Saturday, May 31, 2008

Masonry as Divine Ascension

As some of you may know, I don't fit into a particular religious model very well. Some of my beliefs are rooted in Mormonism; early Mormonism to be specific. I want to share part of my view of Masonry as it pertains to my personal religious beliefs, but before I do so, it becomes necessary to explain in brief my take on the connection between Masonry and Mormonism:

Many are familiar with the fact that Joseph Smith borrowed certain elements of Masonic ritual when forming the Mormon Temple ceremonies. This type of borrowing was not a new thing, but had happened both before and after that time, in the formation of such fraternal groups as the Grange, Elks, Woodmen, Foresters, Buffaloes, etc., and even some Masonically sponsored groups like DeMolay. Typically it was individual Masons themselves doing this borrowing, and since they were only borrowing the language, structure, and trappings of the degree work, they did not violate their obligations by revealing any of the secrets which they had been obligated not to reveal. Unlike some of the others, I believe Joseph also had some divine inspiration in what he did which, combined with the faith of his followers, made the result "Celestial" in character. But unfortunately, the Church has, since that time, corrupted their ceremonies in many ways, and diminished the amount of teaching they do pertaining to its symbolism and significance. I therefore believe that, unfortunately, the rituals of today's Freemasonry are more effective than the Mormon Temple rituals from a spiritual, transformative point of view. But if it were still 1877, I might say the opposite.

The "degree" given in the Temple (although they do not use that term in this sense) is called the Endowment, and in the words of Brigham Young:

Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.

I believe that this description applies to certain parts of Freemasonry, as well. I see the Degrees as a map of our individual life, death, and ascension back to a very literal "Celestial Lodge Above" which is so often mentioned in our rituals.

The D-G> and PS> of the EA, FC, and MM Degrees are deeply symbolic beyond what is taught in the ritual. And they are reiterated in another, perhaps more ancient form by the three Masters of the Veil in the Royal Arch Degree. I believe they are expressive of the more pure and ancient form of Worship.

The Mormon conception of this ascension includes the idea that man takes on the attributes of, and eventually becomes a God. But the God that he becomes is not like the God described by the popular denominations of the day. Mormonism - historically - tends not to shy away from the anthropomorphism of God, but rather embrace it fully, for it teaches that God was once a mortal man on another world who walked this path before us, and ascended degree by degree to reach His high station in the heavens, finally becoming the Father of the human family upon this earth, whose spirits He, Adam, and his wife Eve had borne out in the celestial world.

Adam and Eve are thus, from my Masonic perspective, easily seen as the first and original Masons. Was Adam not the first to wear an Apron? The first to build an altar with stone? The first to make a covenant or obligation with His God? (Preston and Anderson traced Freemasonry to Adam, while Mackey doesn't acknowledge the meaningfulness of this, see "Freemasonry, History of" in Mackey's Encylopedia of Freemasonry) I believe the fact that we are trying to improve ourselves, and become better men in Masonry by following in the steps of our original Grand Master is enough to say that Masonry originates with Adam.

(See also "Primitive Freemasonry", in Mackey's Encylopedia, where the subject of Antediluvian Masonry is discussed in depth.)

Angels or Demons

The "Radtcliffes" have recently made it a point to up the esoteric ante on the Masonic blogosphere. I will play this game, too.

A friend and Brother of mine deals in Auras for the purpose of identifying problems and healing people spiritually. He came up with the theory that certain Masonic gestures are actually opening (and he believes, subsequently closing) the Aura so that you are more susceptible to what is about to occur.

I'm not usually one who deals with Auras explicitly, but I took a fancy to this idea when I heard it. Upon more deliberate consideration, I think I believe it does a bit more than only this. I would propose the following possibility, but as always, each Masons beliefs are his own, and so your mileage may vary with the following:

When kneeling at the altar of Masonry in the Entered Apprentice Degree we have our aura opened for the first time in this particular way. After doing so, we are directed to the Lights and next receive a secret grip or token, and also a secret word, which, we are strangely told, is the name of the token - as if the token is a person.

