing lodge to their very informal churches. Even if your church welcomes everyone on a come-as-you-are basis because God doesn't care how you look when you pester him over your lost car keys, that sentiment doesn't apply in a Masonic lodge. We're not God, we're men. And our stated purpose for being in lodge is to be BETTER men. And you don't become a BETTER man unless you have a certain level of expectation to live up to that's higher than what you're finding outside the lodge room doors. The lodge room itself is supposed to be a sanctuary from the outside world, and we do things differently in there on purpose. A BETTER man is a whole package - honor, behavior, manners, civility, deportment, language, temperament, and - yes - appearance. Because, while Masonry regards what's in a man's heart as far more important than how he looks, the rest of the world doesn't spin that way. The rest of the world cares very much how you look, and judges you accordingly - just as the world judges the craftsmanship of an operative Mason by the finished quality and appearance of his work. So there's no place better to start picking up better habits than right in lodge. Masonry is supposed to influence society by example, not be dragged down by ever-lowering societal expectations.

Unlike operative Brethren, we don't carve ashlars or statues. We chip away at our own personal ashlar and endeavor to achieve perfection in all ways. If we never achieve it, it's still a standard to reach for, and it's a higher standard than the run of the mill profane members of society live up or down to. We're supposed to be the whole package. If you look like an uncaring slob, that's an image you'll have to overcome in the eyes of most people. And if you're wearing a hat with a square and compass on it, do you really want to be seen in public wearing a tee shirt that says, "I really don't give a f—!" as I saw last month in a Hardees? Really?

There has always been an added side effect of uniformity and formality of dress that Masons have enjoyed when we are seen clustered together in a large clot out in public. It still happens today. When crowds of people are in a restaurant enjoying their dinner and in walk 25 Masons all dressed in black suits or tuxes who stroll through and close themselves up in the back room for their festive board, heads turn, people look, and they ask the waiters, "Who are those guys?"

"It's the Freemasons," comes the answer. And you can tell just by looking at us, we're not loafing in there.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

RIP Canada's Masonic Spring Workshop

All things must pass, saideth Matthew, despite the late, atonal ex-Beatle Mr. George Harrison getting all the unmerited credit.

One of the very best Masonic encounters I've had in the last 20 years was attending and speaking and experiencing the Masonic Spring Workshop at Kananaskis in Alberta, Canada back in 2008. Alas, news arrived last week that the organizers have announced that the 2019 Spring Workshop was its last. After 54 long years of tradition, there will be no more, barring the ardor of some hot-headed Canadian resurrectionist.

Someone needs to mark the grave up at Delta Resort with a sprig of acacia.

Sooner or later, every human conjures fonder remembrances of an event from the past than may have actually occurred. But my memory of the Workshop and the lodges around Alberta was of an enthusiastic and progressive group of Masons in that region who made certain their lodges provided quality programming and education, along with real fellowship, at every meeting. It could be argued either way that it was because of the Workshops, or that the Workshops were outstanding because of their dedication. 

The Workshops partially grew out of a realization that Masonic egos, negativity and failure were toxic, so they created a deliberate atmosphere to keep those elements out. They took place at a magnificent resort in the Rocky mountains - not cheap, but top-flight with beautiful views, nice rooms and great food. No honorifics or exalted titles were used for the duration of the conference. There were no ties, no jackets, no gold chains, bilious medals or grand bling anywhere. Name tags simply said each Brother's name and lodge. Blue Lodge programs, history, and practical solutions were the topics all weekend, not the distractions of appendant bodies.

Apart from the workshops themselves, the true brotherhood and friendships happened in the hallways and the hospitality rooms. The scotch flowed freely, and you were likely to find one room packed with guys watching the Simpson's Stonecutters' episode, another with three TVs monitoring the hockey playoffs, and yet more with guitar singalongs. Canada being Canada, the accents were a wild smattering of international influences - French, Scottish, Australian, Austrian, Midwestern and coastal Americanos, and plenty of "eh's?" The 85-year old PGMs rubbed shoulders with 20-something Junior Stewards, all excitedly exchanging reminiscences, programming ideas, or recipes to feed fifty hungry boys on lodge night. It was without question one of the friendliest and most useful Masonic conferences I ever attended.

