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

“The Masonic system represents a stupendous and beautiful fabric, founded on universal purity, to rule and direct our passions, to have faith and love in God, and charity toward man.”
— William Howard Taft

Thursday, January 17, 2019

2019 UCLA International Conference on Freemasonry 3/2

Each year, UCLA hosts an academic conference about Freemasonry, centered around a general theme for the program, and chaired by Dr. Margaret C. Jacob (author of Living the Enlightenment). This conference has been the result of a longstanding sponsorship by the California Masonic Foundation and the Grand Lodge of California. The Program's chair is Dr. Susan Mitchell Somers of Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania, and General Editor of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism. 

The 8th International Conference on Freemasonry at UCLA will be held this year on On March 2, 2019.  The topic is 'Diversity and Exclusivity in 18th Century Freemasonry' and explores how Masons in the 1700s forged connections with those from outside their own cultural traditions. 

This year's presentations will include:
•“A Safe Haven for a Scandalous Man? The Strange Career of Mathieu-Noël Rioust, (ex-) Priest, (ex-) Revolutionary, (ex-) Journalist and (ex-) Freemason.” Jeffrey Tyssens, Ph.D., shares the story of a French journalist whose life trajectory wound a brilliant, scandalous, and volatile path through the French Revolution, Catholic priesthood, Freemasonry, and international politics.

•“Freemasonry, Tolerance, and Images of Inquisition Persecutions: Crossing the Protestant-Catholic Divide.” Reva Wolf, Ph.D., reveals how Masonic artwork raised awareness of the horrors of the Catholic Church’s Inquisition, leading to an interdenominational condemnation of its discriminatory campaign.

•“The Stone That the Builders Refused: How Jews Came to Lead Freemasonry in Rhode Island.”Samuel Biagetti, Ph.D. explains how a small congregation of Jewish Masons played a pivotal social role in colonial Rhode Island, cultivating reunification of their diverse community following the tumultuous American Revolution.

•“Critical Analysis of the Start and Origin of African Lodge No. 1” Bro. John L. Hairston Bey reveals deep insight into the creation of Prince Hall Freemasonry, showing how its founders intended to be part of “mainstream” Freemasonry rather than forming a parallel fraternity.

The conference will be held March 2, 2019 from 8:30AM - 5:30PM at:

University of California, Los Angeles
1200 De Neve Drive
Covell Commons, Grand Horizon Ballroom

Cost is $30 for the Conference, plus an optional $20 for a buffet lunch.

Daylong parking is available for $12. The parking lot is located beneath the building where the conference will take place. The conference location is not easily accessible to off-campus parking. Driving or carpooling is strongly recommended.

For reservations (required) and more information, see the Eventbrite page HERE.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

2019 Mid-Atlantic Esotericon in Virginia: 6/15

This summer, Virginia Freemasons will be hosting the inaugural 2019 Mid-Atlantic Esotericon on Saturday, June 15th, 2019, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm at Manasseh Lodge No. 182, A.F. & A.M, in Manassas, Virginia. The preliminary lineup includes a full schedule of Masonic esoterica, vendors, and presentations from the following speakers;
• Jon Ruark 
• Frater O
• RJ Johnson
• Greg Kaminsky
• PD Newman
• Piers Vaughn
• Jamie Lamb
• Donald McAndrews

Manasseh Lodge No. 182 is located at 9810 Cockrell Road in historic Manassas, Virginia. There will also be a social event the night before, Friday, June 14th at Sinistral Brewing Company in Manassas for those arriving early.

For tickets, visit the Eventbrite reservation page HERE. Organizers are offering early bird pricing at $65.00 per ticket through February 9th.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Masonic Week in Arlington, VA: 2/21-24

The website for making reservations for the 2019 AMD Masonic Week has been up and running for a while now, and it's just about a month away. This annual event will be held a little later this year than in the past: February 21-24, 2018, once again at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia (a mere cocktail glass' throw from Reagan International Airport, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.). 

Eighteen Masonic appendant bodies, invitational groups, research organizations, and others will be holding their annual meetings, degree conferrals, elections, banquets, speeches, and other assorted sundry activities. There is also always a healthy dose of Masonic product vendors on hand.

The direct link to reserve a room at the Hyatt with the convention rate is HERE.

If you've never been to Masonic Week before, the real benefit of going is that it is the largest concentration of seriously proactive Masons from across the country and around the world you'll find on an annual basis, along with many of the best known Masonic researchers, authors, editors, and other personalities. While the bulk of the groups require existing York Rite membership as a precondition for their own admission (and a few are invitational only), you will still find plenty to keep you more than occupied for these three and a half days. And there is as much to be absorbed in the hallways, at the bar, or in the hospitality rooms as in the meetings themselves. Make new friendships from around the world, and rekindle old ones.

Plus, if you've never been to Washington, D.C. before, this is the perfect excuse to go. I will tell you from experience that there is a 50/50 chance of the weather either bringing three feet of blowing snow, or 70 degree sun-drenched days. Sometimes both. That's just Washington in February. (Pack an extra set of underwear in your carryon bag in case your flights get canceled. Old hands know this.) But add a day to your trip to sightsee, and be sure you visit the Scottish Rite's House of the Temple no later than Thursday, because it is CLOSED Fridays and weekends. Visit the Capitol, the monuments, the Smithsonian, the unique Egyptian-themed Potomac Lodge, and much more. Have drinks and cigars at the Old Ebbitt Grill around the corner from the White House (you'll find Masons there nearly any night that week). Or go the other direction to Alexandria and visit the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, and have dinner at Gadsby's Tavern. There's no shortage of historic sites tied to Masons concentrated in the area.

Historically, Masonic Week was long tied to the scheduling of the annual Conference of Grand Masters (COGMMNA), which was scheduled, in turn, to coincide with George Washington's Birthday. That was back in the days when the Grand Masters met every year in Washington D.C. at this time. Consequently, Masonic Week would happen the weekend before at the venerable Hotel Washington, which sat in the shadow of the White House. But sometime in the early 1990s, that connection got frayed by the Grand Masers taking their annual meetings on the road and cycling around the country. Still, Masonic Week always tried to arrange itself to happen the weekend before, or thereabouts. Weather in D.C., the Super Bowl, and other factors have put pressure on organizers over the years, so this year's event will actually follow the Grand Masters' Conference in Rapid City, South Dakota that happens February 16-20th.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

"Public Servants Wanted: Joiners and Theists Need Not Apply"

Something sinister must be going on here
With some noteworthy exceptions like the Morgan period, membership in long-established fraternal groups really hasn't come under fire in America the way it has in Europe and other countries when it comes to public life. Americans have historically been proud of our voluntary associations and admired for them ever since Alexis de Tocqueville wrote so glowingly about them in the early 1800s. Associations have been vital to the functioning of our democratic society almost from the start - they are, in fact, classrooms where Americans learn the basics of running our republic. But the culture is shifting around us now to a startling degree, and what affects one or two fraternal groups today may become a larger issue for us all in the very near future. Which is why I've been wrestling for two weeks over how to report this story.