I believe that these names could be specific angelic or demonic names of spiritual entities that we are allowing into our bodies, to perform their spiritual work.

In turn, it is possible that the other work that we magically attach at this juncture, the hand gestures, signs, grips, and the name or word itself, could allow us to control or direct this spiritual entity, maybe not only in ourselves, but in others who have received it, creating a sort of hive mind (beehive anyone?), or spiritual energy pool, or egregore, if we learn how to work it properly.

Thus, the True Words are names of these spiritual beings, whereas the Pass-Words are merely words used to gain admission, holding no power in and of themselves, for they have no signs attached, but have been adopted for reasons perhaps akin to those given us in the rituals themselves.

As Master Masons, we are professing to be searching for "the WORD" or in other words, the true, ineffable name of God, and if we do proceed to receive it, after opening our aura properly, we would be able to become possessed by the actual spirit of deity, becoming some sort of Avatar for God, or for a particular God. (This is actually the first time I have thought this through to its conclusion, and I must say, wow!)

At the opening of Lodge we all open our auras to the Senior Warden and Worshipful Master, in particular, and they reciprocate to us; or, in another sense, we are all opening them to each other, becoming one so that we can proceed in Unity. For this reason, it is particularly important that no contention exist amongst brethren in a Lodge room. If you have contention with a Brother who is present, you should voluntarily remove yourself from the room until you have solved the problem so that the ebb and flow of spiritual energy may be undisturbed by your ill feelings.

As I mentioned above, I do not believe that we actually close the Aura. I think we open it, and it heals naturally with time. But I have heard of other ceremonies where the Aura is deliberately closed, so I believe it may be possible to do so, it just isn't part of the Masonic practice in my estimation.

So, for those taking a tally, I believe the EA, FC, MM, Past Master, and Royal Arch Degrees each allow us to become possessed with one of these sojourning spirits, the Most Excellent Master probably does not; and the Mark almost certainly does not, it being derived from the FC.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Google's new branding and favicon - "Little G"

For those of you who use Google, you may have noticed today that their favicon changed. That's the little icon that appears in the location bar and on the tabs where a Google site is opened.

Why am I posting about it here on my Masonic blog? Because anyone who is observant enough to notice such a small change really ought to study the history and symbolism of Freemasonry, they would find it fascinating! In fact, Masons have used the "Big G" as part of their Logo for quite a while, as pictured here.

Does Google's change to the little G represent a sign of humility, a stepping away from territory that clearly has belonged to us Masons since before Sergey Brin and Larry Page even had grandparents, or does the little G represent a new, modern trend that we should take notice of and follow along with, as well?

Well, what do you think? I kind of like it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Response to "Adventures in Skirt Masonry"

Our Brother over at Masonic Minute made a post last night about what he termed "Skirt Masonry" (referring to the appendant bodies which admit women, not to women Masons, Co-Masonry or anything of that sort.) He wrote:
"Some hold these organizations in very low regard. They may even have wives who are members, but they are “Blue Nose” Masons who see no real reason for the existence of Skirt Masonry. Blue Nose Masons have no humility and are usually in bad marriages with nasty wives. Of course, I am painting with a broad brush. I don’t think there are any nasty Masonic wives out there at all. But you get the idea."
With all due respect, I feel that this brother has gotten it all wrong. My wife explained this to me at a prior date, so I have to give her credit for these thoughts, but allow me to explain:

To begin, we must talk a bout the men.

There are a certain number of men to whom Masonry appeals, for all of the ostensibly "right" (or perfect) reasons. The life-changing and transformative experience of initiation, the spiritual insights the ritual provides, the juvenile if not genuine thrill of being part of a secret society, the philosophical discussions we might have with other members, etc. Sure, there are other reasons as well which are just as valid, but most of them could be fulfilled by some other type of worthy organization, such as church or rotary. But Masonry offers this unique thing, which we as Masons, generally have an affection towards.