Perhaps the Workshops are yet another withered victim of our times and its flaying of human interaction. Between the 1960s and early 2000s, literate Masons across North America who were prone to back-porch philosophizing bewailed the dearth of Masonic education opportunities and made up an imaginary Golden Age when 19th-century Masonic geniuses Mackeyed, Piked and Morrised the landscape like bellowing mastodons, disgorging their brilliance far and wide to vast auditoria of eager Brethren. They longed to recreate that fantasy in real life, and Masonic conferences became more widespread as the new Internet made it easier to promote their evangel. Some were outstanding. Some were mediocre. But there was no shortage of them anymore.

But we're experiencing a slow dieback now - or maybe the natural evolution that always occurs. The tar pit always yawns forth and beckons, and always has. As many of the oldest, longest-running Masonic events shrink in size, stature and importance, new ones get created. Witness the sudden growth of the MasonicCon styled events that are equally popular and exciting to a whole new wave of brethren as the older, more famous ones once were. Meanwhile, the Internet is now so choked with great heaps of so much "Masonic education" that it's hard to separate the wheat from the Wonder Bread.

The lineup of the Workshop's sessions occasionally drifted more into the realm of esotericism and alchemy and less about how to feed fifty Masons and keep them coming back next month. So many of our Big Thinkers tend to forget that we have fresh, new eager officers and members every single year with the very same practical lodge problems we all faced 10, 20, 30 and 50 years ago. You could quite literally give the exact same presentation to an event like this every three years and have an entirely new audience who never heard it before. High-minded ruminations about Spinoza and Rousseau don't help anyone struggling with paying the gas bill in his lodge, or convincing his members to learn parts. And the danger of ignoring all of those grand lodge officers you secretly disdain as "out of touch with REAL Masonry" is that they see and hear the daily problems of often hundreds of very real Masonic lodges and thousands of very real Masons you don't even know exist. That's always the danger of cloistered thoughts and methods in any organization, but Masons tend to it with more single-mindedness than most. 

Maybe some of that contributed to its demise, or maybe it had just exhausted its principal stevedores who kept shoveling coal at it for so long. That can easily happen when others take it for granted that the same people will always do the heavy lifting and need no help. 

Perhaps the Masons in the area will come to feel the void now that the Workshops are no more and a phoenix will rise from its ashes. Time will tell. In any case, thanks to everyone who worked so tirelessly over the years to keep the Masonic Spring Workshop an outstanding event. Thanks for the fellowship and the knowledge. And thanks for the memories.

MSA Concludes Nebraska Disaster Appeal

Nebraska's Grand Master Robert W. Moninger has officially asked the Masonic Service Association of North America to conclude their Disaster Relief Appeal.

A message from Simon LaPlace at the MSA reports:
The Grand Lodge of Nebraska is grateful for the outpouring of support from Masons across the USA in their flood relief efforts. They have been able to directly support the rebuilding efforts of brothers affected by the remarkable flooding this spring. In addition to the monetary support of MSA and their own state wide appeal, brothers from neighboring states also provided in-kind donations such as hay and other direct farming supplies to brothers.
The Grand Lodge of Nebraska said, " We have been truly been blessed by the ties of brotherly love and affection."
As of today, there are no active Disaster Relief Appeals, for which we should all be thankful.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Washington Battle Over Pike Statue Part XXXIII...

The saga of Washington DC's Albert Pike statue continues apace. As reported last month, the District's non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton, introduced a bill in Congress to remove Pike's statue from Federal land. Her justification? That Pike briefly served as a general in the Confederate Army. In her statement, she made absolutely false accusations against Pike:
Pike was a Confederate general who served dishonorably and was forced to resign in disgrace. It was found that soldiers under his command mutilated the bodies of Union soldiers, and Pike was ultimately imprisoned after his fellow officers reported that he misappropriated funds. Adding to the dishonor of taking up arms against the United States, Pike dishonored even his Confederate military service. He certainly has no claim to be memorialized in the nation’s capital. Even those who do not want Confederate statues removed will have to justify awarding Pike any honor, considering his history...