In December, a nominee for the U.S. District Court in the District of Nebraska, Brian Buescher of Omaha, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his conformation hearing. In the course of being questioned by the various senators over his past judicial record, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) specifically called into question Buescher's membership in the Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus. Specifically citing the KofC and the Catholic Church's official positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, these two senators demanded to know if his membership in this male-only club would prevent him from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.” 

And they wanted his assurance that he would resign his membership if confirmed as a justice of the court.

Think about that for a minute. 

It's not a perfect analogy to Masonic membership for a whole raft of reasons, but it's close enough to ring some alarms for us. Up until just a few years ago, citizens involved in civic life were proud of their voluntary associations (arguably, at times, obsessively so, back when Babbitry was all the rage). Harry Truman often said his greatest honor in life was not being president, but being Past Grand Master of Missouri. As for the Knights of Columbus, John F. Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy and Jeb Bush have all been proud members who weren't shy about their memberships. But now, fraternalism itself seems to be one more item on the chopping block when it comes to scrutinizing the resumés of potential public servants.

The Knights of Columbus, a voluntary men's fraternal group for Catholics, was started in 1885 at the height of the Golden Age of Fraternalism. 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 and Italian immigration. Like so many other fraternal groups, the KofC patterned itself after Freemasonry's basic structure, with three principal degree ceremonies (along with a fourth that was optional, similar to the Knights Templar of Masonry, complete with their own patriotic drill teams featuring similar uniforms, swords, and plumed chapeaux). 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. They seem to be doing something right.

The grotesque rise of instantaneous social (or really anti-social) media shines a spotlight on the minutest of subjects these days, and this back and forth exchange between the senators and Buescher is no exception. As soon as the session ended on CSPAN and their written questions were made public, the story went out across the web. Various Cathlolic groups decried it as a return to the anti-Catholic discrimination of the 1920s. Abortion rights and LGBT groups declared Buescher unfit for the bench because of his Catholic faith. Truly horrific (and totally uninformed) knee-jerk commentary spewed forth on news sites and discussion groups, amping up the level of hatred for one point of view or the other, and naturally degenerating into "What if he belonged to the Nazis?! Huh? Huh?!" And when the week was over and the dust finally settled on the story, the average American was once again left with the exasperated feeling that only an escapee from a madhouse should ever bother to take part in public life. Normal men and women with any shred of civic duty left rattling around in their heads should apply only at their peril. But certainly not if they had any sort of openly declared religious conviction of any kind, attended a church or synagogue, or belonged to any private clubs.

I made several starts and stops and retries of this post over the holidays, beginning with the very imperfect feeling that Masons should speak up and show some solidarity with the Knights of Columbus in this, because it could be a Brother Mason getting grilled next week. My feeling when the story first broke was that, if fraternal groups don't stand by each other, we're in danger of reenacting the tragic, old Martin Niemöller poem, "First they came for the socialists... but I was not a socialist." I still feel that way. Quite honestly, single-sex associations like the Freemasons are being not-so quietly assaulted all over the Western world these days, and we are foolish to ignore it (read up on the latest activities attempting to wipe out single-sex clubs, fraternities and 'secret societies' at Harvard University, and the surprising reactions of sororities in response). But the real truth is that, in the current hyper-sensitive atmosphere of today, no one can adequately plan or defend against being blindsided by a concerted effort to seek and destroy a juicy target. Not controversial? No worries — controversies will be provided at the door.

(But then, our own members do it too. I actually read a long exchange on a Masonic forum this week that was excoriating a Brother Mason for daring to appear on a platform behind the duly elected President of the United States this week while wearing a visible square and compasses lapel pin—as though there was something shameful, controversial, or humiliating in that.)

Just as I was taking another stab at the story this morning, Brent Morris passed along an opinion piece from yesterday's Washington Post about the Knights of Columbus written by Kevin Butterfield, who is the director of George Washington’s presidential library at Mount Vernon (and author of the book, The Making of Tocqueville’s America). In his Post article, 'Senators shouldn’t be afraid of the Knights of Columbus,' HERE he gives an excellent thumbnail sketch of the history of voluntary associations like Freemasonry and the rest, the flareups against them that have waxed and waned over the centuries, and why Senators Harris and Hirono really don't need to bark up this dead horse.

In a related vein, a report came out this week by the Pew Research Group concerning the religious beliefs and affiliations of the new members of the House of Representatives for 2019. At any other time in the history of this country, the headline that accompanied it would have brought down the rage, wrath and disgust of the overwhelming majority of the population over its blatant bias and implication. Now, it's just one more screaming bit of clickbait: 'Christians Overrepresented in Congress.' The chart from their survey can be seen below (click to enlarge).

The implication is that rational Americans should be appalled — or something — by all of those religious people in government. It's just gotta be wrong! It's just gotta! Even if you really believe that, the part everyone seems to be looking past is that joiners of clubs and active members of religious congregations are the most likely sort of people, on average, to step up and take part in governing. They volunteer, contribute, show up, take part, vote, and do everything else needed to operate a democratic society far more consistently and dependably than the teeming masses of apathetic spiritual-not-religious-I'm-not-a-joiners that are growing in numbers every day. Of course there are exceptions, but the statistics are what they are. If you want an effective democratic society to be run efficiently, ask the busy and successful people who are already working hard in their clubs, fraternal groups, churches, and companies. They show up, and keep showing up. They keep shoveling coal when the briefly dazzling activists and noisemakers get tired and go home.

Of course the demographics of the new Congress have changed to reflect the huge changes in the country's population, and they were sworn in yesterday. I found it quite interesting that the dais of the House of representatives looked very much like an altar in many Masonic lodges these days, filled with the various books deemed to be sacred by the assembled members, upon which they took their oaths office.

Sacred books prepared for the Congressional oaths of office:
Multiple Bibles, Hebrew Tenach, Islamic Qur'an, Hindu Veda, Buddhist Sutra,
plus two U.S. Constitutions for any atheists or agnostics. 
Front and center were news stories celebrating the swearing in of Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) as "the first bisexual and only religiously unaffiliated member in Congress" (her oath of office was taken on copies of the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions, a practice started when John Quincy Adams swore on a law book instead of a Bible). I have no opinion whatsoever of Rep. Sinema's abilities or zeal for governance, and wish her all the best. But I did find it a bizarre Ying to the Yang of the historical perspective of Judge Buescher's conformation, when it comes to the current crop of Robespierres like Senators Harris and Hirono, and what are and are not not considered disqualifying traits in public service these days. 

