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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Angel Millar's 'Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality' Now Available

Students seeking to explore the esoteric symbolism, concepts and philosophy of initiatic traditions like Freemasonry, Order of the Golden Dawn, Rosicrucianism and countless others, take note. Brother Angel Millar has just announced the release of his new book, Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician from Inner Traditions Publishing. 

Angel Millar is a New York Mason and a popular lecturer on Freemasonry, initiation and esotericism, as well as an artist and student of martial arts. He is the author of several books, including Freemasonry: Foundation of the Western Esoteric Tradition and The Crescent and the Compass: Islam, Freemasonry, Esotericism and Revolution in the Modern Age

Now in his newest book he discusses the craftsman, warrior, and magician archetypes that echo the traditional three-part division of societies. He explores how these three classic initiatic archetypes represent the three successive stages of spiritual growth in an individual’s life. He investigates their symbolism, rituals, and metaphysical aspects and shares meditations, practices, and transformational techniques for each archetype.

For an excerpt of the new book, the Introduction can be read HERE.

Knights of Columbus Ditch Degrees and 'Secrecy' for Public Ceremony

"The BIG problem with our fraternity is our secrecy. And our rituals. Too long, too complicated.  If we speed it up, say we combine all three rituals, and do it in a single afternoon as a PUBLIC ceremony so their families could see that we're not creepy. — THAT'S what YOUNG men REALLY want!"
Some version of these very words at some point have dribbled out of the mouths of more than one Masonic leader in the U.S. or elsewhere over the last 25 years or so. Face it - that's how American Masons got One Day Classes starting in the 1980s. Minus the "let's do it in public" part. Regardless, even One Day Masons still at least get to witness our three Craft degree rituals essentially as they have been done for centuries. They are an intrinsic part of the entire initiatic experience that progresses in knowledge and responsibility by steps. 

Non-Masons have a total misunderstanding of what Masonic "secrecy" is all about and how and why it exists. Over the years, quite literally thousands of other organizations have attempted to model themselves after the Masonic template by initiating members into their various fraternities and advancing them in knowledge and understanding. The "secrecy" in "secret societies" usually has nothing to do with nefarious activity, except in the most criminal or deliberately spooky clubs.

Imagine this statement being given by a Grand Master at your Annual Communication:

The future of our Order depends upon growth, and we need a way to join that is inviting and accessible. The new combined ceremony removes the barriers of secrecy and commitment of time that inhibited many from joining our ranks. It also eliminates redundancies and presents the lessons of charity, unity and fraternity in a more clear and convincing way.
Except that it wasn't a Masonic leader. It appears in the latest issue of Knightline, an internal magazine for the Catholic fraternal order of the Knights of Columbus. After more than 130 years, the Knights have just decided to ditch their foundational three-degree initiatic system, blindfolding of candidates, and the whole "secrecy" business in favor of - you guessed it - one day classes. Or more correctly, 30 minute classes.

With a single "streamlined" half-hour ceremony replacing their three initiatic degrees. 

Held in public with families and friends. 

At least one wag online has already dubbed it "Knight Lite."

Never mind that they have had our bad example of a quarter century of Masons who have gone through one day events and uniformly stated out loud that they felt sorely cheated by the whole experience. Why am I imagining a group of 70-year olds telling a room full of 80-year olds "what young men want" without bothering to actually find out? Probably because I've seen it more than a few times with our own organization.

I've been following this story now for two weeks, and the most bewildering aspect is that, unlike every other voluntary associative fraternal organization in the U.S., the Knights of Columbus have defied the 'Bowling Alone' demographics and the generations and DOUBLED in size since 1960 to almost 2 million today. Which makes this even more inexplicable. 

The Knights of Columbus is a voluntary men's fraternal group for Catholics, and was founded in 1885 by Father Michael McGivney, a young priest serving at St. Mary Church in New Haven, Connecticut. This was during the Golden Age of Fraternalism when membership in so-called "secret societies" was in full flower and explosive expansion. Like so many other fraternal groups, the KofC patterned itself after Freemasonry's basic structure, with three principal degree ceremonies (eventually joined by a fourth degree that was optional, similar to the Knights Templar of Masonry, complete with their own patriotic drill teams featuring similar uniforms, swords, and plumed chapeaux).