Nowhere does anyone ever bother to note why the statue is standing where it is today - to mark the former location of the Scottish Rite's original House of the Temple in Judiciary Square where Albert Pike actually lived and died. Few bother to note that the statue HAD to be placed on federal land, since the District itself is all federal territory. And few rarely note that the statue does not depict Pike as a soldier, confederate or otherwise. No one ever notes that more than 750,000 Southern men served in the Confederate Army, regardless of their level of enthusiasm (or lack of it) for the Cause itself. All that matters is that Pike served for less than six months in the CSA, and must therefore be scraped from public view in the current fad of hiding the past. 

Earlier this month, reporter Claire Savage of the Washington DC's NBC affiliate forwarded Norton's statement to the Scottish Rite SJ's Arturo De Hoyos for comment, and he responded at length with a detailed refutation of the allegations against Pike and his actual military record. The subsequent news report can be read at: Confederate Statue Downtown Needs to Be Removed, Norton Says.


News sources being what they are, much was omitted from Art's actual responses to Ms. Savage. The result is an incredibly misleading article that might have actually informed the public had it not been so deliberately skewed and selective in cherrypicking his sentences.

Today, Art has posted both of his replies to Ms. Savage on his Facebook pages, along with images of the original document written by Albert Pike and the military's own reference to the matter. He has made the post publicly shareable. So in the ongoing interest of laying this non-issue to sleep (which of course it will never do) I post it all below in its entirety.


*** Taking More Shots at Albert Pike **

Ten days ago Claire Savage of NBC4 Washington contacted me regarding the Pike statue here in DC, and forwarded Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's anti-Pike remarks. I explained that they were neither accurate nor fair, and provided historical proof to the contrary.

Unfortunately, Claire Savage's article omits some of the strong evidence which exonerates Pike.



"Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes NortonOn the Introduction of a Bill to Remove the Statue of Confederate General Albert PikeJuly 30, 2019
Madam Speaker.
I rise to introduce a bill to require the removal of a statue of Confederate General Albert Pike from federal land near Judiciary Square in the District of Columbia. This statue was authorized, not by the District, but by Congress in 1898, when the District had no home rule. The statue was constructed using both federal and private funds. The Freemasons, of which Pike was a member, donated the majority of the money needed to build and install the statue in 1901. I oppose tearing down Confederate statues, because I believe they should be moved to more appropriate settings, like museums, to avoid erasing an important part of history from which Americans must continue to learn.

Pike was a Confederate general who served dishonorably and was forced to resign in disgrace. It was found that soldiers under his command mutilated the bodies of Union soldiers, and Pike was ultimately imprisoned after his fellow officers reported that he misappropriated funds. Adding to the dishonor of taking up arms against the United States, Pike dishonored even his Confederate military service. He certainly has no claim to be memorialized in the nation’s capital. Even those who do not want Confederate statues removed will have to justify awarding Pike any honor, considering his history.

After meeting with the Freemasons, I believe that the best course of action is to remove the statue and find a more appropriate place for it. The Freemasons themselves support the statue’s removal, given its divisive nature. The D.C. Mayor and the Council also support the removal of the statue.
My bill clarifies that no federal funds may be used to remove the Pike statue. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation."


Following below are my comments:

"Hello Claire,

I just read your email and Congresswoman Norton’s statement.

It’s important to note that Pike’s statue is not that of a Confederate, but rather of a private citizen. He’s not in uniform, nor does he carry a firearm or sword. Albert Pike was a man of his times who, like many others, served in the military and became a quiet and peaceable citizen following the war.

Unfortunately, Congresswoman Norton’s statement includes misstatements. Soldiers under Pike’s command did not mutilate the bodies of Union soldiers. Rather, at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, some of the Native American troops, under Pike’s command, dismounted and acted on their own. When Pike learned that a Union soldier had been scalped after his death he was “angry and disgusted,” and filed a report in which he said it caused him the “utmost pain and regret.” I do not recall that Pike misappropriated funds, but rather that General Van Dorn took $160,000, leaving Pike’s department quartermaster and commissary completely without funds. In response, Pike advanced the quartermaster $20,000 from his own pocket. If I recall correctly, Major General Hindman declared martial law in Arkansas, and ordered Pike to turn over weapons and Native American Indian treaty funds. Pike thought the action was illegal and refused. Hindman ordered Pike’s arrest, and he fled to Texas, where he was arrested and briefly held in jail. Pike resigned his commission, which was accepted and he was permitted to return to Arkansas.

