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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fraternal Assistance Needed For Masons in Beirut, Lebanon

by Christopher Hodapp

On August 4th, Beirut, Lebanon was devastated when a harbor warehouse was leveled by a pair of massive explosions. In an instant, more than 200 people were killed and 60,000 injured when hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer detonated. Buildings were damaged for miles around when the blast wave hit, and an estimated 300,000 people were left homeless by the destruction. The damage caused by the blast left buildings miles from the port explosion in ruin. The blast comes at a terrible time for the nation of Lebanon, which was already on the brink of financial collapse facing a disastrous economic crisis.

Freemasons from three regular, recognized grand lodge jurisdictions have banded together to organize a financial relief initiative to provide compensation to Masons and other individuals who were directly affected by the disaster. 

The Fraternal Assistance Crisis Team (F.A.C.T. Lebanon) is made up of representatives from the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, and the Grande Loge National Française. All three of these grand lodges have Masonic lodges currently chartered and at work in Lebanon.

The F.A.C.T. Lebanon website has been set up in both English and French to accept international fraternal donations. According to the website, "The Fund will follow strict rules with regards to processes and transparency in the resource and information for eligibility criteria, the methodology used to calculate economic and non-economic loss and compensation payment procedures."

In early August, WB Robert L. D. Cooper, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and curator of their Masonic museum issued the following statement about the F.A.C.T. Lebanon assistance program:
Good Morning Brethren - a quick update from Beirut. Burial of relatives of our brethren who tragically lost their lives are now underway and we are taking account of the damages of our own membership and temples.
We are liaising with each other to ensure provision is made for medicines for our brethren as we have fully covered accommodation for those whose homes are not viable.
In the next 48 hours, we will be launching a contribution page for anyone wishing to assist along with the two other jurisdictions in amity with our Grand Lodge, Grand Lodge of Washington DC, and Grand Lodge National de France. This is becoming critical as the government has not done anything to assist and the situation is getting more difficult for many by the day.
On Lodge level, many of our Lodges have started various initiatives to support their own communities in the areas they meet, from providing hundreds of meals for the medical teams who are practically living in the hospitals to provision of soup kitchens, blood donation and volunteer work for repairs.
Our Cypriot brothers have organized a shipment of food which will be making its way to the port of Tripoli in the Northern region of Lebanon.
May the Great Architect of the Universe continue to protect us all.
FACT LEBANON’s support and donations will be channeled and directed into these main Relief categories:
  • Medical & Health-Related Relief: To support individuals who have suffered injuries or physical disability (hospitalization, medicine, medical equipment, etc).
  • Rebuilding & Relocation Relief: To support in home refurbishing and restoration, relocation, and loss of business/economic damage of offices and business structures.
  • Memorial-Related Relief: To support the families, widows and orphans of victims following the death of the family breadwinner.

For more information and donations, CLICK HERE.

PLEASE NOTE: The FACT Lebanon website does not accept Paypal for donations, but you can donate there via credit card. Be aware that some U.S. banks and credit card systems may decline the foreign payment when you try the first time, unless you commonly make other international payments or transactions. (This is an automated safeguard against nefarious activity that card companies commonly use today — they're afraid somebody is using your stolen credit card number to rent a helicopter in Dubai.) If the system declines the payment, be sure to check your email for a notice form your bank before trying again. They're trying to protect you, but that can often be an annoyance if you don't see the message that your payment got flagged. 

That said, I successfully made a donation using my American card in late August and it worked fine.


The Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia has also set up a U.S. portal for donating to FACT Lebanon via Paypal or by check. Visit their separate website HERE.

Also at that site is a 4-page document with a detailed explanation of the program and details about its distribution.

To donate by U.S. check, please make payable to The DC Masonic Foundation and mail to:

The DC Masonic Foundation
5428 MacArthur Blvd. NW
Washington, DC 20016-2524

In the memo section, please write: "Beirut Relief Fund"

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Masonic Book Club Is Reborn By AASR-SJ

by Christopher Hodapp

Lovers of Masonic books can again rejoice - that which was lost has been reborn! After years of hopeful rumors, the Masonic Book Club (MBC), which has been defunct since 2010, has been resurrected by the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction's Supreme Council!

If you've been reading and collecting Masonic books for very long, or if you hang out in Masonic libraries, you doubtless know about a very special series of blue hardback volumes from the Masonic Book Club. Formed in 1970 by Brothers Alphonse Cerza and Louis Williams, the MBC operated out of the Illinois Lodge of Research for forty years, primarily reprinting long out-of-print works of importance, or occasionally obscure gems. Unlike the spate of badly scanned, print on demand reprints like Kessinger editions and their imitators who quickly followed, the numbered MBC volumes were beautiful facsimile editions, printed on quality paper, bound in leather, generally with a new introduction by noted Masonic scholars that brought fresh understanding to the background of the work itself.