One of the reasons for their formation was that so many other fraternal groups at that time would not admit Catholics as members – or the Church would not permit parishioners to join them, as with Masonry. Late 19th century America was overwhelmingly Protestant, and Catholicism was considered a religious minority that was paired with a huge influx of Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigration. Distrust of Catholic foreigners waxed and waned throughout the 19th century - the anti-Catholic, nationalist 'Know Nothings' were a noisy force before the Civil War. The same sentiments would boil for another sixty years and eventually bubble over into the re-formation of the Ku Klux Klan into the 1920s. In fact, the KofC's fourth degree was added in the early 1900s to specifically counteract anti-Catholic accusations and smears of their purported anti-American fealty to Rome (along with a desire to compete in parade drill teams with the Masonic Knights Templar). When Al Smith ran for President in 1928 as the first Catholic candidate for that office, all of those old "foreign agent for Rome" propaganda smears got dragged out again, and Catholics were quite right to not shrug off a few insults.

All four KofC degrees have historically been conferred in secret, with men only, and each teaches a different lesson or virtue - charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. In time, they also created an insurance benefit program (like the Woodmen of America), their own women's auxiliary, and youth groups for boys and girls. Today they have over two million members worldwide. And unlike Freemasonry, their membership since the 1960s has only INCREASED, while other older groups like ours have plunged in size. But that's a bit of a misleading figure, because their members are not participating or coming back. Yes they pay dues, but they don't participate.

Now their leadership thinks they have the solution. From a story in American Magazine circulated by the Catholic News Service:

[S]tarting this year, the Knights have adopted a new ceremony. Called the Exemplification of Charity, Unity and Fraternity, it combines the initiation for the first three degrees into a single ceremony that will be open to family, friends and fellow parishioners.

"There is nothing we do that is secret or needs to be secret," Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. "We decided this is a way to let other parishioners know, family members know, what the Knights of Columbus is all about. We think that's a good thing."


At the Knights' Supreme Convention last summer, a resolution from the Illinois delegation calling for combining the first-, second- and third-degree ceremonies into one and removing the condition of secrecy was approved. Anderson directed a review of the ceremonies "with an eye toward staying true to our roots while at the same time presenting our principles of charity, unity and fraternity in a more clear and convincing way."

Anderson unveiled the new ceremony in November at the midyear meeting for the order's state deputies, who are the highest official in each jurisdiction. He said the ceremony "stays true to our traditions while addressing the needs of our times."

The fourth-degree ceremony will remain unchanged and will continue to be open to members only.

"Secrecy has to be understood in the context of the 19th century," Anderson said. "There was incredible bigotry against Catholics," with the anti-Catholic No [sic] Nothings in control politically in New England at the time, and the Ku Klux Klan later became a powerful political force across the country, he said. "There was some appeal to secrecy." Also at the time, the idea of progressing through the degrees as a journey toward Knighthood was popular.

But today, those features have proved to be an impediment to men joining, particularly young men, Anderson said.

The new single ceremony takes about 30 minutes, Anderson said.

By opening the ceremony to the public, "families and friends can see what we're all about and hopefully decide I or my brother or my husband should join," Anderson said.


"It's an exciting development for the Knights of Columbus," said Michael McCusker, the state deputy of Tennessee. "How many times do we go home from degrees with our hearts on fire and we had a desperate need to share it with our families, but we couldn't? To me that's akin to putting your light under a bushel."

"What I also like is it removes the struggle of getting a man to go through all three separate degrees," said McCusker, a member of Council 9317 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cordova, in suburban Memphis, Tennessee. "I like that they go, they and their families see what they're involved in, and the minute they leave, they're full members of the Knights of Columbus."

The latest issue of Knightline also contains a detailed article about this new streamlined degree conferral ceremony, along with several statements from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, the national head of the Order:

“Just as our forefathers rallied to meet the challenges of their day, we must inspire the men of our day. We must reach out to meet these men where they are. And when we do, we must show them that they are called to be men of Charity, Unity and Fraternity. Because of this we are acting to make our Order more inviting and more accessible.”


“In recent decades, we have found it harder to bring men, especially young fathers, into the Order. When we ask them why, they tell us three ceremonies are too time-consuming and too difficult to attend. They tell us that secrecy is unnecessary.

“Many local councils lack ceremonial teams or the manpower to organize degrees. This means many candidates wait far too long to fully join our ranks. Some give up. Too many never take their Second and Third Degrees. Last year, only little more than half of the men who took their First Degree also took their Third Degree.

“Our most recent supreme convention adopted a resolution from Illinois to consider combining our current First, Second and Third Degree ceremonies into one and removing the condition of secrecy. ... We undertook an inclusive process with supreme directors, state officers and ceremonialists with many decades of experience in the exemplification of our degrees... Our new ceremony can be held in a council chamber or in the parish with families and friends seated in the pews. They will see firsthand, the organization that their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and friends are joining — the principles and values they are committing to and why it matters.”

