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


Saturday, November 30, 2019

'Masonic Gold' — A New History of California Freemasonry

The Grand Lodge of California has just released a brand new coffee table-sized book of its history just in time for the holidays, Masonic Gold chronicles the history and development of twenty Masonic lodges in California’s Mother Lode country, spanning more than a century and a half from the Gold Rush through the 21st century. 

It's been written and created by Grand Master John E. Trauner, who is a member of Madison Lodge No. 23, in the heart of Gold Rush country.

From the California Freemason website:

Learn about the colorful miner Masons who helped develop the Grand Lodge of California and formed the backbone of the state—men like Edward Myers Preston, the father of the California’s most famous reform school; James Graham Fair, the railroad and mining magnate; Bull Meek, the legendary stagecoach driver and Wells Fargo agent; and even Benjamin Thorn, the county sheriff who nabbed Black Bart. And, of course, there was that young upstart writer who went by the name Samuel Clemens.
All of them were Gold Country Masons, pioneers not only within the fraternity but also towering figures of business, culture, and politics that reshaped California and the world...

The limited-run, 8×10 inch book is 164 pages of engrossing photography, storytelling, and profound connections to a singularly proud heritage shared by all California Masons.
I haven't had a chance to see the book yet, but it has a great connection to us Indiana boys. In 1849, the Grand lodge of Indiana issued a dispensation to a group of Masons in Lafayette, Indiana for the creation of a traveling lodge called Sierra Nevada Lodge, U.D. 

Grand Lodge of Indiana historic marker at Lafayette, Indiana
On March 27, 1849, ten of those brethren climbed onto a flat riverboat on the Wabash River and made their way downstream to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and beyond, to eventually join the California gold rush. 

Indiana’s Sierra Nevada Lodge U.D. reported having seventeen members in 1850, and became a founding lodge of the Grand Lodge of California in April that year. It was granted a California charter as none other than current Grand Master Trauner's own Madison Lodge 23 in Grass Valley, California on May 4, 1852.

(Sierra Nevada Lodge was actually one of two traveling lodges authorized by Indiana to work under dispensation on the trip to and from California. The second was San Francisco Lodge U.D., but they made no further report.)

The history of the California Gold Rush and the 49ers really is the history of the founding of the Grand Lodge of California. Of the first 101 lodges chartered by the newly formed Grand Lodge of California between 1850 and 1856, an incredible 54 of them were established around Sacramento and all along the 150-mile Mother Lode region. An enormous number of the flood of eager miners headed West to strike it rich were Masons from other states, and many carried traveling charters from states back east like Indiana, Maryland, Wisconsin and more. 

Because this is a very expensive book to create on a limited printing basis, the Grand Lodge of California is offering it at $50, or one of a limited number of copies autographed by Grand Master John E. Trauner (photo right) for $100.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Kamel Oussayef's Book 'Saint Edoüard' Brings 1748 Paris Lodge To Life

In previous posts, I have mentioned two earlier books translated by Illustrious Brother Kamel Oussayef from French into beautiful English language editions for the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction: The Book of Wisdom (2013) and The Spirit of Freemasonry (2017). Both were originally written in the early 1800s by Jean Frédérique Doszedardski, a Polish member of French lodges in Paris, and eventually, New Orleans. They are filled with early descriptions of hauts grades (higher degree) rituals, different customs, lodge practices, even table lodges. These books are unique in that they present photographic reproductions of the original French document on one page, and the parallel English translation with copious footnotes on facing pages.

As you plump up your Christmas gift list, don't neglect the new Masonic books that have come out in 2019. The third book in this series comes from an earlier original document. Saint Edoüard: A 1748 Masonic Scottish Lodge During the French Enlightenment. It was published back in February of this year, and it uses the same format as the previous volumes, although this one is somewhat shorter in length. Nevertheless, it is just as packed with fascinating details as its companions. I have been remiss in not mentioning it until now, but that's not for lack of enthusiasm over it. Quite the contrary. 

This isn't just a translation of creaky lodge minutes from 270 years ago. It also contains descriptions of the lodge's early members, their professions, and notes about their lives. All of a sudden, dull lists of forgotten names come alive, and you can see what a huge cross section of Paris society were members of the fraternity at that time - still 30 years before their first revolution. Kamel Oussayef's extensive notes help to place the lodge, the rituals, the practices and the lives of these brethren in their social and historical context. 

As you read these three books and their voluminous footnotes, you are witnessing the genesis in France of what eventually morphed into what we know as the Scottish Rite today. Saint Edoüard's foundational documents and minutes describe the genesis of a Eccosais (Scottish) Masonic lodge in Paris in 1748. The Jacobite supporters of the Stewart's in exile in France had just failed in yet another (and final) attempt to regain the English throne after invading Scotland in 1745. Saint Edoüard Lodge sat poised between the sputtering decline of the Jacobites and the beginnings of the French Revolution in 1789. Some members of the lodge would join the Revolution, some with the Royalists. Some went to the guillotine, and some fled the country into exile. The lodge was truly a microcosm of Paris in the mid-18th century.