I know I'm crossing into political (or maybe 'Get Off My Lawn') territory here, but the Masons of the Enlightenment who transformed Freemasonry into a speculative order for instructing men in a code of morals would be blowing their collective stacks right now. On the one hand, it is apparently deemed vitally important (or at least fashionable) that a person's private sexual proclivities are publicly bannered and declared important qualifications for governing the country, while not fessing up to having any sort of organized moral code beyond the written (and always changeable) civil law. On the other hand, the moral and religious beliefs of a man headed for the judicial bench that are held by what is still a vast majority of the country are deemed discriminatory, dangerous, probably ignorant, and definitely unsuitable by a noisy contingent of elected officials. It's no longer bombast to ask how much longer it will be before anyone who espouses any religious faith — Christian, Jew, and yes, eventually even Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu in due time — will be written off as either sinister, an ignoramus, or both, for daring to believe in the very first Charge of all Freemasonry, as set down in Anderson's Constitutions:
"A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must else have remain’d at a perpetual Distance."
And that's why it's important for us to stick up for the Knights of Columbus and never forget Martin Niemöller's poem when it comes to observing the treatment of religious and fraternal groups on the public stage.

First they came for the Knights of Columbus...

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Dr. William Moore's 2018 Sandkey Lecture Now Online

The Grand Lodge of AF&AM of Canada in the Province of Ontario has a unique relationship with the part of the academic world that studies our fraternity. The annual Dr. Charles A. Sankey Lecture in Masonic Studies at Brock University, St. Catharines is presented each year through a unique partnership with the Grand Lodge. Since 2010, the Sankey Lecture has presented significant academic scholars who specialize in Freemasonry or fraternalism, and in recent years, these have been recorded and made available online HERE.

William D. Moore
The 2018 Sankey Lecture was presented by Dr. William D. Moore on Sunday September 9, 2018, and was entitled Catechism, Spectacle, Burlesque: American Fraternal Ritual Performance, 1733-1933. The complete lecture has just been made available online HERE.

Dr. Moore is the Director of the American and New England Studies Program, and Associate Professor of American Material Culture, Department of History of Art and Architecture at Boston University in Massachusetts. Professor Moore teaches courses on American material culture and vernacular landscapes. He is the author of the excellent book, Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes (2006). He also co-edited (with Mark Tabbert) the outstanding collection of indispensable essays, Secret Societies in America: Foundational Studies of Fraternalism (2011). Any library about fraternalism needs copies of both.

Dr. Charles Sankey, for whom the lecture series is named, served as Chancellor of Brock University from 1969 to 1974. A renowned Masonic scholar, he was active in all the concordant bodies of Masonry including the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite, the Royal Order of Scotland, and Royal Arch Masons. His extensive collection of rare Masonic books and papers is in the Special Collections of the James Gibson Library at Brock, providing a rich resource for research scholars and students — the Masonic collection in the James A. Gibson Library, and the online collection of Proceedings of Grand Lodge from 1855 to 2010.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

The Boys

There's a wonderful poem written by Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr. (not the Supreme Court Justice) from back at the beginning of the Golden Age of Fraternalism, when every American man would join a whole clot of fraternal groups. It was also an age when every educated man and woman considered themselves to be poets, and went on to attempt to prove it, with varying levels of successes and failures. Kentucky Past Grand Master Rob Morris, for instance, became known as American Freemasonry's poet laureate, not necessarily because his poems were all outstanding. but because he wrote a truckload of them.

This one in particular was penned by Oliver W. Holmes in 1859 for the 30th reunion of his Harvard University graduating class of 1829. If ever you encounter a critic of our fraternity who demands to know why we don't openly welcome women into our lodges as fellow Masons, explain that, with all of the various demands for 'safe spaces' going around these days, men demand and are entitled to such safe havens, too, thank you very much. With neither reproach nor apology.

Then have them read Holmes' poem:

The Boys

HAS there any old fellow got mixed with the boys?
If there has, take him out, without making a noise.
Hang the Almanac's cheat and the Catalogue's spite!
Old Time is a liar! We're twenty to-night!

We're twenty! We're twenty! Who says we are more?
He's tipsy,-- young jackanapes!-- show him the door!
"Gray temples at twenty?"-- Yes ! white if we please;
Where the snow-flakes fall thickest there's nothing can freeze!

Was it snowing I spoke of? Excuse the mistake!
Look close,-- you will see not a sign of a flake!
We want some new garlands for those we have shed,--
And these are white roses in place of the red.

We've a trick, we young fellows, you may have been told,
Of talking (in public) as if we were old:--
That boy we call "Doctor," and this we call "Judge;"
It's a neat little fiction,-- of course it's all fudge.

That fellow's the "Speaker,"-- the one on the right;
"Mr. Mayor," my young one, how are you to-night?
That's our "Member of Congress," we say when we chaff;
There's the "Reverend" What's his name?-- don't make me laugh.

That boy with the grave mathematical look
Made believe he had written a wonderful book,
And the ROYAL SOCIETY thought it was true!
So they chose him right in; a good joke it was, too!

There's a boy, we pretend, with a three-decker brain,
That could harness a team with a logical chain;
When he spoke for our manhood in syllabled fire,
We called him "The Justice," but now he's "The Squire."

And there's a nice youngster of excellent pith,--
Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith;
But he shouted a song for the brave and the free,
Just read on his medal, "My country," "of thee!"

You hear that boy laughing?-- You think he's all fun;
But the angels laugh, too, at the good he has done;
The children laugh loud as they troop to his call,
And the poor man that knows him laughs loudest of all!

Yes, we're boys, --always playing with tongue or with pen,--
And I sometimes have asked,-- Shall we ever be men?
Shall we always be youthful, and laughing, and gay,
Till the last dear companion drops smiling away?

Then here's to our boyhood, its gold and its gray!
The stars of its winter, the dews of its May!
And when we have done with our life-lasting toys,
Dear Father, take care of thy children, THE BOYS!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Rock Band Foreigner Teams Up With Shriners Hospitals

The band Foreigner which formed back in 1976 has been a longstanding contributor to supporting and promoting Shriners Hospitals. Led by guitarist Mick Jones and singer Kelly Hansen, Foreigner is one of the top-selling bands of all time, selling more than 80 million recordings since their founding. They have donated money for the Shrine's pediatric hospitals ever since 2008, and have raised $300,000 for them from CD sales at their shows. 

Now for 2019, Foreigner has teamed up with the Shrine by creating a new recording and video of their biggest hit song, 1984's I Want To Know What Love Is, featuring a children's choir of young patients from the hospitals singing portions of the lyrics.
From the 96.1 The Rocket website,
Jones says the lyrics apply to the resilience and happiness the medical network brings to its patients. "Over time, it kinda went into a more universal feeling, and a lot of people took it as that, and that's fine with me. It's a song of hope and a song of joy and happiness and inspiration." 
Hansen adds, "Being involved in this is all really good, but getting to share it with the kids is really the best part for me..."
The song's re-release and the video is available on ITunes and GooglePlay as of January 1st (watch it via the link above), but a news story and preview can be seen on the WFTS-TV Tampa Action News website HERE.

A longer excerpt of the video an be seen on the Shriners Facebook page HERE.

And before anyone asks, I have no idea if Jones, Hansen, or any of the band's other members belong to the Masonic fraternity.

While Freemasons are fully aware of the connection, the vast majority of the public don't realize that all Shiners are, in fact, Masons. Shriners International is an appendant body of Freemasonry that requires its members to belong to the Masonic fraternity before joining their well-known red fez-wearing organization. It is the best-known public face of Masonic charitable giving and philanthropy operating twenty-two pediatric hospitals that provide specialty orthopedic and burn care at no cost to patients and their families.

