Saturday, December 6, 2008

Appointed a Steward and Lodge Webmaster

I haven't had much time for this blog over the last month, hence no new posts in November. Just a quick update: At our regular Blue Lodge meeting this past week we had the election and appointment of officers for next year. I was appointed as one of the Stewards.

Also, at our October meeting our Lodge voted to have a web page and I was elected as Webmaster. I designed the web site and submitted it to the Grand Master for approval. I just got the word yesterday that it was approved for content and style, so it's up and active now:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Albert Pike and Freemasonry - Part 7

Number 7, and the final article, in a series on Albert Pike's views of Freemasonry.

The goal of this final article in my series on Pike's views on Freemasonry will be to digest the main points of the preceding six articles. Again, let me state clearly that my reading of Pike is certainly not exhaustive and the substance of this series only reflects the conclusions I've drawn from what I've read of Pike's writings.

First off, Albert Pike viewed Masonry as an organic whole, with each modern iteration of it representing to a greater or lesser degree the "pure Masonry" lost in its own pre-history. Pike believed the Scottish Rite captured the essence of true (or pure) Masonry and that other "rites" did so to a lesser degree. Indeed, I'm quite certain that the modern notion of the Scottish Rite as an "appendant body" to Freemasonry would have been a totally alien concept to Pike. For him, the Scottish Rite was Freemasonry, and in its most pristine form.

Be that as it may, Pike believed the substance of Masonry was hidden in the Blue Degrees (and remember, the Scottish Rite includes the first three degrees--the Blue Degrees--and has its own rituals for them). For him, the sum total of Masonry can be found in the symbology and ritual of these first three degrees. But by design the sum is never taught in the Blue Lodge. True Masonry always involves more than the Blue Degrees; they are just the entryway into the Craft.

Pike believed that the Preston-Webb tradition, and its commentators, offered spurious and erroneous interpretations of the symbols and rituals of the Blue Degrees. "Masonry, tortured out of shape by these interpreters, no longer has a Secret and Holy Doctrine, is no longer Sanctum Regnum or Holy Empire." But it is important to note that it was only the meaningless and trivial interpretations of the Blue Degrees that Pike lamented, not the Degrees themselves or the Blue Lodge which conferred them. Pike had the utmost regard for the Blue Lodge and spent the latter part of his life laboring to explicate the true meaning of the symbols and rituals of the Blue Degrees. The result was his monumental book, Esoterika: Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry.

As for the origins of Freemasonry, Pike was a realist. He rejected early in his Masonic education most, if not all, of the fanciful theories of the ancient origins of the Craft. Pike firmly believed that Freemasonry was the legitimate heir to the Ancient Mysteries, the Hermetic and Alchemical philosophies, the Jewish Kabbalah, and the Essene teachings, as well as pre-heretical Gnosticism. The issue then becomes, how did Freemasonry become the repository for this amalgam of ancient teachings? There is ample evidence in Pike's writings that he never completely abandoned the Templar theory of the origins of Freemasonry, since the Knights Templar could account for how these schools of thought were brought to Europe from the Middle Eastern cauldron that brewed them.

Given Pike's understanding of what Freemasonry is, it's easy to see why he would eschew simplistic answers to the question "What is Freemasonry?" Let us close out this series with Pike's own words:
The true definition of the Freemasonry of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite is this: it is an advance toward the Light; a constant endeavor, in all its Degrees to elevate the Divine that is in Man, the Spiritual portion of his compound nature, his Reason and his Moral Sense, above, and make it dominant over, and master of, the human, earthly, and material portion of his nature, his passions, and his sensual appetites.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Albert Pike and Freemasonry - Part 6

Number 6 in a series on Albert Pike's views on Freemasonry.

In this, the sixth installment of my series on Pike's views on Freemasonry, we are going to look at Pike's definition of Freemasonry. The following is taken from Pike's The Porch and the Middle Chamber: The Book of the Lodge.

Masonry, more appropriately called Freemasonry--in French Franc Maçonnerie--has received many definitions:

The definition given of the Order by the Grand Orient of France is: "The Order of Frank Masons is an association of wise and virtuous men, whose object is to live in perfect equality, to be intimately connected by the ties of esteem, confidence, and friendship, under the name of Brethren; and to stimulate each other to the practice of the Virtues."

An English definition is, that "Freemasonry is a system of Morality, veiled in Allegory and illustrated by Symbols."