All three of these endlessly fascinating works are the result of the painstaking translations and research of Illus. Brother Kamel Oussayef, 33°and the sponsorship of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite - Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. He has volunteered at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in Lexington since 2003. Thanks to his his detective work and dedication to bring these long-hidden manuscripts to light, the NMJ has become likewise dedicated to publishing these important early works that help us discover how and why the higher degrees developed in France 
during this period. Moreover, Kamel brings alive the Masons themselves who were members these lodges by unearthing their lives, occupations, lodgings, and habits. These are not dry histories, they are personal ones.

Kamel is a Past Master of William Parkman Lodge and Converse Lodge. He has been awarded the prestigious Henry Price and Joseph Warren medals for distinguished service to Freemasonry in Massachusetts. In the AASR, he is an Assistant Master of Ceremonies with the Massachusetts Consistory of the Valley of Boston.

Brother Oussayef was born in Sétif, Algeria and attended school in France, where he lived for many years. He holds an MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and an MS from the School of Public Communications at Boston University.

All of these books are available from the AASR-NMJ online shop along with the NMJ's tremendous edition of the Francken Manuscript. These books are loving examples of the book publishing arts, of the very highest quality, and well worth the investment.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

GL of New York Issues Statement About New Rochelle Campus Purchase

On Monday, a New York bankruptcy court approved the $32 million bid by the Grand Lodge of New York's Trustees for the purchase of the former 15.6 acre campus of the College of New Rochelle. In the wake of that official acceptance by the court, New York's Grand Master William M. Sardone has issued a statement to their membership concerning the purchase.

According to his message (above - click to enlarge), the Trustees have been searching for some time for a suitable site closer to the Metropolitan New York City area in order to bring some of the services currently available at their Masonic Care Center in Utica much closer to Masons in the city. When the college campus suddenly became available, the Trustees saw this as an opportunity to do just that, as well as provide wellness services to the wider community. 

(Like most Masonic retirement and medical centers, the development in the last several years of accepting Medicare and Medicaid payments required them to open up to the public at large, not just for members and their families anymore.)

It should be noted that the Trustees are a separate entity from the Grand Lodge of New York itself. In addition to being the actual owners of the Grand Lodge's W. 23rd Street New York City headquarters,the Trustees of the Masonic Hall and Asylum Fund currently operate the Masonic Care Community in Utica, along with Camp Turk, and the DeWint House, George Washington's Headquarters and historic site in Tappan.

The former campus of the College of New Rochelle is now owned by New York Masons
The campus is located about 16 miles north of Manhattan in suburban Westchester County. 

For more details about the campus and its current facilities, see New York Masons Buy 15 Acre College Campus.

Masons and 'Jeopardy!'

I'm not sure if it's a plus or minus that Freemasons are the subject of a trivia game recently. Somebody who works on the American TV gameshow Jeopardy! seems to have taken an interest in the Masons. 

Last December, a $2000 Double Jeopardy clue was "It's not a secret - one of two branches of advanced Freemasonry; both have British names." The ultimate champion of that night, Jackie Fuchs, successfully answered "What is the Scottish Rite"? 

Then last night, a question was featured that made us local Indiana Masons do a double take. In the category of American Cathedrals, the $800 clue was:

 "Indianapolis' Scottish Rite Cathedral is not a place of worship but a meeting place for this fraternal society." 

Contestant Beth Stewart from Naperville, Illinois successfully answered, "Who are the Masons?"

Ding ding ding.

We're pretty proud of it.

Beth won the night with a final score of $17,600.

(H/T Patrick Elmore)

Monday, November 25, 2019

'National Treasure 3' Rumored: Here We Go Again

The film National Treasure was released 15 years ago this week, and it quickly became the surprise monster box office hit of 2004. So it wouldn't be a proper November without yet another rumor of there finally being a new National Treasure 3 sequel in the works. After the even more successful sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets premiered in 2007, NT3 has been announced in 2010, 2013, 2015, and at least brought up publicly by somebody from the original cast or production team nearly every single year.

Now the We Got This Covered website is reporting that the sequel is once again being worked on. (That website has a pretty good track record of predicting recent developments within Disney's production arm, and has had several major scoops on the subject.) According to the post, Academy Award-winner Nicolas Cage will reprise his role as intrepid historian and cryptologist Benjamin Franklin Gates searching for lost treasure from America's past. No word on the plot, the rest of the cast, writers, or director, and there's some question as to whether it will be released to big screens or go directly to the new Disney+ streaming service. 

While potential scripts for NT3 have been floated about for years with the complaint by a parade of writers that the project is 'really hard' because, you know, real history and stuff, the other problem has been financial. All of the film's stars - Nicholas Cage, John Voight, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Harvey Keitel (the movies' kindly 33° Freemason) and Helen Mirren, along with Director Jon Turteltaub — were all signed to long-range, multi-picture contracts. The more NT movies get made, the bigger chunk their salaries cost producer Jerry Bruckheimer on the next one before a single camera gets powered up.

Because the first film revolved around the Founding Fathers who were Freemasons, the movie poster of Nicholas Cage in front of the Great Seal and its All-Seeing Eye of Providence while he snatches the Declaration of Independence became the Masonic equivalent to the Farrah Fawcett in a bathing suit poster so popular among teenage boys back in 1976.  And if that isn’t creepier than a back rub from Grandma, I don’t know what is.

