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


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Knightly News from 2021 Grand Encampment Triennial

NOTE - My apologies for the delay of this post. I've been experiencing tech issues off and on for several weeks and this one somehow got caught in a queue that said it was published when it really wasn't.

by Christopher Hodapp

The 68th Triennial Conclave of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar is wrapping up in Minneapolis this evening. The following Sir Knights have been elected to serve the Grand Encampment for the 69th Triennium: 
  • Most Eminent Grand Master: Michael Burke Johnson 
  • Right Eminent Deputy Grand Master: David Kussman
  • Right Eminent Grand Generalissimo: Jeffrey Bolstad 
  • Right Eminent Grand Captain General: Jack Harper 
  • Right Eminent Grand Treasurer: Bobby Simmons
  • Right Eminent Grand Recorder: Larry Tucker

Noteworthy Legislation

A couple of interesting pieces of legislation were voted on at this week's session. There were an incredible 28 pieces of legislation to be acted upon, but three in particular got lots of attention in online discussions:

Revival of the historic Templar apron

If you've visited the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, you may have spotted this portrait of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, better known in America simply as General Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution. In the 1820s, Lafayette returned to the United States and made an extensive tour of the expanding nation he helped during its war for independence. While in Virginia, he posed for this portrait that depicts him wearing an unusual Masonic apron that features a skull and crossbones. What you may not have known is that it's a Knights Templar apron. 

The historic 'skull and bones' Templar apron from the 18th and 19th centuries has been approved by the Grand Encampment for use during tyled Templar meetings, and it may be worn over Class A uniforms. Honestly, I've been hearing about attempts to bring it back ever since I joined this fraternity in 1998. In fact, more than 30 years ago, a paper was published in the Knight Templar Magazine by Ron Blaisdell that will tell you more information than you'd ever want to know about this unusual bit of Templar regalia. Read it HERE.

The resolution approving the apron passed by more than 75% of the votes.

In addition to reviving the old apron, a contemporary triangular apron design (without the skull and including the crown and cross symbol on a white background) was also approved for use in public ceremonies and events. The approved apron design is such that it can be manufactured with the historic skull on one side, and the public image design on the flip side. (Click the two images below to enlarge.)

What's up with this fascination with skulls, you may ask? The medieval Knights Templar actually adopted the skull and crossed leg bones as an occasional symbol during their time in the Holy Land to frighten and intimidate the Infidels in battle. Some have claimed that the image was also used as the flag for Templar ships, and after their suppression in 1307, it was eventually co-opted by pirates. 

Today, as more and more Masons are taking an interest in the esoteric side of our rituals and symbolism, they've become quite familiar with the memento mori and its ancient warning to remember that life is fleeting, and that a man should live every day as though it might be his last. 

If you come from a Christian background and a denomination that marks Ash Wednesday by making a cross on the forehead using black ash, the words that accompany this ritual are "Remember that you are dust, and unto dust, you shall return." If you travel throughout Europe, there are many catacombs, and even chapels, with skulls and bones of the dead used for walls, arches and general cheery decor. They are a constant reminder of mortality, and as Horace reminds us, "Pale death knocks with the same tempo upon the huts of the poor and the towers of Kings."

Reminders of Death as a constant companion weren't particularly seen as creepy in earlier centuries, in part because death was so prevalent in everyday life. In large families, the death of one or more children before reaching adulthood was all too common, and life expectancy for adults was much shorter than today. Communicable diseases commonly wiped out whole families, villages and towns all across the globe. Wars with tens of thousands of casualties on all sides devastated entire nations, and during World War I, it was nearly impossible to find a family anywhere in Europe who hadn't lost a father, son or brother in that conflict. 

The historical, triangular 'skull and crossbones' apron was part of the Masonic Knights Templar regalia from the 1770s until the 1860s within the tyled confines of a Commandery meeting or degree – it's described as part of the uniform used in meetings in Thomas Smith Webb's Freemason's Monitor in 1808. 