Over the years, they published works as varied as both editions of Anderson’s Constitutions, Samuel Pritchard's Masonry Dissected, The Old Gothic Constitutions, Thomas Smith Webb's Freemasons Monitor, The Folger Manuscript, the Trestleboard of the pivotal 1843 Baltimore Convention, John Robison's Proofs Of A Conspiracy, and many more. Introductions were written by brethren like Wallace McCloud, Harry Carr, Dwight L. Smith, Melvin M. Johnson, and others. (See the whole list HERE.)

The MBC was limited to just 999, and eventually 1,500 members, and it was one of the more peculiar and quirky clubs that you just sort of had to know about. You sent in your twenty dollars every year, but there was no announcement, no periodic news or communication, not even an acknowledgement you had joined. Then, sooner or later, a package would arrive in the mail at some point in the year with a new book enclosed. 

Sadly, the final book went out in 2010 after its last president Robin Carr retired. Like so much else with the MBC, there was no announcement. It just ended. But ever since 2016, Illus. S. Brent Morris at the Scottish Rite SJ has told me of the strong desire he and Art De Hoyos have had to resurrect the MBC from the ashes. This has taken many years of work behind the scenes to accomplish, and the announcement is finally official today. 

The Scottish Rite has had a devotion to high quality publications and books for more than twenty years though the Scottish Rite Research Society, but freighted almost exclusively to the works of the Rite itself, not the wider Masonic world. Their support of the MBC as a standalone club and publication arm is a major commitment to Masonic education and enlightenment to the whole fraternity. If you have seen or owned books published by the SRRS over the recent years, you know they are committed to creating high-quality hardback editions.

The MBC's website answers many questions. The new MBC does not have any of the old membership records of the original club. The Directors of that group voted to dissolve several years ago and donated their remaining assets to the AASR-SJ for charitable purposes. The new MBC, alas, does not have any of the old Club's previous volumes for sale. But you will find them all over used book sources like AbeBooks.com.

There will be no dues for the new Club -payments will only be collected as books are ready to be manufactured, and all transactions will be handled exclusively online. Without a rigid calendar driving publications, new books can come out in nine months or eighteen months as resources permit. Book prices are expected to range in the $25 vicinity for pre-publication orders, or $35 retail if you miss the ordering window. Volumes will no longer be numbered, but the good news is that, if the hardback edition sells out, the MBC will make a paperback print-on-demand edition available of the book.

And to the relief of the MBC's older original members, they say they actually intend to communicate with members twice a year with an electronic newsletter to keep everyone in the loop about upcoming volumes in the works and their production status.

More information can be found at the MBC's website HERE. If you are interested, you need to sign up on the website now.

Below is the press release announcement issued today:
The Masonic Book Club (MBC), formed in 1970 by Brothers Alphonse Cerza and Louis Williams, has been restarted fifty years later by the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ USA, to continue the MBC mission of printing fine Masonic books. After forty years of service to the Craft, the directors in 2010 decided to dissolve the original MBC. In 2017 MW Barry Weer, 33°, the last president of the MBC, transferred the MBC name and assets to the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ USA. The revived Masonic Book Club has the goals of publishing classic Masonic books and of supporting Scottish Rite SJ USA philanthropies. Membership is open to anyone 18 years or older interested in the history of Freemasonry and allows them to purchase MBC editions at a pre-publication discount.
The club originally was limited to 333 members, but the number eventually expanded to nearly 2,000, with 1,083 members when it dissolved in 2010. The new MBC will have a different business model from the old. Most significantly, there will be no dues; being a member entitles you to purchase books at a prepublication discount. An editorial committee (Arturo de Hoyos, S. Brent Morris, and others) will select the books using survey feedback from MBC members. The first publication should be announced in early 2021 with anticipated shipment 3–4 months later.
For more details, check out the Masonic Book Club page at https://scottishrite.org/media-publications/masonic-book-club/. For specific questions, write to mbc@scottishrite.org.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

New UGLE Universities Scheme Outreach Video

by Christopher Hodapp

The United Grand Lodge of England has for many years had a program to promote Freemasonry on college and university campuses around the U.K., including establishing new lodges, as well as linking existing nearby ones, specifically for those institutions. Called The Universities' Scheme, its aim is to help to forge links between well-placed, enthusiastic Lodges and the many students and other local young people who are seeking to become involved in Freemasonry, but who may not know where to begin. There are now about 50 such university-related lodges throughout the UGLE jurisdiction.