So it's all the same justifications:  fewer qualified ritualists in the Order means fewer councils are able to confer their own degrees, and fewer active members means fewer personal mentors to welcome and instruct candidates. They have also ditched their longstanding personal petitioning and investigation requirements for new members, now permitting applicants to sign up and join conditionally entirely online without any personal contact whatsoever. That means more men sign up to carry a dues card who never even bother to show up to their own council's meetings or so much as meet with fellow members. 

Last year the Knights of Columbus threw their old chapeaux and tuxedos overboard for their
Fourth Degree drill teams in favor of a watered down blazer and beret,
under the justification that the old uniform was anachronistic
and "too expensive for young men."

All of this was the very opposite of why the KofC was formed in the first place. So the KofC has surrendered and joined society's mediocre march to more isolation and anonymity, lowered standards of behavior and conduct, and fewer expectations of personal growth and achievement.

One wonders what the KofC's Father Michael McGivney would think about all of this today.

On a related note, I'm currently reading Yuval Levin's book, A Time To Build, in which he discusses the former vital importance of trust in institutions and the critical roles they played in the U.S. until the last fifty years. Institutions like the Freemasons and the Knights of Columbus used to be formative, arguably even transformative. That is to say, participation in such institutions used to mold our character and personality, expect and erect standards of behavior and morality, and enforce their own systems of collective ethics on their members. In short, making good men better ones. In that way, American society developed a collective, inborn level of standards and fairness that permitted our unique democratic society to grow and prosper and function pretty smoothly. Joining a group like the Masons was intended to be formative.  

No more. Today, joining a group has become performative. In the rush to snag warm bodies in off the street, our fraternal groups are becoming just one more place to display our already preconceived notions of behavior and status. Members are transforming their institutions, instead of the other way around. 

What the fraternal groups used to teach to their members is far less important now than public positions held, vainglorious titles collected, shiny medals plastered across every lapel, and stacks of spiffy membership certificates nailed over the desk. Increasingly, more groups are being driven from within to be more publicly demonstrative of various favored cultural or political agendas. (The KofC, for instance, has made one of its primary public missions to demonstrate against pro-abortion laws.) Longstanding rules of membership and conduct that stood for centuries are now cast aside to demonstrate inclusiveness, woke-ishness, and intersectional sensitivity. Hairsplitting over whether a "transitioning transgender" is a man or not is now common conversation. Expectations of things like marital fidelity have been pitched overboard so some up-and-coming grand officer won't be embarrassed that he lives with his girlfriend who hasn't divorced her existing husband "yet." Requirements of even a nominal belief in God have been contorted and stretched to their farthest possible limits because "an otherwise good guy won't join if we make him believe in God anymore!"  And so on.

The Knights of Columbus aren't just offering their new 3-in-1 public ceremony as an option. As the Knightline articles point out, they are to eventually replace their old initiatic rituals entirely. "A final date for complete termination of the old ceremonies will be determined by the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors." It would be curious to look in 50 years from now and see if this creates a "traditional observance" movement within the KofC to preserve and revive their original rituals. After all, young Catholic conservatives managed to re-introduce the Latin Mass after decades of the vernacular mass had been forced upon them by Vatican II in the 1960s. Why? They felt cheated by losing the centuries-long connection to their foundation.

As for those old, previously-taken pledges of secrecy in their old degrees? The national organization declares, "Promises made in previous ceremonies should be honored."

And who says chivalry is dead?


A friend asked online why this should upset so many Masons in online discussion groups and Facebook over the last few days. Here's why. 

Doubtless there will be a little clot of Masonic GMs who think this is a fine idea and believe "Our biggest problem is secrecy and time-wasting. What an answer!" The KofC was ALWAYS a weak patched up fraternal cousin of Freemasonry so the Church could say "We have those, too." So this isn't a major concern outside of their group. But they've already seen the destructive result of online memberships for non-participants - they don't participate. All they are doing is further watering down the one-on-one friendship, mentorship and companionship aspects of any fraternal group. And this only reinforces that isolation.

It's a boney finger and an empty sleeve to Masonic leaders who harbor these same broken ideas in their own heads.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Memphis Masonic Temple For Sale

The Masonic white elephant hunters are at it again.