Because all of the York Rite degrees were originally designed to be conferred in a Masonic lodge, the Templar apron was considered an extension of the use of a Masonic apron required for all work and meetings. By the 1830s, the black military-like uniform we're all familiar with was already taking form, but there were a lot of local variation in them from state to state and commandery to commandery. 

An attempt was made in 1859 by the Grand Encampment to demand national uniform conformity, which included a black uniform with a white surcoat or tunic, and essentially banned the skull apron (interestingly for ALL Templars, EXCEPT Washington Commandery No. 1). Think about that realistically — keep a white uniform clean while riding around on horseback. Consider that Templary was already the most expensive of all Masonic orders to participate in because of the uniform, swords, ostritch-feathered chapeau, PLUS special Templar riding accessories like decorative stirrup covers and protective cuffs if you planned to ride in a parade team. The demand for this new standard uniform by the Grand Encampment wasn't scorned or loudly protested against — local commanderies simply ignored it.

It wasn't just the U.S. Grand Encampment Templars that stuck with the skull apron. Even the Prince Hall Commanderies held on to them throughout the 19th century.

Nevertheless, after the 1860s and the end of the Civil War, the use of the skull apron in meetings as part of the KT's uniform started to fall by the wayside. Among many there was a growing concern that its symbolism might be misunderstood by the public (especially since more and more Templars were having newfangled photographic portraits made of themselves dressed in full regalia, and non-Masons could suddenly see the skull and bones apron without sneaking into a meeting). That misunderstanding would only increase in the 20th century, when skulls and crossbones became identified with poison chemical labels, pirates, horror movies and the "death's head" cap badge on Nazi SS uniforms.

In any case 75.96% of the Sir Knights at the Triennial this week approved the apron's use. While it's approved by Grand Encampment, this must be adopted and approved in your state by your Grand Commandery first, if it is not in your uniform regulations. Remember that the "historical" skull apron is for asylum use only, while the "contemporary" apron is approved for public or private use. The preference is to wear an apron over the class A uniform coat — it is NOT considered as a replacement for the uniform (in case you thought you could get out of buying a full uniform and just showing up in street clothes and the apron).

And if you're looking for a new one, Masonic Revival offers a skull apron: https://masonicrevival.com/collections/aprons/products/knightstemplar-apron

If anyone can provide a link to a supplier of the new contemporary public apron, please pass it along and I'll update this entry.

'Attestation of faith' on petitions fails

The second piece of legislation that attracted lots of attention was a proposed requirement to be placed on future Templar petitions stating that the petitioner affirms his Christian faith in writing. Unlike most other appendant organizations associated with Freemasonry, the Knights Templar requires that a petitioner must be a professed Christian, and that demand causes some heartburn with Masons who aren't Christians, or who believe that this somehow violates the spirit of Freemasonry and the Ancient Charges.

Nevertheless, the Masonic Knights Templar order has had belief in Christianity as a requirement since the 1760s when it first appeared. Such a prerequisite is without question "exclusionary," but nowhere is it promised that absolutely everyone has an absolute right to experience absolutely every single degree in absolutely every Masonic-related organization, absolutely. The Order itself is based upon the medieval Templars who held a unique position that straddled both the ecclesiastical and the temporal spheres as "warrior monks." Removing the Christian elements from the Templar ritual would leave nothing but an empty husk.

Over the decades, some local Commanderies and even state Grand Commanderies have tried to hedge on the Christian membership requirement. Some jurisdictions phrase their petitions with squishier language, requiring no more than a belief in a "higher power," while others merely ask that a petitioner be willing to "defend the Christian religion." That's a loophole big enough to drive a Sherman tank through. But the Statutes of the Grand Encampment are quite specific. Section 177(b) requires that a petitioner for the Orders must be a "firm believer in the Christian religion."