A new video has been produced by the Grand Lodge specifically geared to appeal to 'Freshers' - university freshman - about looking into joining the Masonic fraternity. In just 90 seconds, it lays out the basic principles of Masonry, its contributions to communities, and its national and international scope. (See it above.)

One surprise for U.S. Masons is that the video also includes two young lady Masons from the two large, principal feminine grand lodges at work in England today. "So, you think only men can be Freemasons," asks one. There's  no getting round the fact that the question of women will almost immediately arise when Freemasonry gets discussed, most especially on a college campus these days.

Obviously the cultural attitude on college campi these days is more pockmarked with potential social outrage landmines than ever before. All-male fraternal groups are under assault all over the U.S. and Britain as being neanderthal bastions of male superiority or the patriarchy or. . . something. Setting up a booth at a college promoting a male-only group like the Masons is like waving a red cape at an enraged, four-footed pot roast in a bullfighting arena. So England's Masons use a different approach.

Pearl-clutching U.S. Masons take note: England's (and Europe's) rules involving voluntary associations and anti-discrimination laws and requirements differ from the U.S., and the UGLE has openly stated that female Masons are perfectly respectable. They cooperate whenever possible. The UGLE doesn't exactly recognize the female grand lodges, and their members can't sit in open lodge together, but they decided more than 20 years ago to stop acting like they didn't exist and cooperate instead. Bear in mind that England does not have the Order of the Eastern Star, either. So, the UGLE's statement on the matter of lady Masons is quite pragmatic, stating that the two female grand lodges are in all ways regular, apart from the fact that traditional Masons do not permit women to join our lodges. And when a lady approaches them to ask about membership, English Masons are free to say 'here's who to contact, here's their websites, and can I call you a taxi?' 

England's two female grand lodges are Freemasonry For Women (Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons) and the The Order of Women Freemasons. Both are also actively chartering new female lodges around college and university campuses in England, and all three grand lodges are cooperating with each other on this Universities Scheme to introduce Freemasonry to college students by establishing lodges connected to college and university campuses.

UGLE invited the female grand masters of both the HFAF and OWF to their 300th anniversary gala in London in 2017. Interestingly, UGLE and the HFAF conferred with each other when they crafted their recent transgender policies in 2017, which were forced upon them by changes in English laws.

It's a refreshing approach that I wish Americans would adopt, because this question will continue to dog us in varying degrees for the foreseeable future. Contrast England's statement with the way the Grand Lodge of California addresses it on their website:
"Q: Can women join Masonry?""A: There are three strands of Freemasonry in the world: masculine Masonry (exclusively men), feminine Masonry (exclusively women), and mixed Masonry (men and women). The Masons of California is a fraternity of men. We sponsor Masonic organizations for men, women, and youth."
Of course, the biggest issue in the U.S. is that female Freemasonry is just not that popular here, in comparison to so-called 'malecraft' Freemasonry. It is almost useless to tell a young lady about female lodges if the closest one is a 500 mile drive away.

Monday, September 14, 2020

UGLE Issues COVID "Rule Of Six" Meeting Restriction

by Christopher Hodapp

Most states have relaxed their COVID restrictions enough that many American grand lodges are again permitting in-person lodge meetings to one extent or another. The patchwork of state and local orders are too numerous to cite, but even restricted versions of degree work are taking place in some states, almost all requiring masks, distancing among sideliners, etc. I've seen a couple of announcements of outdoor degrees, which is another novel way to deal with the issue of social distancing.

England, however, has been another matter. English health laws have banned all gatherings up until now, forcing lodges to give up in-person meetings. However, this week the country is moving to a 'Rule of Six' about indoor assemblies.

Therefore United Grand Lodge of England's Grand Secretary, David Staples has just announced that all lodge and chapter in-person meetings are restricted to no more than six people. This is to comply with current health laws and restrictions in England at this time. He stresses that this only applies to Masonic lodges and chapters meeting within England itself. (Wales continues to outlaw all in-person gatherings, period.)

The so-called 'Rule Of Six' message in its entirety:

Brethren and Companions,
Following a meeting of the Craft Rulers and the Standing Committee of the Board of General Purposes, and in consultation with the Royal Arch Rulers and the President of the Committee of General Purposes, it has been decided to restrict English Lodge and Chapter meetings to no more than six attendees. This is in response to the new laws which come into force today, Monday 14 September.
Larger meetings in Covid-19 Secure venues are permitted by the new laws, and this decision was not taken lightly, but it was felt that it would send entirely the wrong message to our members, and to the public, if Lodge and Chapter meetings of over six people took place at this time. This position will be kept under review and further measures will be announced shortly. UGLE and SGC remain committed to following appropriate official guidance, and to be seen to do so, whilst allowing individuals, Lodges and Chapters to decide what is right for their own particular circumstances.
UGLE also now advises that face coverings are worn at all meetings, even though the law does not currently require this. For the avoidance of doubt those who are exempt under the law from wearing face coverings in shops are not expected to wear them at meetings.
The, admittedly small, good news is that if they wish, the six or fewer who attend a meeting may now dine together.
This message applies only to Provinces in England. In Wales, legislation still prevents any Masonic Meetings from taking place at this time.