The Daily Memphian in Memphis, Tennessee reports this morning that their downtown DeSoto Masonic Temple is officially up for sale for $2.5 million (the story is hidden behind a paywall), and has been for about a month and a half. 

From what I'm able to discover, the DeSoto Temple has a large lodge room and ceremonial rooms for the York Rite bodies, including a Commandery Asylum. It is the home of Memphis Lodge 118 and DeSoto Lodge 299. 

According to the estimate in the article, if the Masons of Memphis decided to recreate this beautiful temple today they'd spend between $11-16 million. That's how much the brethren in 1914 thought of their fraternity when  they erected it with great pomp and fanfare. Try suggesting that kind of investment in a Masonic lodge building to a couple of hundred city brethren in 2020.

Order of the White Elephant
Most of the old bromides and excuses from the white elephant hunters are intact: too big, too old, no parking, creaky elevator, so bargain price. Six floors, 56,000 square feet. 'Why, it'd be nigh unto a miracle if us poor, beleaguered developers and real estate agents don't make the Masons pay US just to take it off their hands, by gum.'

And yet, someone WILL buy it - undoubtedly for even less than it's listed for - and a developer or individual investor WILL manage to have the money that the fraternity never can seem to find these days just to protect and maintain our most impressive and important temples. Interesting when you consider that in 1914 when it was built, the fraternity was not even close to being at its most populous. There were just about as many Masons in the U.S. in 1914 as there are right now.

Masons began widespread stampedes to the suburbs or the edges of their towns starting about 70 years ago, and we've never regained our stature, our visibility, or our attraction ever since. Our national decline coincided with our retreat to faceless halls in generic suburban office buildings of the 60s and 70s, and anonymous,pre-fab pole barns in bean fields ordered up from the Internet. Communities all over America are arguably returning to their city centers with greater vibrancy than any time since the 1920s today, yet Masons just keep shoving their significant, landmark temples out the airlock.

Australian Mason Peter Thornton once reflected that Charles XII of Sweden in 1709, Napoleon in 1812 and Hitler in 1941 all attempted to take Moscow in the wintertime and failed. Regardless of it being a terrible and costly blunder each time, he reflected that nine out of ten Freemasons would still vote to attack Moscow in winter.

Memphis is fortunate in that it also has its historic 1909 Scottish Rite Valley building just a few blocks away, so the Masons there aren't completely abandoning their downtown. The city is enjoying a boom in its urban center, and no wonder, as it sits right on the Mississippi River. More and more cities at this moment in time are seeing rapid expansion of high-priced apartments and condos filling up with young singles and families. Now is the very worst moment in history to abandon these city centers that are brimming with men who we should be introducing to Freemasonry. 

While I'm on the subject, the beautiful 1909 Masonic Temple in Pomona, California is also up for sale for $3 million.

It's starting to look like Elephant Walk around this fraternity.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Jay Hochberg Elected President of the Masonic Society

As Masonic Week kicked off on a Thursday night twelve years ago, a half-dozen of the shadowy 'Knights of the North' of Laudable Pursuit notoriety were hosted at a dinner at historic Gadsby's Tavern in Old Town by a group from Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22. Nearly everyone in that group was already well acquainted with each other from meeting electronically on a now-defunct Masonic discussion forum called MasonicLight, and the hot topic on everyone's lips the entire weekend was "Masonic reformation." 

Two nights later, the ideas that became the Masonic Society were noodled about over drinks in the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center's lobby bar. 

WB Jay Hochberg was there from the very start that fateful February of 2008, and he was named as a Founding Fellow of the Society when we officially announced ourselves as open in May 2008. So it is with great honor and pride that I report that Jay has just been elected this weekend as the seventh President of the Masonic Society at their dinner and annual meeting. Some sixty brethren and guests attended the Masonic Society dinner in Crystal City. 

Jay is a Past Master of New York City's Publicity Lodge No. 1000 and New Jersey Lodge of Research and Education No. 1786. Masonic readers have enjoyed his Masonic Magpie blog since 2008, and he has been involved as advertising director for the Journal of the Masonic Society, news and story gatherer, Masonic event calendar coordinator, and/or board member and officer from the very beginning.