Pike served as the head of “Scottish Rite” Masonry from 1859 to his death in 1891. During that time he devoted himself to promoting friendship and moral philosophy. After forming a friendship with Thornton A. Jackson, the head of the Scottish Rite Prince Hall Affiliation (Black/African American Freemasonry), Pike shared his own rituals and with that group, and corresponded using fraternal terms.

Certainly, we have no desire that the Pike statue (which belongs to the Parks Service), should be the cause of division or strife. Although our belief is that it has been misrepresented and misunderstood, we support whatever view the Park Service recommends, whether that means it should stay or be moved to a new location."


In a follow-up email I wrote:

"I might add that Pike’s order, which expressed his “utmost pain and regret” was also reprinted in the New York Times:


It’s noteworthy that contrary to being the uncaring criminal portrayed by Congresswoman Norton, Pike’s order actually shows that he wanted to Court-martial a Confederate soldier for the “atrocious act for barbarous and wanton cruelty” of killing a defenseless Union soldier, who was wounded on the battlefield."


In this handwritten statement by Albert Pike he expressed his anger
and disgust when he learned that Native Americans had
scalped a deceased Union soldier.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Author Dan Brown Addresses the Scottish Rite

Author Dan Brown was invited to speak at the House of the Temple in Washington D.C. during the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction's biennial meeting over the weekend. He posted this photo on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

For those of you who were hiding under a rock in the early 2000s (or weren't born yet - a chilling thought), Brown's art- symbolism- and history-laden thrillers The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons were worldwide publishing phenomenons that motivated untold throngs of readers to discover the Freemasons, the Knights Templar, the Illuminati, and a bushel of other esoteric topics. Almost overnight, Scotland's Rosslyn Chapel was stuffed to the gills with tourists all asking where the basement was. Tour busses began marauding through the little French village of Rennes Le Chateau. And internet enquiries started to tumble in to Masonic lodges and grand lodge offices.

The DaVinci Code soon became the sixth most popular book in the history of the English language, and Brown's publisher teased its Masonic-themed sequel for another five years. Whether it was marketing savvy or writer's block, the delay in publishing The Lost Symbol caused an avalanche of new books, TV programs and films (like the two National Treasures) to flood the marketplace with new, mostly positive material about the Masons.

Keeping all of that in mind, it made perfect sense for the Scottish Rite to invite Mr. Brown to speak at this gathering, and in this particular place. After all of the hype and waiting, it turned out that The Lost Symbol was a 509-page love letter to our fraternity. 

Its cover featured the double-headed eagle of the Scottish Rite and its motto, Ordo ab Chao. Its original hardback release date was very deliberately 9/15/09, which add up to the number 33. And the thriller's climax unfolded in the House of the Temple itself. 

Since someone invariably asks whenever Dan Brown gets mentioned, to my knowledge he is not, and never has been, a Freemason. But even as a non-Mason, he has achieved pop culture pinup boy status with Brethren for managing to stoke unparalleled interest in all things Masonic.

While big, bloated movies with Tom Hanks were made from both The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons, Sony Pictures skipped over The Lost Symbol and adapted Brown's NEXT novel, Inferno, instead. Masons collectively wept. For a long while it seemed that Freemasons just weren't interesting to Hollywood anymore. Our fleeting flareup in the pop culture sunlight just as quickly extinguished. 

Not as fast as Dexy's Midnight Runners did, but still it was depressing.

But back in June it was suddenly reported here that NBC has given a production commitment to Langdon, a new TV drama based on The Lost Symbol and revolving around Brown's recurring symbologist character, Robert Langdon

We shall see. 

While you're waiting, I have this book called Deciphering The Lost Symbol...


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Make Your Masonic Hall The Center of Your Community — Again

A public radio station in Wisconsin posted an article Friday that shines a light on just how important a Masonic Temple really can be in a community. They looked at two different lodge buildings, in Rhinelander and Wassau, Wisconsin. The first is still owned by the fraternity, Rhinelander Lodge 22, while the second was vacated a few years ago. Wassau insisted on not tearing theirs down, but finding someone to rescue it.