Yours sincerely and fraternally,
VW Bro/E Comp David Staples
Grand Secretary/Grand Scribe E

Friday, September 04, 2020

George Washington Memorial's Masonic Digital Archive Is a Research Treasure

by Christopher Hodapp

For many years, Mark Tabbert at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia has been actively seeking support for and promoting a digital collection made up of the proceedings of all U.S. grand lodges and appendant grand bodies. 

This ongoing project is being done through the Memorial's Louis A. Watres Library, named after the Association’s second president who oversaw the Memorial’s construction. Opened in 1952, the Library contains a substantial collection of approximately 7,000 volumes, including Masonic literature and U.S. Grand Lodges’ and other major Masonic organizations’ annual Proceedings.

The scope of the Masonic Digital Archives project is enormous - consider that a grand lodge like my own has been publishing these reports annually for over two hundred years, generally at the rate of a couple of hundred pages each year. Then multiply that by 51 Grand Lodges, plus Grand Royal Arch Chapters, Grand Cryptic Councils, and Grand Knights Templar Commanderies.

The Memorial Association is digitizing each governing body’s complete annual proceedings collections for a flat rate of $1000 as a service to the Craft. That price is non-adjustable, regardless of the number of books or pages digitized. After that, a $200 annual subscription fee maintains and updates the online collection on the Memorial's LUNA database platform. LUNA presents each book in pdf form and is fully searchable, making the hunting of names, places, topics, dates and more fast and simple. 

The Memorial's digitization project has primarily used the much faster and less expensive 'destructive' method of scanning, meaning that bound books must be sacrificed in order to speed the scanning process. For that reason, the Watres Library has requested two full sets of proceedings from each grand body so that the Memorial still has one complete and undamaged, bound set of volumes on its shelves to augment the online digital scanned versions. They have gotten underway with scanning the duplicate volumes they already have.

To see the proceedings currently online from 21 states and grand bodies, visit the Masonic Digital Archives HERE. 

Mark just sent me an update this week advising that, as of August 2020, the Memorial staff has digitized all of their duplicate proceedings collections, alphabetically from Alabama to New Hampshire so far. They expect to complete the full project through Wyoming before 2022. 

So here's the catch.

If you are a grand officer of a Masonic Grand Lodge or Grand York Rite Body of a state alphabetically between Alabama and New Hampshire, Mark can tell you what proceedings years have been digitized and which are still needed. If you confirm your jurisdiction's $1000 commitment to the project and the annual $200 subscription fee, the available digitized proceedings of your grand body will appear in the LUNA catalog within five working days.

If you are grand officer of a Masonic Grand Lodge or Grand York Rite Body of a state alphabetically between New Jersey and Wyoming, the Library has not yet organized your proceedings and is unable to give you a detailed inventory just yet. However, with your confirmed commitment to the project, Mark will pull your state’s proceedings and provide an inventory of what they have. Once a complete proceedings set is in hand from you and the $1000 is received, digitizing and posting on-line into LUNA will take approximately 30 working days or less.

This massive undertaking is an incredible research resource for historians and researchers, be they Masonic, academic, or genealogical. If your Grand Lodge hasn't stepped up and contributed to this project, the scanning and annual hosting fees are more than fair. Indiana scanned our proceedings many years ago, and to have them in digitized form has been a godsend - I couldn't have written my book Heritage Endures without it. And each year our jurisprudence committee and others regularly dive into our online proceedings hunting minute and otherwise hard-to-find information. Plus, organizing these collections onto an easy to use and access database is not a simple project for your grand lodge to take on - the Memorial is doing all the hard work.

If you have any questions about participating the Masonic Digital Archives Project or about LUNA, contact Mark Tabbert, Director of Museum and Library Collections.

The Louis A. Watres Library is available to the public and researchers by appointment only. Appointments must be made a least 24 hours prior. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Hurricane Laura Wrecks Vinton, Louisiana Lodge

by Christopher Hodapp

The brethren of Vinton Lodge 364 in Vinton, Louisiana report that their building was severely damaged by Hurricane Laura last night when the storm made landfall just after midnight.

Vinton is located about thirty miles northeast of Port Arthur, Texas, just north of the Gulf coast, and the town suffered major damage. 