For more information about the Shriners, their hospitals, and membership, see their website HERE.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas

It's a slow week for Masonic news, so I thought I'd resurrect a Christmas holiday diversion from a few years back. Back between 2005 and 2008, I was asked to contribute to my brother-in-law's monthly Texas organic gardening magazine, Living Natural First. As I protested at the time,  I didn't know the first thing about organic gardening, which was just fine with him. He wanted some lighter relief from the rest of the magazine's monthly dose of compost, leaf mold remedies, and the gardener's astrology chart. The result was an ongoing column entitled Pilgrim's Progress: Rustic Tales of an Organic Greenhorn. The Pilgrim columns generally followed the fictional story of a couple who move to the country from the city – he was an urban creature who couldn't tell which end of a hammer to use to properly twist a screw into a wall, while she was a child of the 60s, completely enthralled with living her utopian vision of an environmentally healthy lifestyle on pennies a month. Together they fought the battle of garden slugs, home improvement, industrial tool rentals and marauding rodents.

After two years or so, I had tried to back out of the column, which apparently resulted in an insurrection from a group of Baptist church ladies in Wichita Falls who gathered every month specifically to read the monthly Pilgrim story aloud to each other. They telephoned Bob to say that if I didn't come up with a Christmas story that year, my eternal soul was at risk of being negatively testified against at Peter's Gate by these otherwise kind and compassionate ladies. The result of their threats is presented below, in lieu of any actual Masonic items.

A very Merry Christmas to all.

A Pilgrim Christmas Tree

My father is not a cheapskate. Let’s just get that clear right up front, before my significant helpmate shouts, “He is too!” from the next room. My father is a child of the Great Depression, when that hearty stock of gritty survivalists baked their own bread made from dirt they dug from the back yard, walked 28 miles to school every day (uphill, both ways), and gave birth to their children in mangers because there was no room in the inn. Er, wait … I think I’m mixing up my stories here.

My father inculcated in the child that sprung from his parsimonious loins a healthy admiration for frugality, placed in a delicate cosmic balance with the sentimental, resulting in what I like to think of as a proper state of mind when it comes to arguments over spending too much money at Christmastime. Over the years, I have neatly ducked the undoubtedly environmentally sound protestations of my bride who has suggested the purchase of a prefabricated Christmas tree every holiday season since we were first tethered together in connubial bliss. The first hints usually begin long about August.

“Hey look,” she’ll hey from a corner of the living room, “I’m still picking up pine needles from last year.” I regard this as the gift that keeps on giving the whole year through, a gentle reminder of the Christmas spirit, even in the scorching, humid heat of the summer doldrums.

“Uh-huh,” she’ll respond. “I remember now. The vacuum cleaner clogged and tore a belt on all those needles when I was cleaning up after your tree last year.” I generally respond to this assault on my coniferous preferences by blurting out a bar of O’ Tannenbaum. I prefer the German lyrics. It gives my retort the proper sense of “I’m not buying a plastic tree, and this is final,” in a way that only the guttural consonants of the German language can really communicate:

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren:
Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Mut und Kraft zu jeder Zeit!

It’s the sort of heartwarming lyric I can imagine Erwin Rommel barking at his wife when she suggested an artificial tree to him, as he was headed out the door to Libya to go command the Afrika Korps.

Long about September, she’ll take the opportunity to wander past my desk and casually make an offhand remark about how the average acre of uncut pines and firs generates enough oxygen every day to keep 18 people breathing, or that 21 million trees were mercilessly hacked down in the prime of life last year, and that if every American man was as shamelessly pigheaded about Christmas trees as me, 446,996 acres of trees would be whacked down. At 18 people’s daily oxygen, per acre, I’d be personally responsible for suffocating 8,045,928 of my fellow citizens. To which I reply, if that includes the lady who cut in line in front of me at the grocery with 215 items in the ‘12 or Less’ lane, armed with a suitcase filled with expired coupons, that would be okay by me.

Come November, there’s no avoiding the artificial tree display at the Hardware Hut, where all of these wire and plastic mockeries of the yuletide season stand, like some arboreal firing squad. “A snap to put up in less than five minutes!” they coo. “No mess, no fuss!” they taunt. “Look! I’m even pre-lit!” teases the latest phony fir, as its fake fronds beckon the holiday shopper, appealing to his weakening resolve with a can of evergreen-scented air freshener, included at no extra charge. Like some scantily-clad temptress, whispering in his ear, they display their tainted wares and attempt to seduce him. “Take me to your house, honey. I look like the real thing. No one will ever know. I’ll even make it easy on you when you’re tired of me after New Year’s Eve. You can pack me up when you’ve finished with me, and put me away, and not even think of me till next year. Because I’ll wait for you, baby.”

No dice. I’m not buying. Which brings me back to the recombinant cheapskate gene I allegedly inherited from my father. Because, you see, not only am I not buying an artificial tree made by Chinese prisoners in a “re-indoctrination” camp, I’m not buying a real one either. No $200 tree in a box for me, but also no pre-cut, dried out, sap-oozing, needle-dropping, $99 refugee from a Michigan tree farm for me, either.

My parents divorced early in my life and have been remarried several times between them, which means my extremely complex family relations resemble more of a merger than a standard familial bond. It’s more like the close, personal relationships one develops with fellow passengers during a bus plunge. So the strange mélange of holiday traditions that have been passed, re-passed, co-mingled and co-opted by the various offspring that make up my siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings have allowed all of us to cherrypick the ones we like best and force them upon our own families. And the one that I consider sacrosanct is the annual chopping down of a free-range Christmas tree – the word “free” being the operative term.

My father has never in his 87 years of life paid for a Christmas tree, and he taught me all of the tricks of the trade. Overwhelmingly, his preferred manner of tree shopping involved long afternoon drives in the country searching for just the right combination of isolated location and questionable property ownership, returning as dusk fell to quickly chop down his prize. Over the years, we had a wild variety of trees – the standard pines, firs and spruces, and the not-so-standard hemlocks, cedars, cypresses, and arborvitaes. Some were downright dangerous to the touch, with the same sort of prickly nature as a cactus plant, which made the hanging of lights and ornaments a hazardous occupation. And true, there was the occasional bird or rodent that rode into the living room, buried deep within the tree’s hidden recesses. Some of my fondest memories were of Dad, heady with the scent of the hunt and emboldened by a couple of tankards of spiked nog, chasing a startled starling around the house, frantically batting at it with a broken pool cue stick. The holiday tradition was what really mattered, and it added a sense of wild adventure to our celebrations that other less adventuresome, retail-enslaved families missed. 

“And the price was right,” Dad would always say, cheerfully.

Obviously, as he got older and we moved to more densely populated urban areas, this became a more challenging activity. After all, the local bank branch or office park looked with prejudicial disfavor at the destruction of their expensive landscaping for the sake of one gritty, Depression-era gentleman’s ideas about Christmas celebration. And honestly, I thought it was a little over the top to call me wanting bail money that first year in the city. Especially during the busy holiday shopping season.