You could argue we're those same boys, just adults now. And yes, I have a lobby card signed by the whole cast and director hanging in my bar. Sue me. Nicholas Cage was briefly my sister's next door neighbor.

National Treasure was deviously designed in 2004 by Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney to capitalize on Dan Brown mania while the world awaited his promised sequel to The Da Vinci Code. But instead of being a minor date movie quickie for the Thanksgiving season, the picture shocked everybody by being immensely popular. Hollywood critics and bigwigs couldn't explain how a movie about a historian, lost Templar treasure, Founding Fathers and the Freemasons could actually make money, but it made a lot of it. Honestly, it prompted my publisher to quickly search for someone who could write their proposed Freemasons For Dummies project because of National Treasure's surprise popularity. So I personally owe a lot to Nicholas Cage and director Jon Turteltaub or their role in turning my life upside down.

(I'm still convinced that National Treasure hijacked ideas Brown was writing into his Da Vinci Code sequel and beat him to the punch, requiring his wife to talk him down off the window ledge and totally rewrite what became The Lost Symbol, further delaying that novel's release until 2009.)

One thing Hollywood is filled with are band wagoneers who are terrified to go first with a new idea, but fall all over themselves in a rush to capitalize on territory someone else staked out ahead of them. Interestingly, this sudden announcement of renewed interest in a National Treasure sequel comes on the heels of NBC/Universal's announcement that they are working on a TV adaptation of none other than Dan Brown's Masonic-themed novel The Lost Symbol, to be entitled Langdon. That would make the irony of the connection between these two projects come full circle and once again set up another competition to see who gets their 'Masonic' project onscreen first. If any or all of this is true, we Masons might start dry cleaning our tuxedos because the phones might soon start ringing again.

The first National Treasure earned $347.5 million worldwide, astonishing the Disney bean-counters. The National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets sequel appeared three years later in 2007, and likewise did phenomenal business — earning a whopping $457.4 million in its initial release — proving the first wasn't an accident, and that American audiences actually liked finding out about their nation's history along with being entertained by an inventive action/adventure plot. They actually liked seeing positive, fun stories about American founders, presidents and achievements that the miserablists have so long despised. And of course, who doesn't like lost treasure tales anyway? 

Masonic symbols were abundant throughout the pre-release hype for NT2:
S&Cs, PM jewels, AASR double eagle, KT cross, even a Shrine symbol.
Unfortunately, we Freemasons were disappointed that the pre-release hype for the sequel was filled with Masonic symbols, but the movie itself really had none, apart from a single mention of Albert Pike - thereby causing all of the AASR-SJ Masons in the audience to momentarily suffer  incontinence in their exuberance. Interestingly, the young adult-pitched novelization of National Treasure: Book of Secrets by author Ann Lloyd featured several references to Freemasonry that were in the shooting script, but never made the final film edit. 

Nevertheless, both pictures still have their enthusiastic Masonic fan base to this day, and most of us look forward to the next installment in the franchise. We'll all still dutifully show up for the premiere again in our Masonic hats and shirts and pray for a few more onscreen hat tips to our fraternity this go round. As long as it's still about early American history and chasing artifacts and tales of the nation's historic luminaries with the occasional reference to Masonic good guys, we'll be there.

After all - chances are we Masons were there when the original events really happened in the first place.

Illinois Lodge of Research Announces Speakers Bureau

Freemasons in Illinois have a new statewide educational resource and opportunity. The Illinois Lodge of Research has announced the official creation of a Speakers Bureau. According to their November 16th announcement, some sixty Brethren have expressed interest in traveling around the state to give presentations on Masonic topics in three categories: Symbolism & Esoterica; Historical; and Ritual & Literature. It's an impressive lineup, and you'll find several regulars from the Masonic Roundtable podcast among them.

For the current list of speakers and topics, see the website HERE.

Potential presenters are vetted by the Lodge of Research before being listed. They must provide their topic and length of presentation to be listed on the Speakers Bureau website. Illinois Masons who wish to join this list must fill out an application HERE.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

New York Masons Buy 15 Acre College Campus

The Grand Lodge F&AM of New York's Trustees of the Masonic Hall and Asylum Fund are the proud new owners of the 15.6 acre campus of the now former College of New Rochelle. The Catholic college was forced to close last year and liquidate its property after declaring bankruptcy with more than $31.2 million in debts and unpaid payroll taxes.

According to press reports over the weekend, the Masonic Trustees' $32 million bid beat out two others for the property after eight rounds of bidding over two days last week.

Press speculation is that they purchased the college campus to create a new retirement community and nursing facility, as that is their primary mission in Utica. However, the Trustees have not yet made a public announcement concerning their plans for New Rochelle. 
In addition to being the owners of the Grand Lodge's W. 23rd Street New York City headquarters, the Trustees operate the Masonic Care Community in Utica, along with Camp Turk, and the DeWint House, George Washington's Headquarters and historic site in Tappan. 

The campus sits about 16 miles north of Manhattan in suburban Westchester County. If the trustees really are planning a new Masonic retirement community, the location would certainly be ideal for their members concentrated in New York City. Moreover, there are already many facilities already constructed and up to date that could easily be adapted for that use. 