From Jay's blog post this weekend:
• Board member Greg Knott advances to the Second Vice Presidency, and so Oscar Alleyne becomes First Vice President. Other personnel changes are to come. 
• Our membership stats fluctuate, but if you once were a member we somehow lost, don’t be surprised when you find me on your doorstep with a pizza and a six pack looking to talk about you rejoining. Actually, a survey to current and past members will help us understand what about the Society is appreciated, and what is disappointing. Coming soon. 
• We are talking about ways to enhance membership value in the Masonic Society. When Masons in my travels talk to me about our dues, the consensus is “Forty-five bucks—no problem!” But those of us inside the brain trust want to deliver more for your dollar, so we will find a way forward using media technologies. A discourse community, for sane Masonic conversations, and videos, to bring far away lectures to you, are feasible. We are blessed to have several eminent Masons, who do this sort of thing professionally, guiding us here.
• Special events? God, I hope so! It seems like another Masonic-con or Esoteric-con springs up somewhere in the United States every couple of weeks. In years past, the Masonic Society hosted a number of unforgettable experiences, and I hope to regain that momentum before [my] impeachment hearings commence!
We are grateful to Mark Tabbert for his after-dinner remarks this evening in which he presented the historical record of George Washington’s actual Masonic life. Not the myths nor the exaggerations, but just the facts concerning what has become a misunderstood chapter in Masonic history. Look for Mark’s upcoming book on this subject due soon from University of Virginia Press...
In its first decade alone, the Masonic Society 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 across the country and in the U.K.; the Quarry Project established widely-adopted writing style guidelines for Masonic authors, historians, researchers, libraries and museums. And the Masonic Society still publishes the most valuable, useful and beautiful Masonic magazine of original research, artwork, photography and essays anywhere — the Journal of the Masonic Society, edited by Michael Poll and art directed by John Bridegroom. 

But it has been close to a dozen years now. I listened in at the electronic keyhole to the Board Meeting of the Society on Friday afternoon, and members both current and former will be happy to know the Board is undertaking a much-needed evaluation of things as they enter their twelfth year. Jay's message alludes to some of that. Look for exciting new announcements very soon.

Not a member of the Masonic Society, or were you once but are no longer? Annual membership is a paltry $45 and can be accomplished online HERE.

By the way, in January 2020, the Masonic Society was informed that a Facebook Group called the “Global Fraternal Network” changed its name to “The Masonic Society”. The Masonic Society is not associated with the Global Fraternal Network in any way. The owners of the Global Fraternal Network are not members of The Masonic Society, and the name change was made without TMS' approval or any prior request.

TMS notified Facebook of this clear attempt to hijack the good name of TMS, and has changed its name of their Facebook group to “The Masonic Society – Official Facebook Page”. Here is the link to the real Masonic Society Facebook group. The only other Facebook presence with official TMS sanction is the page The Journal of The Masonic Society. Any other Facebook group purporting to call itself “The Masonic Society” has no permission to do so and should be considered illegitimate and spurious. As a result of the complaint to Facebook, the 
“Global Fraternal Network” returned to its original name. 

Just another Internet day in trademark hell.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Kamel Oussayef Named 110th Blue Friar

The 76th Consistory of the Society of Blue Friars was convened Friday at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, Virginia as part of Masonic Week
The Society of Blue Friars was founded in 1932 for the express purpose of recognizing outstanding Masonic authors throughout the world. 

At the conclusion of last year's Consistory, Dr. S. Brent Morris, the longest-serving Grand Abbott in the Society's history, announced his retirement after 15 years, and named Arturo de Hoyos as his successor. Friday's gathering was the first under Grand Abbott De Hoyos.

The newest Blue Friar named to the ranks of the Society is Kamel Oussayef of Massachusetts, and he becomes the 110th Masonic author to be admitted into to this august organization. 

His books include: Saint Edoüard: A 1748 Masonic Scottish Lodge During the French Enlightenment: The Spirit of Freemasonry; and The Book of Wisdom - all of which have been published in beautiful editions by the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction

All are painstakingly translated and heavily notated from long-hidden French manuscripts from the 1700-1800s that illuminate the lodges and lives of their members in this critical (and cataclysmic) period of growth, social turmoil, revolution, Empire, and transformation in France. His works go far beyond mere translations of archaic French-language lodge minutes and notes. He brings alive the Masons themselves who were members of these lodges by unearthing their lives, occupations, lodgings, and habits. These are not dry histories, they are personal ones. It is from this important period that the hautes grades were developed, which eventually crossed the Atlantic and became what we know as the Scottish Rite today.

Friar 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.

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.

Upon being named a new Friar, each inductee is expected to present a short paper at the Masonic Week gathering. Due to him being out of the country on this immovable date, Friar Oussayef's paper, "Researches and Adventures in the N.M.J. Archives,” was read by Deputy Grand Abbot Mark Tabbert.