The lodge room was recently remodeled. This 'before' photo shows its former appearence.
Vinton's members had just put the finishing touches on their meeting room this summer.

The Vinton Lodge sits on the main street of town.
The brethren of Vinton Lodge had recently completely updated and remodeled their lodge room, and all of that work has now been destroyed. Fortunately, they are not reporting any injuries or loss of life to their members or families.

Hurricane Laura was a Category 4 storm, with winds of 150 miles per hour, and over half a million residents in Texas and Louisiana were under mandatory evacuation orders before the storm hit. The hurricane brought catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding to portions of Louisiana, killing at least one person. The storm weakened rapidly as it moved through the state Thursday morning after landfall, downing trees and power lines, and knocking out power to more than 415,000 people.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Iowa's Masonic Library & Museum Highlighted

by Christopher Hodapp

The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa yesterday featured a substantial and nicely written piece about the Grand Lodge of Iowa's magnificent Library and Museum and its curator/librarian, WB Bill Krueger. It doesn't get the attention that the venerable Masonic museums and libraries in America's northeast often do, but Cedar Rapids is arguably one of the top Masonic research resources in the world. The original library's home was erected in 1884 and was the first Masonic-specific library building in America. The present 1955 facility today has more than 155,000 volumes, in addition to its fine museum collection.

The reporter asked Bill to name the top five treasures in the Museum today. His choices were: 

•The Sargent Table
Built in the early 1900s by Cedar Rapids Mason Philip J. Sargent, this stunning marquetry drop-leaf table features 37,000 tiny pieces of inlay from 100 kinds of wood, and scores of Masonic symbols.

•"The First Three Degrees of Masonry" painted by artist Grant Wood in 1922.
A stunning triptych symbolizing the Masonic degrees and stages of man.

•Benjamin Franklin’s 1734 printing of James Anderson's 1723 'Constitutions of the Freemasons'

•PGM Theodore Sutton Parvin's diaries
Parvin was one of the founders of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, and started the Iowa Masonic Library in 1842 with a $5 gold piece.

•Joseph Smith’s Ledger
Smith's final ledger book from the Mormon community in Nauvoo, Illinois that was being kept at the time of his death at the hands of a mob in 1844.

The entire article with photos can be seen HERE.

Please call the Grand Lodge of Iowa Library & Museum to ask about visiting hours, especially during the COVID shutdowns. I called several times in the last couple of months, but the building has been closed for much of the year. In fact, it's always a good idea to call before visiting any Masonic library and museum. They are generally staffed infrequently by volunteers, and can often have erratic hours.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Masonic Symbols On Mothballed Planes Bring Out the Crazies

by Christopher Hodapp

It doesn't take much these days to send the conspiracy lovers into orbit.

A story appeared on the website of Australia's 9News TV station in Sydney on August 19th, reporting on financial losses for Qantas Airlines. Many international flights between the U.S. and Australia have been temporarily halted this year because of the international COVID shutdowns and restrictions. So at the beginning of the report, a half-second long shot showed a mothballed Qantas airliner being towed into storage at the Mojave Air and Space Port as part of a cost-cutting move by the airline. 

Some eagle-eyed viewers looked closely at the fleeting opening shot and spotted black engine storage covers on one jet that were adorned with a giant All Seeing Eye and a square and compass. Consequently, social media had a brief blowup over the last couple of days over the Masonic symbols on the plane. 

A YouTube conspiracy video entitled 'Qantas busted' has already racked up more than 10,000 views over the weekend. And no, I'm not linking to the thing.

Qantas’ loss of AU$1.9 billion is the greatest drop in revenues in the Australian national airline's 100 year history, and represents a 91% drop in profits. Some 20,000 employees have been laid off, and 6,000 have been pressured to retire (in the chilling English parlance of human obsolescence, "made redundant"). So naturally, lots of people have lots of reasons to look for someone or something to blame. 

Nine News contacted the airline and the Mojave storage facility to get to the bottom of this 'controversy' (which means it's been a realllllly slow news week in Australia). The covers are giant plastic tarps stuck to the engine cowlings with high-visibility yellow tape. And according to the airline, it seems that the ground crews occasionally become artistic or bored, and create designs on the covers with tape, as the smiley faces and other markings show in the photo below.

According to the report today, officials said,
"Aircraft engine cover art is a thing," they said.
"As you can see, the yellow tape can sometimes be used quite creatively.
"We've obviously got a few engineers who are fans of The Da Vinci Code, but we've asked them to stick to emojis and smiley faces."
Something in me thinks the brethren in Barstow are toasting each other and cheerfully singing the Stonecutter's anthem tonight. 