In its boom days Masonry appealed to about 50% of the men in my community. I would say that Masonry served them well, and they got what they wanted out of it, but it was a convenient match, not because it was right for them but because everyone else was doing it and it was prime entertainment and fellowship. Of such a large number it undoubtedly richly appealed to some of the men, and it was those men who rose to positions of high esteem in Masonry and became well known for their fraternal endeavors. But today, we have a different picture. I would venture a guess that Masonry today appeals in that "perfect" way to about 60% of its members. And only half of those are daring enough to admit it, because the other 40% aren't really interested in the esoteric/occult interpretations of such like myself. Part of this is generational. We still have people left over from the last membership boom, who got something good out of Masonry in spite of it not being a perfect match.

Lets pretend. I live in a city of roughly 20,000 people. Approximately 10,000 of those should be men. Of those, we have about 200 Masons, at least 200 who are on our Trestleboard mailing list - I haven't consulted the Secretary for exact numbers. Of those 200, about 40 are active in some organization and about 20 are regularly active in Blue Lodge. Of those 20, I will be generous and assume that 10 have that "perfect match." This is 10 out of 10,000, or 0.1%. Now, that isn't a fair number for what I'm going to say, but it gives us some perspective. There are good men out there who would make a perfect match to the fraternity whom we just have not located yet. I will be generous and assume that 5% of all men are perfect matches to Masonry. That means that if we reach our intended audience we should have 500 Masons in this city.

Now lets talk about women. As pointed out above, there are approximately 50% men and 50% women out there. So if we were trying to get women interested in something akin to Masonry in some significant way, and setting aside the inherent differences between the male and female mind, we could presume that the same amount of women would be a perfect match. So there would be 500 women in this city interested in such things.

Now lets talk about men and women. Men and women get paired up in marriage or a relationship because of several reasons, lets use "love" and "common interests" as two possibilities. We will presume that the mysterious love outweighs other reasons. So lets say "common interests" only explains 20% of the marriage/partner relationships out there. Since the appendant organizations usually accept at least the wife, widow, mother, daughter, or sister of a Mason, lets simplify this by saying that each Mason has exactly 4 close female relatives (most probably do not have this many) and lets designate their potential interest levels as:

wife/widow - 20% (common interests)
mother - 30% (she was the genetic reason you're interested)
daughter - 50% (she may genetically inherit your interests)
sister - 50% (she had the same parents and is just as likely as you to be interested)

This adds up to 150% or 1.5 potential women joining an organization per man. Right? Wrong.

There are 10,000 women in the community. Of those, we have already determined that only 500 would be interested in these things. But if each man only has a family relation to four women, that means 500 men * 4 = 2000 women we are actually in contact with, and even then only if we have already reached out to all eligible men in the community. Out of those 2000, women if we just play the numbers straight and take that 5% who are perfect matches we get 100 women, but again that is only if all eligible women in the sub-community have been reached. In reality, the number of men is 200. 200 * 4 = 800. 5% of 800 is 40. But that's counting people who are inactive. 40 men out of the 200 we have are actually active, that's a 20% activity level. If only 20% of the women are active that makes 8 women. Granted, women may be more likely to be active than men, especially the stay-at-home generation who want to get out and do something social, so perhaps twice as likely. That would be 16 women. That is where we might stand today. Do my numbers reflect your own? 16 women active in OES or Amaranth compared to 40 men active in Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, York Rite, or Shrine. Remember not to count those traveling from outside of the city population - If you want to do that, add up the populations of all the cities that feed into your organizations and run them over again.