The title of the article says it all: Not so Mysterious: Past and Present Masonic Temples Build Community

"Recently we received a question asking us to investigate the history of local Masonic Temples, which led us to wonder… what is the role of a Masonic Temple in a community?
"Mackenzie Martin headed to the Rhinelander Masonic Temple and the former Wausau Masonic Temple to find out...
(CLICK HERE to read the article in full, or listen to the NPR story - I quote much of it below)

When I was researching Heritage Endures, I came across news accounts of the very first joint Masonic Temple that was built in my home city of Indianapolis back in 1850. At the time, what is now the largest city in my state was still being created from scratch, a planned capitol city in the middle of a clearing in the woods that otherwise wouldn't have existed naturally at the confluence of two shallow, unnavigable rivers. The Grand Lodge and the lodges in Indianapolis built our first large, joint Masonic hall here at just about the same time the state opened its new State House on the opposite corner. We picked that important location then because so many of our members were involved in the government of the state and the new capitol city. 

You could make the case that we occupied the most influential street corner in the entire state of Indiana.

The Indianapolis Masonic Temple in 1850,
as it appeared when seen from the lawn of the Indiana State House
In 1850, before we even officially moved in and opened the doors, the state's delegates to the Constitutional Convention found that they couldn't all pack into the State House along with the General Assembly at the time. So, we volunteered our brand new Temple to them for the duration of hammering out the Indiana Constitution.

It's hard to get more vital to the entire state and the community than hosting a constitutional convention. Back then, we were a center of the community before we even moved in to the joint.

Over the years, our first Temple would be the preeminent public meeting space in town. We had built the biggest and the first public hall in the city, and theatrical productions, musical events, banquets, lectures, political speeches, touring groups and private parties all poured in to the Masonic Temple. Even more poured in once the railroad came to town and East Coast road shows could easily get here. 

Even when the Odd Fellows built their own large hall down the road six years later, most folks wanted to hold their important events with the Masons. 

The home of the Freemasons was no stranger to controversy then. "No religion, no politics!" only applied in an open lodge, not to the building itself. When a local church burned down, we let their congregation hold services there on Sundays until they could rebuild. Despite the image you might have about African-American versus caucasian Freemasonry before the Civil War, when the Prince Hall-descended 'African Masons' held their first public procession in Indiana in 1855, they ended at our Masonic Hall and held their 'sumptuous banquet' there. In the 1850s, the Indianapolis Masonic Temple was the site of numerous civil rights meetings, as pro- and anti-slavery forces duked it out in the run-up to the Civil War. Anti-slavery meetings were commonplace at the Temple. 

"No political speeches in Masonic halls??!!" Balderdash. They were common as ragweed.  Abraham Lincoln came to town and spoke there in 1859, and for decades no election went by  without one candidate or another, from any party, holding a speech or debate at the Masonic Temple.

Even after our first Temple was knocked down and replaced in the 1870s by a bigger one on the same corner, the new Indiana Freemasons Hall auditorium continued to host public events, despite having lots more competition in town by then. And when our present limestone Temple was built several blocks north in 1909 (giving up our choice location), our even bigger Indiana Freemasons Hall auditorium was used for many years for civic and political meetings, speaking engagements, musical recitals, even as a popular location for swearing in newly naturalized immigrant citizens. One of the first regular inhabitants of the theater was a Christian Science Church service every Sunday.

During World War II, our basement was remodeled into a Masonic Service Center for traveling servicemen, similar to a USO club. Many of the larger temples in bigger towns were part of a whole nationwide network of these centers that were developed by the Masonic Service Association. The Indianapolis Masonic Temple was listed in the paper every single day as a location in the city for military personnel who wanted a place to relax, write letters, read their local papers from all over the country, catch a nap between train or bus connections, get a decent meal, play cards or pool, or go to a dance on Fridays. Even all of our youth groups and the Eastern Star ladies pitched in to help staff it. And "everybody knew" the Masons were there to help. At least they did then.