A map of the CNR campus illustrates what the
Grand Lodge of New York Trustees just bought
If ever an ideal property existed for conversion to a retirement center, this sounds like it. According to the Wikipedia entry about the campus facilities, there are 20 main buildings including a recently built $28M athletic and recreational complex. 

The Wellness Center

'The Wellness Center' is equipped with a competition-sized swimming pool, basketball court, fitness center, indoor running track, yoga studio, roof garden and meditation garden, and volleyball court. 

The Gill Memorial Library at New Rochelle College - might this be the
future home of the Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library?
There is a very large library capable of housing 200,000 books, and an up to date facility that houses computer and photo labs, complete with a full TV production studio. There are also four residence halls, plus a resource center designed for training nurses. Most Masonic retirement communities feature a chapel, and there is a beautiful church already in place on the campus, the Holy Family Chapel.

At the head of the campus sits historic Leland Castle, a circa 1850 gothic revival mansion and former vacation home of wealthy New York hotelier Simeon Leland. It is the cornerstone building of the college and was the first structure acquired when the college was first opened.

Leland Castle
To get all of this in Westchester County for $32 million sounds like an amazing investment with endless possibilities for the future.

There's a certain stage irony to the new Masonic ownership of the campus. The college originally began life in 1904 as the College of St. Angela, the first Catholic women's college in New York State. I suspect the founding Ursuline sisters are spinning in their graves at high speed now.

The College of New Rochelle entered into an agreement this year with Mercy College, which is absorbing the bankrupt school's records and transitioning students into their program. Mercy College is currently leasing the CNR property for $1.8 million until the end of the 2020 school year. 

(Photos culled from the New York Times, Wikipedia, and the CNR website)

Universal League of Freemasons: How Masons and Esperanto Were Going to Save the World

The journal Ritual, Secrecy and Civil Society Volume 6/Spring 2019 included a fascinating paper by Denis LeFabvre about a group of starry-eyed Masons who created the 'Universal League of Freemasons' - a global association of lodges that began in 1905 to help affect the spread of Esperanto,  a newly-created, neutral and purportedly "universal" language. But their ultimate dreams were much greater than that. They hoped that a universal language combined with a universal fraternity would ultimately save the world.

Esperanto is mostly a strange curiosity these days (pre-Star Trek William Shatner starred in the first notable movie ever made in the language, Incubus in 1966, proving he could overact and chew scenery in any language), but it had its enthusiastic supporters in an earlier age. 

L.L. Zamenhoff
Esperanto was created in the 1870s and 80s by a linguist and Polish Jew named L.L. Zamenhoff using elements of Russian, German, English, French, Polish, Hebrew, plus Greek and Latin. His goal was to create an easy to learn and adopt second language that would transcend all national borders, tribal and cultural divisions. His ultimate hope was that Esperanto would be adopted as the new lingua franca for diplomacy, science, commerce and international understanding, and ultimately end, or at least defuse, the dangers of fervent nationalism that had so torn Europe apart for so long. His dream was born in reality, because those very divisions would plague Europe and kill millions for another 70 years. He himself had been raised in the Jewish ghetto and was surrounded on all sides by people who spoke numerous different languages and were in constant conflict. He saw the two issues linked together - that misunderstanding your neighbors' words often led to violent misunderstandings on a much larger scale. Rinse and repeat.

Zamenhof initially called his language Lingvo internacia ('international language') and attempted to publish a book in Russia to introduce it to the public in the mid-1880s. When the Russian government prevented its initial publication, author Leo Tolstoy became a public supporter and the authorities at last relented. 

The book was published under the pseudonym of 'Doktoro Esperanto' ('Doctor Hopeful'), and the growing fan base for the language soon began to call it Esperanto instead. It had a slow but steady increase in popularity over the next three decades, and Zamenhof was even nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in 1910.

7th International Esperanto Congress in Antwerp, Belgium - 1907
Zamenhoff wasn't a lone dreamer, and the horrors of World War I between 1914-18 ushered in a new sense of commitment to find drastic ways to prevent such future devastations from ever happening again. 

Zamenhoff died while the war still raged, but after hostilities ended in 1918an awful lot of people came to agree with his point of view – that if only stubborn nationalism and artificial divisions could be licked, countries would stop shooting at each other. Esperanto became a sensation. In fact, the newly established League of Nations came within one vote of adopting Esperanto as their official diplomatic language. 

At the same time, some Esperanto utopianists and other advocates sought ways to incorporate Freemasonry and its philosophy of universal brotherhood as one of several ways to unite the people of Europe and the world to prevent future wars. Originally formed in 1905 as 'Esperanto Masona,' ('Hopeful Masonry') the creators of the UFL - Universala Framasona Ligo (Universal League of Freemasons) believed Esperanto, combined with the universal brotherhood of Freemasonry, could ultimately unite the entire world in brotherhood and finally bring global peace. 

The first practical mission of the UFL was to break through Freemasonry's own artificially erected barriers of recognition and regularity and accusations of clandestinism so that Masons could enjoy fellowship with each another in a non­-tyled Masonic environment, all without breaking their respective obligations. The notion was that Freemasons could meet informally from all different jurisdictions and obediences and find that they shared much more in common with one another than what divided them. 