Each definition is exceedingly imperfect. The Order of Freemasons is, or ought to be, an association of intelligent, virtuous, disinterested, generous, and devoted men, regarding each other as Free, Equals, and Brothers, and bound by the obligations of Fraternity to render each other mutual assistance. And Freemasonry is a system and school, not only of morals, but of political and religious philosophy, suggested by its Allegories and concealed under its Symbols. And, including in itself several degrees of Knighthood, it is also a Chivalric Order, requiring the practice and performance of the highest duties of the Man, the Citizen, the Patriot, and the Soldier.

The true definition of the Freemasonry of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite is this: it is an advance toward the Light; a constant endeavor, in all its Degrees to elevate the Divine that is in Man, the Spiritual portion of his compound nature, his Reason and his Moral Sense, above, and make it dominant over, and master of, the human, earthly, and material portion of his nature, his passions, and his sensual appetites.
When one compares Pike's lofty definition of Freemasonry to many of the modern conceptions of the Craft, we might be inclined to echo the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "Oh, how the gold has become dim!"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Scottish Rite Video

In the late 70s or early 80s the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite for the Southern Jurisdiction released a promotional video called "The Dynamic Scottish Rite." The video was narrated by Ernest Borgnine, 33°.

At the end of the video the then Sovereign Grand Commander, Henry C. Clausen, gave a brief talk on the philosophical side of the Scottish Rite. Here it is:


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Albert Pike and Freemasonry - Part 5

Number 5 in a series on Albert Pike's views on Freemasonry.

In this fifth installment of my series on Pike's views on Freemasonry, we are going to examine his understanding of the origins of the Craft. Keep in mind that Pike was always quick to point out that his views were his views alone, and were proffered for Masons to accept or reject. All Pike asked was that every Mason who read his works reflect on them, reason, and through his own diligent quest, draw his own conclusions.

Arturo de Hoyos, 33°, in his Preface to Pike's Esoterika, tells us that
Prior to the emergence of the "authentic school" Pike had, like many others, read the speculations and theories of earlier writers, sometimes accepting their fantastic claims of the Fraternity's supposedly ancient origins. [Pike] tells us that, for a time, he put faith in the "fancies about the Egyptian origin" of Freemasonry ... , but he ultimately rejected this and similarly unfounded "fancies."
One of the early theories that Pike would have been exposed to was that of the Templar origins of Freemasonry. There is ample evidence in Pike's writings that he never completely eschewed this theory, believing that there was some kernel of truth in it. In his essay "The Order of the Temple," Pike juxtaposes a Templar theory of the "derivation of Masonry from the [Ancient] Mysteries" against the origins of the modern "Order of the Temple" (the Knights Templar of modern Masonry) in order to show that, while the Masonic Knights Templar, as an "order," were not direct descendants of the historic Knights Templar from the time of the Crusades, Freemasonry itself could possibly make that claim.

Pike believed that Freemasonry had inherited the Hermetic philosophy and Ancient Mysteries of the East, and that the truths of these Mysteries lay hidden in its symbols and rituals. The issue then becomes, just how did these Ancient Mysteries of the East find their way into the lodges of working stonemasons in Europe?
It is certain that the modern Initiation [ritual of Freemasonry] was borrowed from that of the Hebrews. Almost all the words of the degrees are Hebrew, the Ritual is borrowed from the Jewish Religion, and the doctrines of Masonry are in great measure those of the Essenian Mysteries. [Is it not] therefore probable that it was Jewish travelers that communicated Initiation to modern Nations? It is not: the separation between the Jews and other races, or rather the aversion of one for the other, was too great for any such communication to have taken place. Moreover, if we examine the formulas of Initiation, and its ceremonial, we shall see that they bear the impress of both religion and chivalry; and it must, therefore, have been a military and religious association that received the wrecks of the ancient initiation, and transmitted this institution to the moderns.

We adopt the opinion of those who think that this transmission was effected by the Knights of the order of the Temple: but how did it take place? As to epoch, it must be fixed at the time of the crusades, which retained the Templars for a long while in the Orient. Did they receive initiation from those among the Jews, who had preserved the Essenian Mysteries? Or was it not rather communicated to them by some Christian Sect? The latter is the most probable supposition.