Whether the Masonic symbols were installed by an arty lodge member, or by a prankster who was just trying to excite the Internet crazies, there's no way of knowing. But "the Freemasons" didn't have anything to do with Qantas’ bad fortunes this year.

But then, that's just what you'd be expecting me to say.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

New Books: 'The Craft' by John Dickie; 'History of Esoteric and Anagogic Doctrines' by Cihangir Gener

by Christopher Hodapp

A new book about Freemasonry is getting a lot of positive coverage in the press. The Craft: How the Freemasons Made the Modern World by John Dickie was published several weeks ago in the United Kingdom, and was just officially released in the U.S. this week. My copy just hit the doorstep on Thursday. This is not a book review, because I haven't had a chance to read beyond the second chapter yet. But the press coverage of the book has been both curious and encouraging.

To answer a question that several brethren have asked, no, Mr. Dickie is not a Mason — his grandfather was, but he is not a Mason himself. He is a University College of London Professor of Italian studies, and the author of several books about the Italian Mafia, most notably, The Cosa Nostra (2005) and Blood Brotherhoods (2014). And from what I've read of The Craft so far, it is an ambitious history and survey of the fraternity around the world, told in an informal manner, with the author telling his own first-person experiences and thoughts throughout. It feels like a very personal book.

The English edition of The Craft got the far more eye-catching cover

In the English press, stories about Freemasons and the fraternity are all too frequently told from a sneering point of view, laden with giggly references to 'dodgy handshakes and rolled-up trouser legs', usually coupled with accusations of improper (and sometimes criminal) activities and beliefs, and almost always including an unrelated, lurid anti-Masonic accusation from the past, just to add 'background.' The word 'sinister' is almost a requirement. The fraternity is uniformly treated as both comically useless AND darkly nefarious and powerful, which is a tough balancing act to make a case for. In other words, finding a dispassionate or even respectful article about the Masons in an English newspaper or TV news network is like stumbling across a unicorn grazing in your garden with a leprechaun on his back. That was why UGLE Grand Secretary David Staples started the #EnoughIsEnough campaign last year, to combat the problem. 

Consequently, Professor John Dickie's new book has been almost uniformly greeted there with what seems like astonishment by English reviewers that the author found the fraternity to be both honorable and worthy of respect. 

"The Craft is a superb book that often reads like an adventure novel. It’s informative, fascinating and often very funny. Dickie, a professor of Italian studies at University College London, recounts the history of freemasonry by breaking it down into beautifully written stories rooted in places crucial to the organisation. The depth of research is awe-inspiring, but what really makes this book is the author’s visceral understanding of what constitutes a good story..."
The Times also had a separate review by Dominic Sandbrook:
"Despite being a Cowan, as masons call non-members, I enjoyed this book enormously. Dickie’s gaze is both wide and penetrating; he is just as good on black American Freemasons, whose ranks include the basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, as he is on the intricacies of French or Italian masonry. He makes a persuasive case for masonry’s historic importance, from its Enlightenment origins to its influence on the mafia, Mormonism and the Ku Klux Klan, all of which copied its rituals. He treats the conspiracy theories about masonic influence in the British police with commendably withering scorn, lamenting that “such stories regularly make it past the bullshit detectors of reputable newspapers”. And, most refreshingly, he makes masonry sound like an entirely sane, reasonable way to spend your time.
"For all the jokes about handshakes and rolled-up trouser legs, masonic rituals are no stranger than the traditions of the football crowd. And at the heart of the Craft, Dickie thinks, lies something much more powerful than orgies or devil worship: community."
Reviewer Dominic Greene in The Spectator likewise greeted the book with accolades:
"The Craft is a shadow history of modernity. Though more sober than most lodge meetings, it is, like its subject, ingenious and frequently bizarre. Freemasonry, John Dickie argues, is one of Britain’s ‘most successful exports’, along with other club activities such as tennis, soccer and golf. It is ‘a fellowship of men, and men alone, who are bound by oaths to a method of self-betterment’. If this ideal of tolerant fraternity sounds modern — the absence of women aside — it is because it is."
He goes into much greater detail about the book's contents (DeGroot's seems more like he skimmed the book and relied on the press release for his, but I've since been told that his was severely edited down for publication). Greene's final take on it is:
"The Craft is well-crafted and sensible, making good use of English archives which have only recently been opened. By offering a new way of socialising, freemasonry laid the foundation of our commercial society, providing a sense of purpose to its practitioners — but also to its enemies, who confuse it with their own fantasies of power. ‘I am utterly opposed to it and to the influence of other secret organisations, because I believe them to be deeply corrupting,’ a Labour backbencher told the Commons in 1988. Who was that brave speaker of truth to power? Jeremy Corbyn."
Dickie himself was given a substantial space to write about the Masons and his book in the Daily Express.  And in the BBC History Magazine, Dickie was interviewed by Ellie Cawthorne, and he addresses the problem of lurid press coverage.
“In Britain, I think there are two competing stories that dominate discussions of Freemasonry. On the one hand, they appear in the public imagination as a shady organization with something to hide. And this is what fuels the newspaper coverage they get—outlandish stories in which they are responsible for cover-ups of the sinking of the Titanic, or the Hillsborough disaster. People put two Freemasons in a row and make a conspiracy. Counter to that runs the Freemasons’ own narrative of their history, one of a noble, honorable tradition of brotherhood and altruism. This, admittedly, is much more dull. But somewhere in between these two stories is a vast, untapped world of extraordinary tales about what Freemasonry has meant to people, about the things it has got involved in and the paranoia that Freemasons have generated throughout their history, and also how Freemasonry has been hugely historically important.”
On this side of the Atlantic, he was also featured in Time Magazine last week, writing 'What the Freemasons Taught the World About Secrecy.' And now that the U.S. release has officially kicked off, he just received a positive review by Alex Beam in the Wall Street Journal today.