Now lets look at something else. In Masonry we currently have a generational gap in most places. There is a thin area which currently consists of the people approximately ages 30 to 50. We have some younger people like myself who are starting to come into the Fraternity, and we have a lot of our beloved old-timers. The numbers may look different than they really are, because a number of the old-timers are too old to actively attend lodge any more, and so the younger among us get more representation than we really have by the books. Fortunately, Masonry is founded on universal, enduring principles which provides a bridge between the generations, and young men like myself have no problem chumming around with the older Masons. The women, however, have a significant problem. They have, at least in my community, made ladies formal dresses part of the routine, and these dresses have nothing whatsoever to do with the younger generation. My wife would look good in the skirt pictured at the right, and while she may be slightly shy about wearing something like that in public, she would do it. She wouldn't be caught dead, on the other hand, in Grandma's formal. In fact, while guys don't mind dressing up in Tuxedos -- we think it is cool for whatever various and sundry reasons. The group of ladies who like to dress up in formals does not intersect very well with the ladies who are interested in esoteric studies.

My wife, Susie, is very interested in esoteric studies. Our Council of Allied Masonic Degrees holds open meetings (no ritual) over dinner for about four out of five meetings and the ladies attend with us. Susie enjoys the AMD meetings because she gets to hear about Masonry, whether it is from a historical lecture which someone gives, or from reading the publications which AMD puts out. One of the brethren there even slips her her own copy of Miscellanea each year when it comes out, against my own more prudent judgment.

But Susie is not interested in OES or Amaranth. They are unappealing. They are clubs for her grandma. She has more in common with the young lady pictures at the top of this post than with the members of OES or Amaranth. At least she could talk about fashion with such girls without the talk being obsolete (not that she wants to talk about fashion! - she does not.)

Since Susie and I married, my father-in-law has also become a Mason, and even Susie's mom finds the ladies organizations unappealing for similar reasons, and she's been known to study an esoteric subject or two as well.

My message here is that OES and Amaranth have completely missed the boat. Arising during the heyday membership boom of Masonry, they have systematically eliminated the other four hundred and sixty women in today's community who might be interested in what a Masonic related group should have to offer, and they have further alienated some of those who actually are eligible.

It isn't that OES and Amaranth are bad organizations. The math simply does not work. Men cannot expect their ladies to be interested in such things, when it is so rare an interest to hold to begin with. Men should not be running or making rules for OES and Amaranth. The ladies should have ran them from the beginning and operated directly in parallel to Masonry, bringing in other various women from the community with whom they could fellowship and pursue their interests. This solution would fail for a Masonic appendant body because the Masons involved should not be hanging around with a bunch of random young women who are interested in what they do, instead of their own wives who are not. However, if the women's organizations were treated this way, the SINGLE Masons and older DeMolays may find such an organization to be a useful breeding ground, to find eligible ladies of common interests that they may wish to marry. But it creates a terribly contrived system if someone has to phase out of it upon becoming married. That's like being forced to choose between Masonry and your Spouse. Brethren, which would you choose? (Which one yells at or complains to you more often? Just kidding. The Past Masters probably do.) We shouldn't expect our ladies to make a similar choice.

What do I propose? Two things:

#1 - Eliminate all ritual from OES and Amaranth entirely. Make it a ladies social club for relatives of Masons and let them do the socialite things that they like to do.

#2 - Facilitate the creation of a ladies ritual with some real symbolic meat to it. Finance it, advertise it, get the ladies started, and do not allow men to attend it. Make it a true Parallel to Masonry, but not Masonry. Allow it to be organized and operated by women. This need not be limited to one organization. Let a few be created, and may the best one survive. They may even end up forming a men's social group some day to go along with it, for those men who they are married to who want to go down to the bar and watch football, but wouldn't be interested in Masonry.

Brethren, look at it this way: Honestly, which would you rather hang out with, Ms. Schoolgirl from the top of the post, or the Worthy Matron pictured at the right? The young ladies who are interested in esoteric studies feel the same way, well, maybe not... but almost.