Technology has come to the aid of the modern Christmas tree shopper in the form of the Whack & Heckler 18-volt rechargeable, cordless chainsaw – a tiny titan of the tool world that makes quick work of surreptitious Nöel deforestation, especially in the gathering gloaming of December’s early sunsets. This year, I was especially happy with my choice – a six foot evergreen of some sort or other, discovered down a ravine far from civilization – because it sported what appeared in the bitter cold dusk to be tiny, baby-sized pine cones. I quickly channeled my inner Paul Bunyan, felled it, dragged it up the hill like a prize of war, lashed it to the roof of the car, and drove homeward.

Once I had mounted it in its stand in our living room, my sweetling was less than impressed. “It’s shaped funny,” she noted, “and it isn’t even green.” True, I had to admit that, once in the tungsten glow of our home, it did indeed look more brownish than greenish.

“Yes, but the price was right,” I quoted Dad. Somehow I didn’t think this impressed her.

“One of these days you’re gonna get arrested doing this. Or shot by somebody who catches you and your little George Washington hatchet trespassing on their property.”

“Oh come on,” I offered, “it’s Christmas. Look at the little baby-sized pine cones. I picked it out special. Have some nog.”

She soon warmed to the combination of the season and the pioneer spirit of adventure. Well, she at least warmed up enough that she soon helped me decorate the new tree. We strung the lights and hung our delicate ornaments. Against my own personal artistic judgment, I even let her heave great wads of shiny aluminum tinsel all over it – her own family’s favorite (if somewhat ghastly) decorating tradition. Frankly, I had to admit that the strands of shredded chrome helped to hide the brown looking branches. But we did take extra care to put lights close to the baby-sized pine cones to highlight their natural beauty.

Two nights later I was standing in the garage, on the other side of two closed doors, when I heard a shriek she usually reserves for finding Plymouth-sized spiders in the shower, or raccoons in the refrigerator again. I ran in to find her standing across the living room, pointing in horror at the Christmas tree.

“Your pine cones,” she hissed, with a combination of revulsion and rather pointed blame. “They’re moving!”

Sure enough, upon close examination, the pine cones were convulsing and bulging, with the unquestionable activity of something inside trying to escape. Into our living room. It seems that my baby-sized pine cones were, in fact, a rather active infestation of bagworms. Warmed by our central heating system and the close proximity of Christmas lights, the caterpillars inside of the cone-shaped brown sacks had thawed out and were now seeking to relocate. One had fallen to the floor, and the dachshund had already sailed triumphantly down the hallway with it held aloft like a trophy.

There was only one thing to do. I opened up the sliding glass door to the patio, picked up the tree, and heaved it out into the yard as far as I could in one hurl. A beaten man, I pulled on my coat, went out into the cold, retrieved the stand and the ornaments, and then dragged the fallen symbol of my pioneer spirit to the back of the yard where the caterpillars could refreeze in peace. 

I would later bone up on bagworms, and discover that I would have to pull all of the bags from the tree and burn them, since they were filled with eggs laid by the female worms, and would only go on to infest the evergreens in our yard next year. Since the tree was already chopped down anyway, up the whole thing would eventually go in a blaze to its Tannenbaum Valhalla.

Some traditions fade away, while others die a much quicker death. My holiday tradition took just long enough for a drive to the Hardware Hut to be smothered completely. I now sit puffing my pipe and sipping my nog, looking at a wire and plastic thing masquerading as a tree. It did just take five minutes to set up, with no fuss, and no risk of arrest for criminal trespassing. If I squint a bit and sit across the room, it looks just like the real thing. The evergreen-scented air freshener completes the illusion. And there will be no pine needles to clog up the vacuum, and certainly no bagworms to evict. I can pack it up the day after New Years, and no one will ever know. 

But it’s just not the same.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Could You Phrase that As a Question?

On Monday evening's episode of the enormously popular American television game show Jeopardy!, the 'Double Jeopardy' round featured a question category "Rite You Are." If you're not aware of the setup of the show, the answers in each category increase in perceived difficulty as they rise in value. So make of it what you will that the last, and ostensibly the most difficult one - worth $2,000 - was the following:

The ultimate champion of the night, Jackie Fuchs, successfully answered "What is the Scottish Rite"? I suppose we should at least be grateful that ANY of the three contestants was aware of Freemasonry enough to know. My guess is that 56 years ago or so when Jeopardy! first went on the air, all three would have known of the Scottish or York Rite, or even both.

Jackie Fuchs is currently a writer and an attorney from Los Angeles, but in her earlier days, she went by the name of Jackie Fox and was the bass player for the teenage all-girl band, The Runaways, between 1975-78, back when the world was young and dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Staring into Freemasonry's Future

Alice and I are on the road for the next two weeks, so I have limited web access and opportunities to do much in the way of hunting Masonic news items or posting regular updates. But I do want to direct attention to Brother Greg Stewart’s outstanding article this week over on the Freemason Information blog. 

See: The Death of Freemasonry: When Change Changes You

There is so much outstanding analysis and insight about the direction the fraternity seems to be heading these days packed into this one post, along with tough love over how we choose to respond to changes happening all around us. This is not a "Woe iz us, we iz dying!" sort of piece. Instead of the usual "Ya' know what's wrong with Freemasonry?" type of barstool finger-wagging, Greg stipulates all of our ills as a given, and instead provides some serious recommendations and possibilities for the future. Along with a refreshing bluntness about our basic model of grand lodges and constituent lodges.

Here's a clue: the answer isn't just "do the ritual better" and "guard the West Gate!" If you still think it is, the tar pits are thataway. This fraternity is facing massive shifts in the next decade and beyond, and Greg explores several possible scenarios.

Meanwhile, we're parked along the mighty Mississippi River today. Cloudy and miserable, and river traffic is light. Alice thought she spotted a whale float by. Or a really big log.

It's really cold, but not cold enough for Loch Ness. Let her claim it's a whale. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

English Press Never Fails To Disappoint

Even with Brexit and the political fate of Prime Minister Teresa May dominating the news cycle in England this weekend, you can always count on the English press to keep the flickering flame of Freemason bashing alive. For absolutely no apparent reason, the Sunday Express yesterday felt compelled to post a tarted up story attempting to again link - wait for it - Freemasons and purported chicanery over the RMS Titanic sinking. The headline itself is designed to create a story where none exists.

See 'Titanic COVER-UP? Documents reveal ship sinking inquiry ‘BUTCHERED by secret society' by Callum Hoare.

I guess trolls have to make a living, too.

The subheading under the headline makes this statement:

"AN INQUIRY into how Titanic sunk was heavily influenced by the Freemason, according to conspiracy theorist studying secret archives."

Following the sinking of the Titanic on April 15th, 1912, England's High Court judge Lord Mersey headed up an investigation on behalf of the British Board of Trade in order to identify the causes for the tragedy. In the process, more than a hundred witnesses testified, including White Star Line employees, government officials, and survivors. Given the popularity of Freemasonry at the time and the wide cross section of society who were interviewed, there's no surprise that there were Masons scattered throughout the group. 