But the harsh realities of the 1930s and the rapid rise of fascism in Germany, Spain and Italy, the atrocities and deprivations of Communism in Soviet Russia, along with the brutal spread of the Japanese Empire in the East, briefly brought the UFL's lofty dreams to a halt. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had declared that 'Esperatism' was a tool of the dreaded world-wide 'Jewish-Masonic Conspiracy.' During the WWII, only the Swiss group of the UFL remained active and their headquarters remained in Geneva.

Bust of Zamenhoff in Budapest
Both the Nazis and Josef Stalin's Russia persecuted and killed advocates for Esperanto. Zamenhof himself died of a heart attack in 1917, but he and his wife Klara Silbernik raised three children, a son, Adam, and two daughters, Sofia and Lidia. All three children were murdered in the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, there are still some 2 million people around the world today who speak or read Esperanto, and it's commonly known enough in pop culture that it even appeared in a Simpsons episode. The Internet has breathed new life into the spread of the language, and some foreign language programs teach Esperanto first as a stepping stone for then teaching more difficult languages. It's a simple one to master with few basic grammar rules that have no irregular exceptions, and advocates say teaching it to toddlers makes mastering many other languages later in life much faster. They regard Esperanto almost as the next step after learning the basic alphabet.

The Universal League of Freemasons didn't die after WWII, but very few Masons know about it these days. While you may never have heard of it, this was not some insignificant little discussion club — at their peak, the Universal League of Freemasons was spread into 72 countries with upwards of 12,000 members worldwide. 

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s the UFL generated an uproar in mainstream U.S. grand lodges who condemned the organization as clandestine because its members associated with irregular and unrecognized, clandestine Masons. There was an American group of the UFL founded by Harvey Newton Brown, who was also a major force behind bringing awareness to mainstream Masons about Prince Hall Freemasonry. Harvey Brown was a powerful advocate for broaching the artificial divisions of regularity and recognition among the world's Freemasons, so naturally he was treated by many American Masons like he had horns and a forked tail sprouting from his body. 

Interestingly, California's own Past Grand Secretary and 2014 PGM, John L. Cooper III (photo) was the last official Secretary for the American wing of the UFL in the 1980s when he was forced by the GL of California to drop out of it. 

The U.S group died soon afterwards, but John wrote his own paper about them. 

See 'The Universal .League of Freemasons: A Twentieth Century Experiment in Masonic Dialogue.'

Although they were pretty free-wheeling in their makeup, the UFL nevertheless restricted their membership to male Masons for a variety of practical reasons — not the least of which being that they knew accepting female Masons into the group would kill it in the cradle among even the most progressive-minded jurisdictions throughout the 20th century. At their World Congress in Berlin in 1992, the UFL voted to also include female and co-Masons for the first time. But they were already diminishing in popularity.

After the UFL faded, the international research group The Philalethes Society took on this same sort of role in the 1980s and 90s after the UFL disappeared, and they frequently invited "irregular and unrecognized" Masons to participate in their conferences and contribute to its magazine. PSOC presidents and editors Allen E. Roberts and later, Nelson King were both strong advocates of encouraging these types of cooperation, participation, education and understanding. It was this sort of informal Masonic interaction that both promoted Prince Hall recognition and stirred up a major brouhaha in the early 2000s in Minnesota over recognizing multiple French grand lodges.

In truth, the Internet did what the UFL couldn't do by the end of the 20th century. Masons from every jurisdiction — regular, recognized or not — began to communicate through online BBS systems, instant messages, chat rooms and forums, much to the chagrin and frustration of grand masters everywhere. 

Those freewheeling years of the CompuServe Masonry Forum and the later PSOC (Philalethes Society) Mailing List did more to advance international communication, understanding and scholarship between mutually unrecognized Masons all over the world than anything in the previous 275 years. Issues like Prince Hall recognition, almost the entire basis for so-called 'traditional observance' and 'European concept' lodges and practices, 'Chambers of Reflection,' and much more that are commonplace topics today would not exist had it not been for those early resources.

If you believe Internet websites, the Universal League of Freemasons still hangs on today. Last updated in 2011, there appear to be groups in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Canada.

Meanwhile, Denis LeFabvre's paper in Ritual, Secrecy and Civil Society is a fascinating snapshot of these early UFL Masons who gallantly – albeit naively – attempted to use their fraternalism to achieve what politics, religion and traditional avenues of diplomacy could not. And it helps to explain some of the differing attitudes about Freemasonry's role in society between what we in the U.S. and the wider "regular, recognized" Masonic world practice, versus the very politically- and policy-minded attitudes in unrecognized obediences like the Grand Orient de France that developed in Europe. Those differences in philosophies about Freemasonry's proper role in the world and society didn't grow out of a vacuum, and this paper goes a long way in putting that into its proper perspective.
It's just one of the many fascinating papers you will find in the journals of  Ritual, Secrecy, and Civil Society

As I said, John Cooper's paper on the ULF is also well worth reading. He poignantly ended it with a quotation from Socrates to Meno in about 400 B.C., that appeared in the December, 1972, issue of the U.S. Group of the ULF's Newsletter, La Heroldo:
“That we shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to enquire, than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in seeking to know what we do not know; ­­ that is a theme upon which I am ready to fight, in word and deed, to the utmost of my power.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Fall 2019 Issue of 'Ritual, Secrecy and Civil Society'

The Fall 2019 journal Ritual, Secrecy, and Civil Society has just been released. It is published by the Policy Studies Organization (PSO), which supports research into associations, civility, and the role of non-governmental organizations within democracy.