Here's more of that article by Mackenzie Martin:

Masonic Temple in Rhinelander, Wisconsin
As is the case for many small towns, the Masons were instrumental in building Rhinelander in the early days. In 1930, the town of Rhinelander raised $50,000 to build the Masonic Temple, which was a lot of money for a small town going through a depression. They are also the oldest civic group and they laid the cornerstone for the Rhinelander District Library and the Oneida County Courthouse.
Whole rooms upstairs are full of historical portraits of Rhinelander’s early masons.
“It’s a lifetime of learning,” says Jones. “You start seeing some of the street names when you look at the rolls of members here, of what they did… The school board, the telephone company… It’s almost limitless what these men came up here to do... And then when you look at all of these pictures, they came up here by wagon train or on foot or by horse drawn carriage and they built something out of the woods. And that’s where we stand today...”
 I'm not sure when Masonic lodges decided to button up and shy away from being home to big community events. By the 1950s event announcements at our own downtown Temple slowed to a trickle. I'm sure much of that was due to our failure to air-condition the place. Countless other venues around the city were far more pleasant with their new 'refrigerated air' systems, at least during the summer months. We never cushioned our wooden theater seats from 1909 that still retain their wire under-seat racks for holding hats, from the age when all proper gentlemen still covered their heads. We essentially shut the doors to our auditorium in 1963 when even our Grand Lodge moved its large annual meetings across the street into the bigger and more comfortable climes of the Scottish Rite Cathedral. I'm sure our 19th-century brethren who wore wool three-piece suits and beaver felt hats everywhere would call us pathetic, cringing little milk sop girlie-men now.

In addition, our state's Masonic code got filled up with more and more restrictions on use of lodge rooms that too many Masons believed also included the rest of their Temples. Rules were tweaked to specify what groups could and couldn't use the lodge rooms; Sunday events were banned; Masonic trustees became more and more convinced that the lodge was somehow sacrosanct or secret or both, and the public was shut out for everything but fish frys and occasional family and friend nights. 

That's a damn shame, because that's just about the very same time American Freemasonry was starting on its downward decline in size that has never stopped since. Maybe part of that can be laid at the feet of our own retreat from being vital gathering places for the community. We gave up being essential to the civic fabric of our towns, cities and states, which helped perpetuate the great tail-eating ouroboros of dwindling membership and vanishing public image.

We even went through an absurd national movement in the 1980s and 90s to remove the world temple from our buildings and replace it with generically non-specific terms like Masonic center, lest somebody get the wacky notion that anything solemn, sacred or even vaguely important might go on inside.

But some of our leaders have finally looked around and are starting to ask why we shouldn't be clawing back that vital position within our communities we occupied for so long, and can again. That seems to be the case in Wisconsin. Here's more from that article:

Giving back to the community is a huge part of what their Masonic Lodge is trying to do now, but it didn’t used to be like that. It all changed about two years ago, prompted by a decision from Wisconsin’s Grand Lodge.
“The Most Worshipful Grand Master of the State of Wisconsin sent out a note, or an edict, out to all the lodges, saying it’s time to become family-friendly again,” says Jones. “A lot of the lodges were kind of shrinking in number and so that wasn’t going out.”
“We got together and said, you know, our organization can go one of two ways,” says Bob Dionne. “We can keep doing what we’re doing and just dry up and blow away, or we can change.”
They decided to bring the Masonic Temple back to the old days of being a community building, when Prom and other events had been held in the basement. They now host community events with partners like the Rhinelander District Library in addition to weddings and other parties now. This September, they're one of four downtown Rhinelander music venues for Project North Festival.
Both of Jones and Dionne now feel like they’re using the building for the purpose it was meant to be used for, even if not everyone agrees.
“There are people who think we should maintain the integrity of what it was,” says Jones. “I like what we’re doing now because people like coming here.”
Jones also says that in a world of online interactions in an area as spread out as the Northwoods, he thinks the message of masonry to create an in-person social network for men especially resonates today...
In keeping with that newly invigorated sense of civic participation, the Rhinelander Lodge is holding a "Roots Celebration" in October that will invite local clubs and civic groups to participate and "celebrate the history" of their town. From the poster, it appears it will be a two-day event, and is exactly what every lodge needs to take a careful look at and adapt for our communities. 