Notably for conspiracy lovers everywhere, Lord Mersey (John Charles Bigham, 1st Viscount Mersey) was a Mason, as were a handful of men who were exonerated in the inquiry. Naturally, the story attempts to make some sort of connection that isn't there and give the hoary impression that evil Brother Masons let each other off the hook - the most common thread in British anti-Masonric conspiracy theories.

In 2015, the United Grand Lodge of England released an enormous historical public listing of their former members since their beginnings three centuries ago to Ancestry.com. And in typical English fashion, the press and the conspiracists came out of the woodwork hunting up former Masons and attempting to link them with various purportedly nefarious historical events. This Titanic non-story actually goes back to the very first week in 2015 that the list was made available.

I've now reread the article four times, and try as I might, I'll be damned if I can find the actual name of this alleged 'conspiracy theorist' who is 'studying secret archives' that are hardly secret to anyone (see HERE). So an article makes an allegation by association (secret society members are BUTCHERS!), based on casual inference by a totally unknown and unnamed source whose name seems to have been omitted out of either sloppiness or deliberate obfuscation - if it's anyone besides reporter Callum Hoare himself just rehashing an old 2015 article.

And it made it into print. 

So we're back to "Iceberg, Goldberg, all the same. Masons the lot of 'em." Although as my friend Jeff Naylor rightly reminded me, the author managed to miss the usual guaranteed trope of English reportage: "Masonic icebergs with dodgy handshakes and rolled up trouser legs, I say."

Of course, here's a smattering of other gems "reported" by Callum Hoare, who seems to specialize in nonsense reportage for Express under the banner of "weird.". They seem to want to capture the old Weekly World News audience, while still masquerading as a legitimate newspaper:

Real-life WEREWOLF: Man ‘covered in fur’ SAVAGED women and children during 25-year PLAGUE
Area 51 BOMBSHELL: Man who claims to have worked on ALIEN technology PASSES lie detactor tests
US Airman saw 'top-secret' alien STRUCTURE on Moon during NASA project

When fakery is the coin of the realm of the Fifth Estate these days, is there any wonder why they have become less trusted by the public than even the most dishonest of political hacks?

Sunday, December 09, 2018

UGLE and Female Freemasonry

Anytime the subject of women and Freemasonry pokes its head up, I'm well aware that the brickbats and hand grenades start flying. I know how this goes. Shrieks of "Women CAN'T be Freemasons!" come pouring out onto the message boards and Facebook comments. The blood drains from the faces of grizzled Past Masters and fresh faced new Master Masons alike. At least a dozen self-satisfied sniggerers feel compelled to bring up Senior Deacons and exposed breasts. At least two dozen bring up the Order of the Eastern Star. And there is a great gnashing of teeth.

Of course, women can be Freemasons. There have been female Masons (and not the just ones who listen at keyholes or fall out of wardrobes into meetings while spying) since the mid-1700s. Between 20-25% of the Masons in France are women right now. Regular, recognized Freemasonry doesn't recognize them, they can't attend our meetings, we can't attend theirs. But they do exist, and in decent enough numbers to be taken seriously.

With that in mind, the most recent issue of the United Grand Lodge of England's magazine Freemasonry Today arrived this week featuring an interview with MW Christine Chapman, Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, the smaller of the two principal female grand lodges in England. She's been a Mason for 42 years.

From the interview:

What are the origins of women’s Freemasonry?
The old myth that it began with inquisitive women being discovered hidden in lodge cupboards, grandfather clocks and under floorboards – and that they were made masons to protect the secrets – is entertaining, but none of these women went on to develop women’s Freemasonry.
It began in prerevolutionary 18th-century France with the Lodges of Adoption, which were female masonic societies under the adoption of masculine lodges. When the French Revolution arrived, all these lodges were for the chop, at least metaphorically. However, women were coming to the forefront of French intellectual society and Maria Deraismes, a well-known writer and supporter of women’s rights, was invited to become a full member of Loge des Libres Penseurs, working under the Grande Loge Symbolique de France. Her initiation in 1882 caused a schism, so this lodge and nine others seceded to form a new Grand Lodge called La Grande Loge Symbolique Ecossaise. And a new parallel movement was formed that eventually became known as Le Droit Humain, or the International Order of Co-Masonry.

Not long after this, the radical feminist Annie Besant travelled to France to join this movement and when she returned to England, she decided to formed the British Federation of the International Order of Co-Masonry in 1902, and remained its leader until her death in 1933. However, in true masonic fashion, there was a breakaway by members who wanted their Freemasonry to run along similar lines to UGLE. So in 1908 a new Grand Lodge was formed called the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry, or HFAM, although they later added The Order of Women Freemasons to their title and are now usually referred to as the OWF. Up until this point, female Freemasons had used the term ‘sister’. But now they decided that as members of a universal brotherhood, it was more suitable to be styled as ‘brother’.
‘It’s almost 24/7 now. I’m always at the end of my mobile and on social media, looking for opportunities to promote the fraternity’
What type of Freemasonry was practised in the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry?
For the first five years of its existence, they practised only the Craft degrees, but some members wished to introduce the Royal Arch. And having received the degree from former members of an extant UGLE chapter, they formed one themselves to practise the Royal Arch. But the Grand Lodge of HFAM decreed that the time was not yet ripe for this introduction.

So on 27 November 1913, Mrs Elizabeth Boswell Reid and her daughter Mrs Lily Seton Challen set up their own Grand Lodge to be known as The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, or HFAF, which is my Grand Lodge. Elizabeth Boswell Reid became our first Grand Master. So in 1913 we had three masonic Grand Lodges admitting both men and women, although women outnumbered the men in both HFAM and HFAF. Eventually these fraternities decided to become single-sex, and by 1933, we had achieved this aim in HFAF.
So HFAF was founded on the wave of social change in 1913?

We were inspired by the suffragettes and were founded on a streak of rebellion, because we’d broken away from another group. But they were all founded with the same principles – to empower women. We had one suffragette I know of – Helen Fraser, a great orator who inspired women to join the suffrage movement.

What’s the difference between the HFAF and OWF societies?
The OWF are much larger than us. But we like to think we’re more flexible and can react more quickly to initiatives and seize opportunities. Carpe Diem is one of my mantras and another is that there are no problems, only solutions. Take the consecration of our New Delhi Lodge. We had an Indian lady who came over to the UK, joined a lodge and took her degrees because she was determined to take Freemasonry to India. But she couldn’t get other Indian women to come over to England to take their degrees. So we went out there to make it happen.
What are the misconceptions about women’s Freemasonry?
We sometimes come across men who don’t think we could possibly be doing it at the same level as them. So we’ve had to fight that. Nowadays they’re much more supportive and UGLE is in particular. We also have to fight people who think we are somehow upset that we can’t join the men. At HFAF, we want to work as women, for an organisation of women, doing things for women. We have a saying: it’s a bit like football – the same game, the same rules, but different teams...
Read the rest HERE.