However, the amendment that was up for a vote this week went beyond merely asking a petitioner if he is a firm believer in Christianity. The proposed Attestation of Faith required the petitioner to declare himself to be a Christian specifically "as defined in the four Gospels (Matthew 16:16, John 3:15-17, Acts 4:10-12, and Romans 9-10)"

Click the image below to enlarge it and read the entire proposed statement in its entirety.

While most of the Knights in attendance at the Triennial felt the statement was well-founded and good-intentioned, the attestation itself was clumsily written, resulting in confusion and contention. While all Templars are supposed to be Christians, the enormous range of Christian denominations have variations in teachings concerning the role of the Holy Spirit. As a result, debates over the Resolution's wording quickly went into the weeds over definitions and details of Christ's crucifixion, resurrection from the dead, time spent with the Apostles including the Last Supper, and his ascension.

An attempt was made to amend the Resolution in order to simplify the statement. That amendment to the Resolution was submitted in writing in advance of the Triennial, and it was found to be in proper form by the Jurisprudence Committee. The amendment essentially struck out the entire text of the proposed Attestation to read simply:
"I profess the Christian Faith: that through the Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, believers are saved and redeemed."
According to attendees, this amended version received a simple majority (53.31%) of yes votes, but did not meet the two-thirds super majority required for an amendment to the statutes. It's possible that if the original resolution had simply been this wording in the first place, it would have passed.

Resolutions restore amity with Great Priory of America of the CBCS

If you know nothing of what this whole imbroglio was about, and you have no idea who or what the CBCS is, don't feel somehow that your Masonic knowledge is lacking. This situation is as about as deep into the waist-high weeds of Masonic appendant bodies as it gets.
The third noteworthy bit of legislation was Resolution 2021-23, rescinding 2012-01 and Duane Vaught Decision No. 5 which had previously declared the Great Priory of America (GPA) of the Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Cité Sainte (CBCS) to be an unrecognized Masonic Templar Order. Because of that situation, members of the Grand Encampment who held membership in the Great Priory of America were deemed to be in violation of their knightly vows. This Resolution rescinding that status passed with more than 77% of yes votes.
Further, a second proposed Resolution (2021-26) which called for the automatic expulsion of any member of the GEKT who sought or held membership in the GPA, was voted down by the delegates. 
This hopefully brings an end to more than a decade of hostility, broken friendships, and scuttled Masonic careers.
The long, twisting, epic saga of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar and attempts beginning back in 2011 to establish a new CBCS Rectified Rite priory in the US turned into an all-out war of words and lawsuits between the GEKT and the existing CBCS Great Priory of America. Sadly, this mess wound up dividing some of the most respected leaders in North American Freemasonry into two warring factions. And then the lawyers got involved.
Much of that battle played out right here on my blog, I'm sorry to say. Rather than re-describe, re-hash and re-litigate this episode, I will point to this post from December 2010 for background on what set this whole drama in motion:

Grand Priory of the Scottish Reformed & Rectified Rite of the United States of America

Over the next two or three years I wrote more posts about the situation (if you really have a burning desire to wade into it, use the search menu on this blog and look for articles with CBCS, Rectified Rite, or Grand Priory in them). 

In full disclosure, I freely admitted at the time that I was part of the group in favor of establishing the new CBCS priory under the authority of the Grand Encampment. The GPA was established in the U.S. in 1934 and quickly turned into little more than a supper club for a tiny, select group of  Masons ("Because", as one wag joked to me, "the 33rds were letting in too much riff-raff"). Their membership never exceeded about four dozen at any one time. Yet, they controlled any working of the Rectified Rite degrees in the U.S., as a result. This post is not the place to drift into a windy explanation of Martinism and the different degree systems that grew out of its three variants in the 18th and 19th centuries. But many of us at the time felt that this beautiful, philosophical and deeply complex degree system was being held hostage by a group that had no desire or intention of actually working those rituals themselves.