I've been meaning to spotlight these fascinating collections of new Masonic education and scholarship for quite some time because few Masons seem to be aware of them as a resource. These journals deserve a much wider audience than they are getting.

The PSO is the longstanding brainchild of Brother Paul Rich, and that organization has a very broad range of topics in which it fosters research and discussion. Of greatest interest to Masons, the PSO sponsors an international academic conference about Freemasonry and fraternalism every year, alternating between the U.S. and France. 

Paul is also the proprietor of Westphalia Press, which offers a large selection of unique Masonic books you won't encounter anywhere else. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, Paul is quite probably one of the most dedicated supporters and active participants in all types of fraternalism all over the world you will ever encounter – on top of his other amazing achievements over the years.

The most recent journal Ritual, Secrecy, and Civil Society Vol. 7/Fall 2019 is unusual this time because it features just two papers. The first, The Role of Freemasonry in Early Washington by Paul Rich, is an examination of the authentic part that Freemasonry played in the the formation of Washington, D.C., as opposed to the hoary claims of the fabulists who see 'Masonic' zodiacs and spookiness in every surveyor's mark and cornice. It was a subject I examined in my own book, Solomon's Builders back in 2006, and Paul brings fresh insights into the honest Masonic history within the District.

The second paper is a massive new work by 2018's Blue Friar, Josef Wäges: De Grasse Tilly and the Early Supreme Council: 1786-1802. Brother Wäges has spent several years translating and examining foreign language Masonic texts. This latest paper delves into the records of the French-speaking Lodge de Candeur in Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1700s, and the development of what became the Order of the Royal Secret and ultimately, the Scottish Rite. If you ever wondered how this very different branch of Freemasonry—named after Scotland, percolated in France, carried across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and finally established in South Carolina of all places – this paper fills in a very large piece of the puzzle.

The journal of Ritual, Secrecy, and Civil Society is offered free online HERE, and back issues are also available. It is usually published twice a year, and a printed version and Kindle are also available through Amazon. The papers generally come from the PSO's conferences in the U.S. or France, and there's usually a wide variety of topics you've likely never encountered before. They are well worth exploring.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

GL of Wisconsin Begins Assessment to Preserve Madison Temple

Back in June of 2018, the assembled Freemasons of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin overwhelmingly voted to take ownership of, and to preserve and protect the Madison Masonic Center. The Masonic Center is home to fourteen Masonic bodies and the Scottish Rite Children's Dyslexia Center, and it has been the meeting place for the Wisconsin Annual Communication for many years. The beautiful beaux arts interior features two lodge rooms, a grand ballroom, dining room, offices, lounges, the Robert Monteith Masonic Library and Museum, and the large auditorium that seats approximately 1,000.

The resolution that was adopted a year and a half ago was to re-establish a 501c3 non-profit foundation and transfer the ownership of the building to the new corporation supported by the Grand Lodge. To achieve initial funding, they adopted a two-year mandatory assessment on all Wisconsin Masons of $10/year. 

The Grand Lodge has just levied the first year's assessment this week (letter below - click to enlarge).

Like so many other landmark Masonic buildings across the country, the Madison Temple was part of the 'City Beautiful' movement that swept the nation after the 1893 Chicago Exhibition. 

The Temple was erected just a few blocks away from the Wisconsin State Capitol building in Madison between 1923 and 1925. The impressive and imposing neo-classical temple is located in Madison's Mansion Hill Historic District and adjacent to the National Register-listed Langdon Street Historic District, an area of stately homes that that was transformed in the 20th century into "fraternity row" for the nearby University of Wisconsin. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Shriners, Fezzes, Symbolism and the Blunt Object of Corporate Censorship

You can't keep up with with the pop culture these days without a scorecard app. In truth, you probably need five or six apps on two different smartphones plus a desktop version just to keep up to date.

The Disney Corporation launched its new highly-touted video streaming service this past week, and in their infinite wisdom to appear suitably angelic to the world, they've been hard at work apologizing for or plastering over past perceived wrongthinking and insensitivity. Disney's old movies, TV shows and cartoons are now accompanied by disclaimer notices like "This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

But the Disney programs aren't being kept "as created," and many have just plain been edited with potentially 'offensive' sequences and images altered or removed entirely. The result has been an international anvil chorus of hoots of derision against Disney, with an almost equal and opposite clamor that they edit even more out. But editing and censoring the past is a fool's errand that ultimately makes no one happy, and arguably, increasingly ignorant of even the recent past. Sorry, but I'm a big believer that understanding the whys and wherefores and the history of the past is a whole lot more successful and influential than attempting to eliminate every possible trace of it. Call me crazy. 

These just aren't old Mickey Mouse cartoons, Peter Pan's depictions of Indians, Dumbo's black crows, or the forever embargoed Song of the South. Now fans of the very recent Disney cartoon series Gravity Falls are calling foul. It seems that the show's character Grunkle Stan's distinctive Shriner-like fez symbol has just been given over to Disney's internal Winston Smiths for erasure in their Soviet-style Great Purge treatment. 