Take note that while the UGLE doesn't officially have any sort of visitation relationship or actually grant recognition to the female grand lodges, they do cooperate. Their Grand Masters were invited to the gala 300th anniversary celebration of UGLE last year. When ladies contact the UGLE asking about becoming Freemasons themselves, they do not rear up on their haunches, snort and harrumph about "NO WIMMIN," or offer up an alternative like the OES (which actually does not officially operate in England, and carries no standing with the UGLE). They cheerfully point to the two female grand lodges down the street. They even cooperate with each other with their University Scheme program, which seeks to introduce Freemasonry to college students by establishing lodges connected to college and university campuses. Interestingly, UGLE and the HFAF conferred with each other when they crafted their recent transgender policies last year, which were forced upon them by changes in English laws.

All of this is a lesson U.S. grand lodges need to pay attention to as the society shifts around us. Just as American grand lodges ignored Prince Hall Freemasonry for two hundred years, we have done the very same with female Freemasonry in this country. The Grand Master of the HFAF said in her interview that they are expanding and chartering lodges in India, Spain, Gibraltar, and Washington, DC in the coming year. There are numerous other female lodges already at work across the U.S. that almost none of us are even remotely aware of. 

American Masons have been able to pretend that the Order of the Eastern Star was sufficient for women to join as a panacea for legitimate Freemasonry, with suitable male Masonic lifeguards on hand to make sure they weren't actually conferring Masonic degrees. The internet, combined with societal upheavals and a shifting gender role landscape, is going to make the future very different.

Monday, December 03, 2018

'Death-Metal' Band GHOST Members Allege Masonic Conspiracy in Legal Fight

Former members of the Swedish 'death-metal' band Ghost are suing their lead singer and frontman, business manager, primary studio musician, and principal songwriter, Tobias Forge in a Swedish court over a dispute about royalties and unpaid salaries. The original lawsuit was filed in April 2017. 

Until the filing of the original suit, all of the band's members had spent the previous eleven years hiding their identities from the public, appearing in masks, and using character names only. 

For many years, Forge himself appeared onstage as a series of demonic anti-popes called 'Papa Emeritus.' In 2012, he retired his papal character, and replaced it with a less theatrically dramatic but equally Catholic-esque one called 'Cardinal Copia.'

I'm getting to the Freemasonry part.

Since Ghost always appeared in masks or makeup onstage and in public and hid their identities, anyone could have been performing under them. They were referred to only as Nameless Ghouls. Forge himself reportedly did the bulk of the creative work behind the scenes and in recording sessions, but the band members apparently decided that he had essentially become a solo act and had crowded them out, taking advantage of their anonymity, and just paying them a fixed salary for their services. Hence the lawsuit over US$22,000 they claim to have been entitled. It's more complicated than that, I'm not a lawyer, and I don't speak Swedish, but that's the gist. In fact, the public wouldn't have known any of the band members' names – including Forge's – had the lawsuit never been filed by the former Nameless Ghouls. The plaintiffs in the case were Martin Hjertstedt, Henrik Palm, Mauro Rubino and Simon Söderberg.
Well, Forge won the lawsuit over a year ago in October, sticking the plaintiffs with his US$145,000 legal fees. The band members stewed over their loss for a year (along with spending their own legal fees of over US$300,000), and then pulled a hoary old trick out of their attorney's briefcase last week: file an appeal, and blame 'the Freemasons.'

According to an article on the Revolver website:
The former band members began the appeal process after the ruling last month, and now their attorney claims judge Henrik Ibold was "being disloyal" to his judicial duties and showing favoritism to Forge as the two both reportedly belong to the Freemasons, a centuries-old fraternal organization that describes itself as "beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Ibold denies the claims, but admitted to a Swedish newspaper that he had heard rumors of Forge's potential membership in the same order as him: The Swedish Freemasonry Order. When the same paper contacted Forge's lawyer, she refused to comment. As of now, judge Göta Hovrätt has not made a decision on whether to try the case in appeals court.
The Swedish news site NE.SE mentioned above does provide a bit more information. I include it below with the usual disclaimer that it has been run through the Bing translator, since my sole knowledge of Swedish vocabulary consists of the word smörgåsbord:
The dispute has now taken an unexpected turn. Lawyer Michael Berg, who represents the former members, in a submission to the Court of appeal asked that the entire trial in the District Court shall be repeated. The lawyer accuses Alderman Henry Ibold, who was the presiding judge in the District Court, to have been disqualified. The reason is that Henrik Ibold is a member of the Swedish Freemasons. Also the band leader Tobias Forge is a member of the same [order] and both he and Alderman Ibold belong, according to the lawyer, the section within the [organization] which go under the name "Fourth Division", which includes, inter alia, the order's lodges in [the city of] Linköping. The lawyer believes that this relationship will [affect] impartiality in the case [and] could be questioned.
We spoke on Thursday with Alderman Henry Ibold. He did not know at that time that the lawyer had turned to the Court of Appeal. He says it is up to the Court to determine if he was disqualified or not when he ruled in the case.
"It goes to the appellate court judge. I don't have any opinion about it in my role as singled out as being disqualified. It may be handed over to someone else to decide.
Did you know that the Forge was a member of the Freemasons?
"I did not know that he was a member of the Masonic order. However, I had heard some rumor that it could be so.
It feels unpleasant to be accused of conflict of interest?
– No, it does not. I do not think that the Court will consider that there is conflict of interest," says Henrik Ibold.
We have also been in contact with Tobias Forges lawyer, Ann-Charlotte S Birch. Nor did she felt on Thursday that other party is accusing the judge of bias.
"I have no idea. I am not speaking about this," she said.
In his submission to the Court of appeal Attorney Berg invokes an excerpt from the Swedish Masonic Order's general laws that, among other things, provides that a member of the order must always tell the truth. The lawyer writes: "For Henry Ibold, it must have been impossible to objectively and impartially assess the probative value of the evidence that Tobias Forge has given".
The submission to the Court of appeal shows that the former members of Ghost first found out on November 14 that Henry Ibold was a member of the Masonic Order. It is apparent that they have investigated Ibold's and Forge's membership by taking advantage of the Order's roll.
Göta Court of appeal had not yet taken a position on Thursday to the claim that the trial should be in the District Court.
Now, all of this is very curious. Claiming that Masonic judges give preference to other Masons at trial is inane nonsense, and always has been. Masonic obligations are to help a Brother in need if possible, but not to violate the law or the ethics of our professions. Plus, if both Forge and Judge Ibold really are members of the fraternity in Sweden, them winding up in the same courtroom together was a sheer coincidence. Sweden today has about 15,400 members of the regular, recognized Swedish Order of Freemasons. But in the conspiracy lovers' world — especially when Freemasonry is bandied about — there's no such thing as coincidence. Of course, what an appeals judge will or will not permit to go forward is anybody's guess these days. 

But there's another niggling question that lingers about Tobias Forge's alleged membership in Swedish Freemasonry.