So, in 2012 the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar obtained a charter in France from a CBCS body there, and they sought to expand the CBCS in the U.S. to a wider Masonic membership. And that, as they say in stories about ugly divorces, is when the fight started.

Much time has passed, leadership of both the Grand Encampment and the Great Priory of America has changed, and emotions and passions have hopefully cooled. Clearly, the general membership of the Grand Encampment decided this year that they've had enough of being involved in this conflict.

As a very dear friend often says, "So it goes."

All of that having been said, the reasons for attempting to bring the CBCS degrees to a wider group of U.S. Masons still remain valid, and certainly not for some absurd notion of "let other VIP Masons in to your exclusive club." The growing interest in esoteric orders within Masonry should not be blunted and locked away out of some twisted sense that it's only for the cool kids.

Honors and Awards

• SK Brandon Mullins of Michigan was inducted as the first member of a new order of Masonic knights Templar scholars, the Order of Clairvaux. Admission to this prestigious institution is restricted to just one Sir Knight each Triennium. SK Mullins presented his paper about the use of skull imagery in Templary – a timely topic, given the apron legislation this year.

• SK W. Bruce Pruitt, the senior Past Grand Commander of California, was elected a Most Eminent Honorary Past Master of the Grand Encampment and elevated to Grand Cross Templar.

• SK Art F. Hebbeler III, Grand Prelate of the Grand Encampment, received the Knight Grand Cross.

• SK Dicky W. Johnson (Tennessee) was made a Honorary Past Grand Prelate of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the USA.

(Please alert me if I missed anyone.)

And finally...

Congratulations to all Grand Encampment officers, and especially to MEGM Michael Johnson, whom I've known for many years. Mike is from Crowheart, Wyoming where he and his wife Judy own a cattle ranch, and he served as Grand Master in 2015-16. Mike became a cowboy fresh out of high school, and the Grand Encampment's webpage features an image of him in his Templar uniform while riding horseback. It's been a very long time since most of us have seen a  Grand Master of Knights Templar on horseback, but Templar horse teams were commonplace in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Sadly, in this Age of Snark we're all living through, right after this image was posted on Facebook, a tiny squall went up over it. 

Out of touch! 
The expense! 
Terrible image!
Grand Encampment wasting our per capita buying horses! (Um, no...)

And, naturally, 
a couple of commentators suggested that if the GM wished to be truly authentic, he should be sharing that saddle with a second Templar knight...

Does anyone actually engage their brain anymore before yawping on anti-social media? Mike owns his own horses, for heaven's sake, and the image was actually a homage to the Templar heritage when many drill competitions were between mounted teams. (Nothing unusual about that - how do these critics think Masons got to their meetings in the 1760s or 1850s in the first place? It might even be fair to say that in their 20th-century heyday, the mounted horse Templar teams were the ‘Shriners driving little cars’ of their era.)

UPDATED 9/8/2021 4:43PM

Two large documents were prepared for the Triennial explaining the historical origins and opposing positions of the Great Priory of America/CBCS and the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar USA. You need to read both documents to see the disagreement from both sides. These two pdf documents can be accessed HERE.


  1. Hicksite Quakers, Latter Day Saints, Christian Scientists, Jehovah Witnesses, some Congregationalists, Unitarians, Universalists, some members of community churches, General Baptists, Non-subscribing Presbyterians, are not Trinitarians. But the problems in Templar membership qualifications vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

  2. The KT symbol should be the deck chair. Harrumph!

  3. Well written post Brother Chris, I enjoyed reading it, thank you!

  4. Well, possibly time to start looking into reviving the Order of Judas Maccabeus, if the GEKT is going to start up the attestation business.


  5. Good educational and witty post.

    "Brickmasons.com" has a Masonic Skull and Bones Templar Apron for sale available in silk or lambskin. They also have many more cool Masonic items for sale which may be of interest to some Brethren.