I gotta get the number of this guy's publicist.

Meanwhile, the United Grand Lodge of England has recommended his book, and they will feature a webinar with Professor Dickie on August 31st at 7:30PM London time. (GMT) To sign up for this event and get the access information for their BrightTalk webinar system, CLICK HERE.

Any time there is positive buzz about the fraternity on a large scale, there are opportunities for us to tell our own story and answer the queries of the public. So I'm reading his book as quickly as I can.

Also in my stack of summer books is History of Esoteric and Anagogic Doctrines by Turkish Freemason Cihangir Gener. Brother Kenan Kolday was kind enough to drop a copy by the house a couple of months ago, and I have been remiss in getting to it before now. If you regard yourself as a more esoteric-minded Mason, interested in philosophy, ritual, symbolism, the origin of ideas and the merging of the physical with the spiritual, this book will provide you with much to absorb and ponder.

Brother Gener has written an extremely thoughtful and complex work that examines common esoteric threads of monotheistic beliefs and religions and how those concepts enhance - not conflict - with rational thought and the Age of Reason. That's the simplistic summary. The book is religious, mythological, historical, philosophical, scientific. It is partially encyclopedic, partially speculative, and all thought-provoking. Gener himself says that he set out to frame the theory of quantum physics among thousands of years of esoteric doctrine.

My thumbnail sketch does not do such a complicated and detailed work justice. I am still slowly working through it, but I wanted to mention it here because I haven't been timely about it. My understanding is that this book is used as a text in several Turkish universities, and it has been published and revised several times there. This is a new English translation of the book, and it is available from Amazon.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Special Promotion for 'Freemasons For Dummies' Now Through December

by Christopher Hodapp

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been working with the good folks at Wiley Publishing to find a way to offer a substantial discount to lodges and grand lodges who wish to order copies of Freemasons For Dummies for their new petitioners and candidates, without being required to buy large quantities. 

Beginning August 1st, you can order multiple copies of the paperback edition of Freemasons For Dummies directly from the publisher at 30% off the $19.99 list price. This special offer will extend from now through December 31st, 2020.

Because of the COVID virus shutdowns, Masonic lodges throughout the United States have been largely forbidden from meeting in person and conferring degrees on new candidates. 
In my own state, we've been prevented from conferring degrees at least until the end of the year. At the other end of the situation, thousands of interested men who have been trapped at home by the shutdowns have been contacting grand lodges directly or logging on to the www.BeAFreemason.com website expressing new interest in joining the Masonic fraternity. The result has been a growing group of potential new Masons stalled and unable to move forward until states fully reopen and lodges can once again meet together in person. 

So, click Read More below for the 30% discount code, the website you must order through,  and the rest of the grisly details:

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Journal of the Masonic Society 50th Issue: Twelve Years and 24,000 Pages Ago

by Christopher Hodapp

It began in a bar, as only the finest, dazzlingly harebrained schemes should, over watery glasses of well-brand scotch. It was predictably frigid in Washington, D.C. that February on the Saturday night of Masonic Week, too cold to sit outside and smoke pipes and cigars while weaving plans within plans with fellow plotters and organizers of secret cabals. 

Masonic Week of 2008 was one of those moments you can look back on and say that right then was when things changed. There was everything that weekend; shake ups, controversies, new books, exciting speakers, fresh new faces and wise old ones with fresh new ideas, the realization that some of those ideas were bearing fruit around North American Freemasonry, and the sort of intense frustration with the status quo that such a toxic combination inevitably leads to. Devious plans are usually deserving of lowered voices in dimly lit, book-lined studies, with cut glass ashtrays shared by Unnamed Superiors. But the Hilton Mark Center’s 80’s-chic lobby bar would have to do...