Many fans have pointed out that a couple of their songs contain Masonic-tinged lyrics – notably, 'Square Hammer' ("Are you on the square? Are you on the level?")

Unlike the vast majority of Freemasonry in the world, regular, recognized Freemasonry in Sweden is a Christian organization. The Swedish Order of Freemasons (Svenska Frimurare Orden) is officially under the royal patronage of the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, and it is closely associated with the Lutheran Church of Sweden, the country's official state religion. Consequently, it is an unusual Masonic jurisdiction that admits Christian men only as members, which has caused some discomfort and more than a little heartburn with many other Masons around the world who stick purely to the religious requirement outlined in Anderson's Constitutions ("to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree"). In fact, over the years some Masons have suggested withdrawing amity with the Swedish Order because of this conflicting membership requirement that denies membership to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others. 

It should be noted here that Swedish lodges don't demand visitors from other jurisdictions be Christians only, just their own members. 

(There is one notable and regular alternative in Sweden for non-Christans to join. Since the early 2010's, the Grand Lodge of Finland, which was founded in the 1920s with a charter from the Grand Lodge of New York, has operated a District Grand Lodge of Sweden with the permission of the Swedish Rite. The lodges chartered by the Grand Lodge of Finland work using a Swedish-language version of the Finnish ritual, which is essentially the American Craft ritual used by the Grand Lodge of State of New York. Their lodges merely require that candidates are men who profess faith in a Supreme Being and the immortality of soul, and do not require a profession of specifically Christian faith.)

The Swedish Rite is a very different system of integrated degrees than Americans and most other English-derived Masons are used to, and it is worked in the Nordic countries of Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway as well. Unlike our systems of lodge degrees with optional appendant bodies which may be variously joined according to the desires of candidates and members, there are a total of eleven degrees in the Swedish Rite, divided into four divisions, and which must be conferred in strict order. It has a distinct hierarchy which is unusual to us. 

What we know as the three Craft Lodge degrees are called the First Division (1-3), which are conferred in St. John's Lodges. The Second Division consists of three degrees (4-6) of what are Scottish or St. Andrew's Lodges. The Third Division comprises four degrees (7-10), and these are conferred in Provincial Grand Lodges, or Chapters. 

The Fourth Division (to which Judge Ibold and Tobias Forge are both alleged to belong in the story above) consists of just one degree, the 11th, known as Most Enlightened Brother, Knight Commander of the Red Cross. It is extremely limited, and there were only about 60 Knight Commanders in Sweden in 2015. There is also a Civil Order of Knight Commander that is controlled and conferred by the King. It is called the Royal Order of King Karl XIII, and is limited to just 33 Knight Commanders. It is not a Masonic degree. Because of the extremely limited number of such honors, there is an even greater spookiness assigned to this small group by detractors than what we put up with in the U.S. over our 33rd degree Scottish Rite Masons. So naturally, it becomes an easy shorthand to accuse someone of being part of this "inner sanctum" and rarified air of the Fourth Division. Which brings us back to the allegations made in the appeals case over Ghost.

The question that arises over Tobias Forge's alleged membership in Swedish Masonry comes back to its Christian requirement, versus his public persona as Ghost's frontman. As Ghost's vocalist, songwriter and all-around mastermind, Forge cooked up a string of 'Satanic popes' — Papa Emeritus I, II and III — for each of the band's first three albums. The characters appeared onstage in skull makeup and a papal mitre, occasionally singing odes to Lucifer and the other usual staples of 'death metal' music like zombies, ghouls, vampires and the like. What many now have branded as Occult Rock. In interviews, Forge wore skull makeup and was simply another Nameless Ghoul, like his other band members. The band quickly became notorious as Europe and Metal's oddest music act, and the mystery was a huge part of the performance on and off the stage. Audiences ate it up, and even the press gladly refrained from exposing their real names, faces and private lives online. 

Tobias Forge

Their act is its own brand of campiness in much the same way that Alice Cooper presented himself in the 1970s. In reality, Forge looks like a clean-cut guy in his early 30s. He's got a wife and kids, and a pretty typical middle class social life. But interviews present a different character, and he has said he became a Satanist as a young boy.

From Revolver:
Tobias Forge is standing in a church. He's six or seven years old. He's with his mom. She works in a gallery. She appreciates art. She wants her son to appreciate art, too. "She was always very keen on taking me to churches," he explains. "She might say now in older age that she's sort of borderline religious, but back then it was just treating churches like museums."
One particular church in Linköping stood out. It was built in the 1500s. It was Catholic. It was creepy. "It had that evil feel, with a lot of old, scary paintings and big stained-glass windows and all that stuff I've sort of carried forth with me," Forge says. "It felt like a magical place. On the other hand, I think it triggered a lot of the opposition that made me, in my adolescence, so unquestionably throw my hands into the hands of Satan."
Satanic-panic movies and imagery have been a staple of teenaged entertainment ever since the 1950s (and even earlier), and Forge has been playing a carefully crafted public character for nearly a decade now that depends heavily on an anti-religious and Satanic image in public. He seems uneasy with trying to balance that with his loss of anonymity now that has exposed him as just this regular guy. 

Which brings us full circle to the lawsuit's allegation that he's a Swedish Freemason, which predicates membership on a profession of Christianity. Freemasonry is not in any way, shape or form related to, or welcoming of, any sort of association with 'Satanism' of any kind. Regular Freemasonry requires a belief in a Supreme Being by its members, and leaves a man's private faith to his own conscience. But if a Masonic lodge were to discover that a petitioner's private faith was any variation of actual Satanism, it would undoubtedly be deemed incompatible with the values of the fraternity by investigating committees and the voting members of the lodges. But especially in a grand jurisdiction requiring Christianity as a requirement of membership, as Sweden does, membership would be impossible under any circumstances.

All of this long winded tale is really an examination of how anti-Masonic smears and allegations take on a life of their own. The Swedish Order hasn't said publicly whether Forge is a Mason or not, and probably has no intention or desire to reveal if he is. Judge Ibold has acknowledged his membership, and there's certainly no reason for him to hide from it, since the Swedish Order is so deeply connected with the Swedish royalty. But the former band members and their lawyers have obviously decided it's worthwhile to try to make something out of it all by making the allegations of impropriety a part of their most recent legal actions, along with the prerequisite yakking to the press just to make sure that Freemasonry gets branded as something suspicious.

And there's the question that sits at the top of the whole tale. If Forge is a Freemason in the Swedish Rite, how does he explain his purported adherence to Satanism? Or was it always an act all along? And how did the brethren who investigated him manage to reconcile that to admit him into a Christian-only Masonic lodge? Is he really a Mason at all, or is it just a desperate anti-Masonic accusation made by a desperate attorney with desperate clients who are desperate to claim a conspiracy instead of paying their legal bills? 

Or is it all just an elaborate circular hoax on everybody's part?

Just remember that Alice Cooper, the godfather of heavy metal shock rock who is credited with introducing horror and occult imagery into rock music theatrics, is a Born-Again Christian.

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