  6. Sorry, Chris, I take exception to your characterization of non-Christians "getting heartburn" over a faith requirement for Templars. The issue that we non-Christians have is that there is no compelling reason to insist on a faith test for a Masonic body. Nobody among my fellow Jewish or Muslim brothers would even suggest the removal of Christian elements from the Templar degrees. Without revealing anything, there is plenty of non-Christian content within Masonry, and York Rite Masonry specifically. The point of Masonry is that we assume the characters of other cultures, time periods and religions to teach ourselves universal moral lessons. As a Jew I was never offended or threatened by the Christian motifs in the Scottish Rite, so I don't see why pretending to be a Christian warrior-monk for a few hours a month should threaten my faith any more than pretending to be a Jewish High Priest should threaten the faith of a Christian. But to REQUIRE one to be of a certain faith to receive the lessons of those degrees either means that those in the out-group aren't worthy to receive them, or that the content is so specific to the religion that to allow non-adherents to partake in them would be an act of sacrilege, thus reinforcing the religious content of said degrees and undermining our eternal claim that Masonry is not a religion. Either way, the optics don't look so good. Either we are on the level, or we are not. With apologies to George Orwell, no group of Masons should be more "on the level" than another.

    1. Eric, I wrote, "Unlike most other appendant organizations associated with Freemasonry, the Knights Templar requires that a petitioner must be a professed Christian, and that demand causes some heartburn with Masons who aren't Christians, or who believe that this somehow violates the spirit of Freemasonry and the Ancient Charges." Your second sentence says, "The issue that we non-Christians have is that there is no compelling reason to insist on a faith test for a Masonic body." Isn't that merely a slightly less-emphatic variation of having "heartburn" about the requirement?

      I never suggested that non-Christians were demanding anything to be removed from the Templar rituals. But the Grand Encampment statute REQUIRES ALL PETITIONERS to "be a firm believer in the Christian religion." Local commanderies have tried to skirt that wording for a very, very VERY long time, but there's nothing new about that requirement, with or without this failed resolution.

      You said, ". . . I don't see why pretending to be a Christian warrior-monk for a few hours a month should threaten my faith any more than pretending to be a Jewish High Priest should threaten the faith of a Christian." I'm guessing that a strict reading of the existing statute, combined with the fact that the Knights Templar say they are actually conferring Orders of Christian Knighthood, makes a big distinction between "pretending to be a Christian warrior-monk" for the purposes of performing ritual, versus actually having the Order of the Temple conferred on the aspirant who has been required by their rules to "be a firm believer in the Christian faith." Lying, fudging or winking at that requirement is a lousy way to enter any institution, but especially one that talks a lot about truth, faith and honor.

      In the 17 years I spent at my original Commandery, we had at least one Jewish Treasurer and a Jewish Secretary for several years. Believe me, I am NOT taking a side in this matter, apart from the observation that if enough modern, Masonic Templars believe a Christian faith requirement is too onerous to be included as a part of the wider Masonic family, then the statute itself needs to be changed or removed entirely. But to simply ignore the statute because it's inconvenient doesn't make for good optics, either.

  7. “… that will tell you more information than you'd ever want to know about this unusual bit of Templar regalia.“ Gee, thanks, Brother! 😎

  8. There is an underlying misunderstanding.

    The RER does not ONLY include CBCS but is an Initiatic and Masonic Order composed of the Degrees of AA, CDM, MM, SMSA, EN, CBCS, and should be practiced in this sequence and in this order.

    In this sense a KT should not "pass" directly to CBCS, but should learn and practice and Work ALL the RER path, or at least Work the Degrees BEYOND the Craft.
    Similarly, a CBCS should not "pass" directly to the KTs, but should practice the Chapter Degrees, the Cryptic ones, and finally the Templar Degrees.
    In this sense, KT and CBCS could coexist peacefully.


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