Up until the last half of the 20th century, everyone in any town that contained a lodge knew who and what the Masons were and what their importance was to their community. That's been lost as society has balkanized and become isolated into tinier and tinier slices.  Nothing can or will change overnight, but this is an excellent start.

Constantine Consistory's annual Men's Health Fair in 2018
Similarly, here in my own city the local Prince Hall Scottish Rite Masons host a Men's Health Fair every year. They invite the local health, hospital and related services, and it is well supported. They do theirs at a local neighborhood center instead of their Temple (which is arguably not large enough for this fair), but there's no question that 'The Masons' are the hosts and organizers. They also provide voter registration, food vendors, and more. Local politicians are often attracted enough by this fair to show up and meet the community - something that mainstream Masons used to accomplish naturally and don't anymore. With fewer Americans out there who have an awareness of who and what we are now, the PHA guys are making sure their local community has a reason to remember "The Masons." We can all learn a good lesson from this.

And what better organization could hold an event that appeals specifically to men than Freemasons?

The rest of the Wisconsin article talks about adaptive re-use of a Masonic Temple once the Masons inside pitch it overboard. The immediate question that comes to mind is, if a private individual can make a financial go of running a large venue with big public spaces inside, why can't 50 or 100 Masons do it, keep their temple, and still make it an active money-generating space for the public? 

As the article points out, our older buildings (not the generic steel pole barns in potato fields, but the centrally located, impressive ones that we once spent a fortune to build) are still significant community centerpieces, whether Masons inhabit them or not - too significant to let them fall down. What we once looked upon with pride and worthy of our work and sacrifice, we now regard as disposable and no more significant than an abandoned Taco Bell. Fortunately, not everybody feels that way. Our communities still recognize them for the important places they are, even when we think of them as nothing but albatrosses to be put out of our collective misery:

The Temple in Wausau was sold.
In May, it opened as Whitewater Music Hall.
Meanwhile across the country, many Masonic lodges have had to downsize and move out of their temples because there are less Masons than there used to be. It’s not all bad, though. In some communities, it’s creating a new kind of community space.
For example, Minocqua Brewing Company in Minocqua used to be a Masonic Temple, and the former Masonic Temple in Wausau was recently sold and in May, it opened as Whitewater Music Hall.
One of the owners, Kelly Ballard, says the history of the building is a big part of the reason she loves it. They barely changed anything when they moved in.

“The layout is one thing,” she says. “It’s perfect as far as they have their gathering room, plus their ceremonial room serves our purposes of having a tap room and a music space.”
Ballard says Whitewater Music Hall wants to be a stage for everyone in the greater Wausau community, and she’s excited to be in a building that she thinks was overlooked for the last few years. But she also knows it’ll take some time to rebrand themselves.
“Until this first generation dies, this will always be the Masonic Temple,” she says.
She’s hoping a mural on one of the walls next year will help.
In the end, the purpose a Masonic Temple serves in the community depends on the community and the Masonic Lodge. No matter what Masonic Temple you’re in though, there’s likely a lot of history there – and a few secrets.
Take a good hard look at your own city, town or village, and think hard about what sort of role your Temple could be playing there. Who needs to build a new "neighborhood center" when the Masons did it a century ago, and it's still there waiting to be re-discovered? Make your Temple the place where volunteers teach English lessons to immigrants, or the Kiwanis and the Optimists meet. Offer it up to Weight Watchers, Al-Anon, an "opioid addiction support group," a daycare center, a computer skills learning center, or what YOUR community is in need of. 

And here's a completely hare-brained closing thought to consider: if your lodge already moved out of downtown years ago, and you now see that your old city center is reemerging as the hot new place to live again? If the old Masonic Temple is still there, find out if you can rent back your old lodge room from the current owners and return to the place from whence you came. You might find a whole new life for a struggling, anonymous suburban lodge. Or charter a brand new lodge in that old location again and be there for a whole new generation of young men.

This isn't a plan that a grand lodge needs to invent for you. All Freemasonry is local. Be part of the larger civic solution, the way we used to be all along. 

And become indispensable to your own neighbors... all over again.