They did it for a bizarre reason that has nothing to do with sensitivity to Shriners. Funny thing about symbols. Interpreting them gets tricky depending on who packed the baggage you're carrying around. It seems that the offending symbol, which looks vaguely like a cartoon fish, is considered by Disney to be religiously 'offensive' or 'insensitive.' Yet not to practitioners of the religious faith that has used the fish as a symbol for 2,000 years. 

Digitally censored fez from the opening credits of Gravity Falls

Outrage. Outrage, you're supposed to be howling.

I'm sure most Shriners neither know about any of this, nor care one bit (besides perhaps my friend Seth Andrews who eats, sleeps and breathes all things in Fezdom - visit his online Museum of Fezology). It's a fair bet that no more than 100 Shriners have even heard of Gravity Falls at all. 

On the surface, this isn't new. Warner Brothers has put up a 'warning label' like this for years with their old classic Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies cartoons, but at least they've been left intact. It's like a 'Don't drink and drive' notice that means 'Don't watch and get pissed off over something made 75 years ago because life's too short not to laugh at funny cartoons.'


MGM walked the tightrope by mostly leaving their old cartoons visually intact, but dubbing out 'offensive' voices and dialects and replacing them with more generic ones, as in old Tom & Jerry cartoons with their 'Mammy Two Shoes' character. She was originally voiced by African-American actress Lillian Randolph back in the 1930s and usually only seen from the ankles down - often swatting at the cat with a broom and threatening to lock him out of the house. She was implied to be Tom's owner and the head of the household, and so her feet and voice popped up in a lot of the shorts over the years. In the 1960s, the black legs and ankles were re-colored white and a female Irish-accented voice was recorded for some of the episodes. By the 1990s, the original images were brought back, and the voice was re-dubbed again, this time by African-American comedian Thea Vidale, minus the over the top dialect.

But Disney seems to want to try a little of both methods - reediting and outright removal - and they're doing an inept dance step version of it by catching some, missing others, or concentrating on odd choices like the Gravity Falls fez symbol. Like I said, this has nothing to do with perceived hurt feelings among Shriners.

Freemasons rarely show up in these types of animated or artistic depictions, but Shriners or their visual stand-ins sometimes do. And nobody has ever really found a reason to get worked up over it.
Grant Wood's Shrine Quartet (1939)
The Shrine's reputation as a wacky group of booze-guzzling, girl-ogling, stripper-tipping, middle-class party boys engaging in hooliganism with a generous heart o' gold was cemented in the 1950s and 60s, and were a shorthand for American fraternalism for more than half a century.  

"Oh my dear Lord! They blackballed Howard Sprague!"
Fez wearing WASPS show up in everything from Bye-Bye Birdie and the Andy Griffith Show, to the penultimate Top 40 Shriner anthem, Ray Stevens' 'Shriner's Convention.'

Fraternal groups and goofy headgear were commonplace objects of comedy over the years, from the 'Mystic Knights of the Sea' in the wildly popular Amos and Andy radio show in the late 20s and 30s (created by real-life Masons Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) and depicted in the early 1950s TV version; the Raccoon Lodge of The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason; and the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo Lodge No. 26 on the Flintstones in the 1960s. 

Mystic Knights of the Sea lodge on the Amos and Andy TV series in 1952

Raccoon Lodge in The Honeymooners

Loyal Order of Water Buffalos in The Flintstones
As was acknowledged in the 1986 comedy Peggy Sue Got Married, "Wouldn't be a lodge without hats."

It wasn't really until the 1990s that the Shriners started to get grouped in with the kind of spooky connections to "ancient mystic rites" like the Masons - even if only as parody. Ironically, that was just about the same time that the Shrine changed its name from the suitably bilious 'Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine' to just plain Shriners International. 

Todd Schorr's painting, Secret Mystic Rites in the Temple of Fraternity (1993)
By the 1990s, the 50's and 60's "cocktail culture" nostalgia made a resurgence, and Shriners' fezzes started getting snapped up on Ebay by modern cigar lounge lizards. Artist Todd Schorr populated his artwork with fez-wearers, and the swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy adopted his imagery on their albums to cement the connection between nightclub swing music, cocktail culture, and Shriner stand-ins with 'All Seeing Eye" symbolism. 

Todd Schorr's Temple of Delirium (1991)
Between 2010-2013, even the Eleventh Dr. Who (played by Matt Smith) began wearing a fez as he traveled through time. "Because," as he said, "fezzes are cool."

Images like this suddenly morphed the Shriners into an odd combination of middle-aged goofiness with "secret wisdom of the ages," because as we all know, there's always supposed to be some special wisdom about Life, the Universe and Everything at the bottom of an empty glass - if only we drink enough. 

Still looking.

Of course, there have long been criticisms from various corners about the Shrine's 19th century take on tarted-up Orientalism with its images, costumes, rituals, and even local Shrine names. Practicioners of the Muslim faith and those living in Muslim countries don't think it's a bit funny that Shrines have names that are parodies or lifts of Arabic words or place names like Scimitar, Mecca, Bagdad, Wahabi, phony pseudo Arabic names like 'Moolah,' 'Lu Lu,' 'Zem Zem,' and even holy objects like Al Koran or Kaaba

It all came from  a much earlier age, and modern sensibilities have gotten extraordinarily humorless and hyper-sensitive when they are on the receiving end of even a mild a jibe today. With a group like the Shrine, it was never about insulting anyone and always about sounding more exotic and more over the top than any other run of the mill fraternal group did in the late 1800s.