This coming issue of the Journal of The Masonic Society will be #50 and will feature papers from a few of the Brethren who founded The Masonic Society. These papers will recount the early days and actions taken by a handful of Masons with the goal of doing something different, something better, and something very needed in U.S. Freemasonry. It is a success story of doing what so many said could not be done — and setting a new standard for all Masonic publications and societies.

TMS President 
Jay Höckberg, Past President Roger S. VanGorden, Secretary/Treasurer Nathan Brindle, Journal Editor Michael Poll, Art Director John Bridegroom, and myself will share thoughts, opinions, plans, and actions that ended up being the revolution in how to create a - The - Masonic Society.

From our very first conversation, the Masonic Society was conceived with a strong eye on the thousands of dedicated Masons who read and write about Masonic history, symbolism, philosophy and more, but are never heard from outside of their local area. We wanted our society's publications and programs to feature the best from the world’s numerous Masonic research lodges and groups that would otherwise vanish into obscurity after being read at one of their too infrequent meetings, or possibly printed in some collection of papers no one would ever open again. Too much great, interesting, insightful, inspirational work is done locally that deserves a bigger audience. And we wanted to create a magazine that had at least three articles or features in every issue that interested you or me, a Grand Master or a new Mason, and everybody in between.

With that mission in mind, our little group stayed up through the wee hours of the morning engaging in the sort of “We can put on a Big Show in the barn and you can make the costumes!” conversation usually reserved for business startups and Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies. Fifty issues and 2,400 jam-packed pages later, the Masonic Society has indeed put on quite the Big Show in that little barn, and it came out pretty darned good, I must say. As the founding editor of the Journal, I can say with great satisfaction that it accomplished what we all had hoped it would do from the start — a rising tide raises all boats. Numerous Masonic magazines and journals across the country have stepped up their game to improve their looks, quality and content, and increase their value to their readers after we set the bar higher. That’s been good for all of us. 

To this day, the Masonic Society still publishes the most valuable, useful and beautiful Masonic magazine of original research, artwork, photography and essays anywhere.
After I was compelled to bow out as Editor in our fifth year to deal with health issues, I was ably succeeded at the editor's desk by my friend Michael Halleran, and my fellow Indiana Mason John Bridegroom shouldered the huge job of Art Director. When Michael also withdrew after a few years, Mike Poll brought his many years of editorial experience as a Masonic book publisher to the Journal, and all of us have been the beneficiaries of John and Mike’s unbeatable combination of talents ever since. This milestone issue provides a good excuse to look back and survey the fruits of twelve years of labor and devotion.

In its first dozen years, the Masonic Society has served the entire fraternity worldwide by preserving vital Internet resources like Paul M. Bessel's indispensable research site; created media references about Masonry for the press during the height of Da Vinci Code/Lost Symbol/Dan Brown mania; hosted seminars and symposia all across the country and in the U.K., and much more.

Over the years TMS conferences and symposia have been outstanding experiences (see this report from the 2017 conference in Lexington, Kentucky). And we continue to hold our annual meeting with a speaker at Masonic Week each year, true to our origins.

The Masonic Society's Quarry Project Masonic Writer's Guide established widely-adopted writing style guidelines for Masonic authors, historians, researchers, libraries and museums to achieve some sense of uniformity to abbreviations and capitalization questions involving our peculiar and specialized nomenclature. If you aren't sure whether to type Masonry or masonry; Grand Lodge or  grand lodge; St. or Saint; thirty-second degree or 32°; fellow craft or fellowcraft; Brethren, bretheren, or botheren; whether or not to use lodge numbers and how; whether to use honorific titles (like Most or Right Worshipful, Illustrious, PGM, WB, KT, WM, etc.), or just how to structure a Masonic footnote or citation, check out the Quarry Project Masonic style guide.

Not a member of The Masonic Society, or has your membership lapsed? Annual dues are a paltry $45 and include four quarterly issues of the Journal, a dazzlingly splendiferous certificate of membership, dues card and pin. Institutions, non-Masons and non-qualifying members of unrecognized Masonic organizations may also subscribe to the Journal at the same rate. For membership requirements and applications, CLICK HERE.

*One caveat about these full issues of the Journal being available electronically at this time - you cannot download or print from them, they are read-only. TMS has a reprint policy, and physical copies of almost every issue from the last twelve years can be purchased from the website. That policy is for the protection of  our authors to prevent wholesale piracy of their hard work, which is, sadly, a very real concern in this electronic age.