The Society convenes each year during Masonic Week in the Washington, D.C. vicinity to induct a new Friar, and their gatherings are open to all Master Masons. Authors like Arthur E. Waite, Harold V.B. Voorhis, Dwight L. Smith, Allen Roberts, Thomas Jackson, Yasha Beresiner, Alain Bernheim, Robert G. Davis, Alton Roundtree, Michael R. Poll, Robert D. B. Cooper, Josef Wäges and Piers Vaughan are just a few prior Blue Friar honorees. In a rare moment of weakness, they even let a Dummy in.

This year's brochure listing all 110 Blue Friars, both living and deceased, can be seen below. Click images to enlarge.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Detroit Masonic Temple Online Tour

If you've never had the opportunity to travel to Detroit, Michigan and visit the Detroit Masonic Temple in person, or it's been a while since you've been there, you can now take a very detailed virtual online 3-D tour of its major facilities.

Visit the website at www.themasonic.com, click on 'facilities' and prepare to be dazzled at what the Masons of Detroit created in the 1920s. After almost a century, the Detroit Temple remains one of the most significant examples of Masonic architecture anywhere in the world.

Just from a lodge room decorating point of view, consider that all of the Temple's Blue Lodge rooms in the Fraternal Tower are EXACTLY the same size and design. (In fact, if you go to the old Scottish Rite floor that was inexplicably covered from end to end in cheap hardware store paneling in the 1960s, you can see a completely unfinished lodge room and its cement block walls that shows you what all of the other lodge rooms looked like before the painters, plasterers and woodworkers got to work.)

Here's what they did with a few of them.

With over 1,000 rooms inside, be aware that they only have a handful online, and it's pitched to potential renters.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Moscow Museum Exhibits Soviet-era Masonic and Esoteric Art Through May

The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow just opened a new exhibit of esoteric artwork from the Soviet period between 1905 and 1969. 

Freemasonry was banned throughout the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and unknown numbers of Masons were imprisoned or murdered over their membership (real or alleged) all the way up into the 1970s at least. That makes this an especially fascinating (and poignant) exhibit of very rare artwork. The works on display largely came from Russians who fled to Central Asia and met and worked in secret.

The exhibition also features copies and originals of NKVD (the Soviet secret police who later became the KGB) cases against suspected Freemasons who disappeared into the gulags or were shot. Countless members of Masonic and other esoteric societies in the USSR that had existed since the 19th century didn't survive political persecution, and were frequently betrayed and turned in to the NKVD by fellow members. Theirs are not the fictional tales of spy novels or anti-Soviet propaganda. These arrests, persecutions and killings were very real under Stalin and his successors, and are largely unheard of by historians and researchers today. 

From the Garage Museum website notes on the exhibition:

"We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams." The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969 is the result of a major research project undertaken by the team at Garage together with art critic Alexey Ulko (Samarkand) and artist Alexandra Sukhareva (Moscow/Dubna).
The quote in the title is from Andrei Bely’s 1901 poem “To Sergey Solovyov.” Bringing together over 150 artworks, artefacts, and archive documents, the exhibition takes a close look at the creative projects of artists who were members of secret societies or constructed individual practices informed by their esoteric interests. Many among these bearers of “secret knowledge” fell victim to Stalin-era repressions: they were executed, sent to prison camps, abandoned their beliefs or lost their archives.

Reflecting on the ways in which “secret knowledge” is preserved and passed on, the structure of the exhibition follows the symbolic cycle of “golden age” and “exile:” from the blossoming of various esoteric practices before the Russian Revolution to the banishment and execution of artists in the 1930s and 1940s; from the spiritual revival of the 1920s in the Soviet East (where many representatives of the Soviet creative intelligentsia went to work, for various reasons) to the arrests that followed and a period of “quiet” creative work thereafter.

The art presented in the exhibition dwells on the periphery—far from the great victories of modernism and the radical Soviet avant-garde—and has remained largely secret and invisible (including to art historians) because it was produced not as an aesthetic experiment but as an artefact of spiritual revelation. The logic of documents has also played an important role in structuring the show: a two-year research project included work in public and private archives and as a result the team reconstructed—from criminal cases and police records of searches—several biographies that had seemed irretrievable, such as that of the artist and anthroposophist Rimma Nikolaeva...

I have been unable to find any photos or examples online of the works and artifacts on display in this new exhibition, but it just opened on Friday, January 31st. It will run through May 10th, 2020.

The Garage Museum is located in Moscow's Gorky Park. For more information, see their English language website at https://garagemca.org/en