Anyway, back to Disney and that fez. 

From the end credits of Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls was a cartoon that ran on Disney XD between 2012 and 2016. It told the mis-adventures of Dipper and Mabel Pines, a pair of twins who spent their summer vacation with their uncle, Grunkle Stan, in the odd Oregon town of Gravity Falls. There they all encountered all manner of the weird and the unexplained like ghosts, shape-shifters, and frozen dead presidents. Episodes contained clues and visual tidbits to solve an ongoing series of puzzles, not entirely un-derivative of National Treasure by way of Twin Peaks, Eerie, Indiana and Winky-Dink and You - all laid over a theme very much like Pokemon.

As we used to say in advertising, "Where do good ideas come from? SOMEBODY ELSE!"

The show's creator Alex Hirsch actively stoked puzzle hunts on Twitter among the show's fans, and pseudo-Masonic and Shriner imagery began to proliferate.

Alex Hirsch's Twitter clue that set the hunt in motion

Fan art from Japan by @nyankun1
The character of Grunkle Stan prominently wore a fez, and for the longest time it sported a nonsensical image that looked vaguely like a Pepperidge farm goldfish cracker (or a Pac-Man swallowing a power dot). Indeed, it was revealed that Grunkle Stan was, in fact, a fez-wearing member of the 'Royal Order of the Holy Mackerel.' But according to fans and the Gizmodo website, the censors at Disney have been at hard at work in their Yezhovshchina censorship office and tediously removed the fish symbol by digital trickery from the show's first thirteen episodes and opening credits for broadcast on the new streaming service.

You'd think that if anyone was in danger of having their religious sensitivities brushed in the wrong direction by a cartoon use of fish symbolism it would be Christianity, which used the fish as visual shorthand and an identifier as far back as Rome. But no.

The symbol looks vaguely like a rotated parody of the actual emblem of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, sort of, minus the scimitar. And then you begin to see the root of the problem. Because the crescent and star on the Shriner's symbol is an echo of the famous 'star and crescent' found across the Middle East, turned sideways. That was because that region of the world was the fictional source of the Shrine's mythology in the first place.

If you poke around enough, you'll find that the source of the desperate need to scrape this obscure cartoon image from an obscure corner of the obscure culture is that somebody, somewhere did indeed make the executive decision that the imaginary symbol of the 'Royal Order of the Holy Mackerel' was just a little too close in their hunt for hyperactive offensiveness to the star and crescent symbol found in many flags of Islamic nations, like that of Turkey. It was originally the symbol of the Ottoman Empire, and other Arabic nations have incorporated it. Yet, it's NOT a symbol denoting Islam itself, as the religion forbids symbols and iconography of any kind as being blasphemous.

The national flag of Turkey
But the American-based Nation of Islam does feature it prominently on their flag and website almost as a logo. Theirs is turned the opposite direction from Turkey's and that convinced the Disney censors to deem it the cartoon mackerel religiously offensive to the NOI. Even though you'd have to squint and peer through two sets of solar eclipse sunglasses from 1000 yards to make that connection. Along with thinking that it was making fun of the religious symbol in the first place, which it never did.
Some have said that the censorship first appeared when the show was being syndicated in foreign countries, but The Mighty Mouse has refused to comment about it at all. 

Oh the outrage. It wears a fella out.

Meanwhile, now that a little clot of fans have roared their online displeasure (there have to be at least a few dozen fans of anything this obscure), citing Disney's imperfect censorship has spread throughout all of Internet nerdom. They have been pointing out all week long that the Holy Mackerel on Grunkle Stan's fez still appears on numerous thumbnail images on Disney's service, so it's descended into the usual obsessive game of a-HA-ism and noisy declarations of HY-pocracy that so characterizes the current era we have the misfortune of experiencing right now.

I will take this odd opportunity to call to attention one last bit of past pop culture in case there are any advertising geniuses at the Shriners International headquarters in Tampa. They'd be silly not to take advantage of my dazzling ad man expertice, but what else is new.

Back in the 1960s when the pseudo-adult cartoon The Flintstones was airing in prime-time and parents watched it along with their kids, Shriners Hospitals did a series of advertising tie-in commercials that featured Fred Flintstone.

The MeTV network today airs on local over-the-air broadcast TV stations these days (usually as a side-band digital channel for one of the four major networks), and they just started airing the Flintstones cartoons as part of their evening schedule. The network is essentially a nostalgic station that is laser-focussed on Baby Boomer-aged viewers, and requires no cable hookup in most markets. They don't even offer a live streaming app, in part to protect local stations and their shrinking advertising streams from dilution. 

The Flintstones Shriners commercials were designed to include contemporary footage from the hospitals back in the 1960s, and that could very easily be reedited today with new footage and contact graphics. 

Hey Tampa - how about modifying these old ads just for targeted airing on MeTV to its perfect audience of retirees who are potential new members and donors?

Just sayin.'

H/T to Jon Ruark. Blame him.