(Ok, so that isn't really a Worthy Matron to the right. It's the Queen of England. I didn't want to insult any of the fine ladies who are part of OES or Amaranth by submitting them personally to this comparison.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

European Concept Royal Arch

Greetings Brethren and Companions,

This upcoming Tuesday, the 27th of May, 2008, will be a historic day for Freemasonry in Oregon and possible the United States. (Well, maybe I'm being a little too hopeful.) A group of Royal Arch Masons will be gathering in Roseburg, Oregon for the purpose of forming a European Concept Royal Arch Chapter, to be named Meridian Chapter. The business of the evening will include an explanation of the Concept, the conducting of an interest survey the answers of which will be passed along to the proposed High Priest once nominated, the actual nomination of the three Principal Officers for the Chapter, and the signing of a petition to request dispensation from The Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Oregon to form our Chapter. There will also be a musical performance and a lecture on Officialism and the Festive Board drawn from the writings of Dr. Albert Gallatin Mackey.

Here are the principles that are going to be used as the "filter" to find Companions suitable for this endeavor. Any who aren't willing to uphold these principles will not be considered for this particular project.

The Seven Guiding Principles of Meridian Royal Arch Masons:
  1. Arts and Education - The creativity and productivity of each member in the liberal arts and sciences should be earnestly cultivated. Masonic education should be part of every function. If there is not an original presentation available for a particular event, a reading may be taken from the vast array of literature pertaining to Royal Arch Masonry or Freemasonry in general.

  2. Ritual Excellence - In the performance of ritual, nothing short of excellence will be acceptable. The work should not only be memorized, but also be artfully delivered by those performing it. This will take a while to achieve, but sufficient time will be dedicated to work towards the accomplishment of this goal until it is achieved. Members will need to demonstrate their proficiency in the ritual work, and candidates will need to demonstrate their proficiency in the lecture and obligation of each degree before proceeding to the next.

  3. The Festive Board - At every event there should be just as much emphasis placed on the festive board as there is on the business, ritual, and education of our companions. Whether it is a potluck, a banquet, or a visit to a local restaurant, the Festive Board will be conducted with dignity, and members will be expected to attend and participate in the good food and fellowship.

  4. Masonic Relevance - We must ensure that all Chapter functions are relevant to Masonry. There will be no fund raisers except those which provide some legitimate and valuable form of Masonic advancement. Every effort should be directed toward helping individual members improve themselves in Masonry.

  5. Elegance of Dress - Our clothing is an outward symbol and reminder of our devotion to the highest standards of Masonic excellence, and the same amount of care and dignity should be given for our dress in Chapter as for a wedding, funeral, or other significant life event. The red chapter blazer will only be permitted to be worn by visiting District Deputies, Grand Officers, and Past Grand Officers. Everyone else (except current candidates or special guests) will be expected to wear a tuxedo, with a black jacket, red tie, and red vest or red cummerbund. The Sentinel will enforce this dress code under direction of the Excellent High Priest. New members should be directed prior to Exaltation or Affiliation as to where they may obtain these items for a modest price. This standard of dress should be maintained at all Meridian Chapter functions unless otherwise specified by the High Priest.

  6. Ambiance and Initiatic Focus - Ambiance helps open the heart and soul to receive what Masonry has to offer. Just as our dress should be elegant, our meeting locations should also be as pleasant as possible. We may not always have the best locations, but we should do what we can to make them comfortable and enjoyable. Freedom from unnecessary noise and interruption, the provision of music during refreshment, and appropriate candle-light (if permitted by the venue), are examples of good ambiance.

  7. Selectivity and Exclusivity - A European Concept body is a big commitment, and isn't suitable for everyone. We are dedicated to bringing in only those who are amicable towards these principles, and we will cheerfully recommend anyone wishing to become a Royal Arch Mason to a neighboring Chapter if they are not interested in meeting our strict requirements. We are trying to provide a unique, focused experience for those who are interested in it, and at the same time, project a positive image for both Royal Arch Masonry and Freemasonry in general. We are not desperate for membership, and never will be. If there aren't at least 12 Royal Arch Masons committed to these principles, then this Chapter should not exist. Once constituted, we must guard the west gate of this very unique Chapter so that these principles do not get subverted. We are trying to complement the existing programs, not compete with them, and to show this, many of our members will remain active in their existing Chapters.

I'm looking forward to hearing input from my online Brethren about this, and I will be posting a follow up to tell how the meeting went.