In the chapter of Morals and Dogma on the 30th Degree (Knight Kadosh), Pike gives his clearest exposition of the connection between Freemasonry and the Knights Templar. (One must keep in mind that the bulk of this chapter, as in the rest of Morals and Dogma, is Pike quoting some unnamed source material, in this case an "enemy" of the Templars. Pike's own words throughout Morals and Dogma are always set off by brackets within larger sections where Pike is quoting other authors. I have not retained that punctuation in my quotes below, however. Any bracketed material in my quotes are my own words):
A hundred years ago it had become known that the Kadosh were the Templars under a veil, and therefore the Degree was proscribed, and, ceasing to be worked, became a mere brief and formal ceremony, under another name.
Pike believed the persecution of the Templars by the King of France and the Pope was predicated upon two things: First, their acceptance and assimilation of the Eastern Mysteries found embedded in the teachings of the Jewish sect known as the Essenes, as well as Kabbalistic Gnosticism (Johannism). And second, their avowed desire to rebuild the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem for the express purpose of reconsecrating it as a See for Eastern Orthodoxy:
This rebuilding, formally predicted by the Judaizing mystics of the earlier ages, had become the secret dream of the Patriarchs of the Orient. The Temple of Solomon, rebuilt and consecrated to the Catholic worship, would become, in effect, the Metropolis of the Universe; the East would prevail over the West, and the Patriarchs of Constantinople would possess themselves of the Papal power.
Thus the Order of Knights of the Temple was at its very origin devoted to the cause of opposition to the tiara of Rome and the crowns of Kings, and the Apostolate of Kabbalistic Gnosticism was invested in its chiefs.

The tendencies and tenets of the Order were enveloped in profound mystery, and it externally professed the most perfect orthodoxy. The Chiefs alone knew the aim of the Order: the Subalterns followed them without distrust.

The Templars, like all other Secret Orders and Associations, had two doctrines, one concealed and reserved for the Masters, which was Johannism, the other public, which was the Roman Catholic. Thus they deceived the adversaries whom they sought to supplant. Hence Freemasonry, vulgarly imagined to have begun with the Dionysian Architects or the German Stone-workers, adopted Saint John the Evangelist as one of its patrons, associating with him, in order not to arouse the suspicious of Rome, Saint John the Baptist, and thus covertly proclaiming itself the child of the Kabbalah and Essenism toghether.
The ultimate demise of the Templars began, as is often the case with any movement or cause, from within:
The seeds of decay were sown in the Order of the Temple at its origin. Hypocrisy is a mortal disease, it had conceived a great work which it was incapable of executing, because it knew neither humility nor personal abnegation, because Rome was then invincible, and because the later Chiefs of the Order did not comprehend its mission. Moreover, the Templars were in general uneducated, and capble only of wielding the sword, with no qualifications for governing, and at need enchaining, that queen of the world called Opinion.

Their watchword was to become wealthy in order to buy the world. They became so, and in 1312 they possessed in Europe alone more than nine thousand seignories. Riches were the shoal on which they were wrecked. They became insolent, and unwisely showed their contempt for the religious and social institutions which they aimed to overthrow. Their ambition was fatal to them. Their projects were divined and prevented. Pope Clement V and King Philip IV, the Fair, gave the signal to Europe, and the Templars, taken as it were in an immense net, were arrested, disarmed, and cast into prison. Never was a Coup d'Etat accomplished with a more formidable concert of action. The whole world was struck with stupor and eagerly waited for the strange revelations of a process that was to echo through so many ages.
What did unfold, however, was not the revelation of the truth behind the arrest and prosecution of the Templars, for
[i]t was impossible to unfold to the people the conspiracy of the Templars against the Thrones and the Tiara. It was impossible to expose to them the doctrines of the Chiefs of the Order. This would have been to initiate the multitude into the secrets of the Masters, and to have uplifted the veil of Isis. Recourse was therefore had to the charge of magic [and heresy], and denouncers and false witnesses were easily found. When the temporal and spiritual tyrannies unite to crush a victim they never want for serviceable instruments. The Templars were gravely accused of spitting upon Christ and denying God at their receptions, of gross obscenities, conversations with female devils, and the worship of a monstrous idol.
The real crime of the Templars was their openness to religious teachings that emanated from outside the See of Rome:
The better to succeed and win partisans, the Templars sympathized with regrets for dethroned creeds, and encouraged the hopes of new worships, promising to all liberty of conscience and a new orthodoxy that should be the synthesis of all the persecuted creeds.
As to what the Templars were openly accused of:
It is absurd to suppose that men of intellect adored a monstrous idol called Baphomet, or recognized Mohamed as an inspired prophet. Their symbolism, invented ages before, to conceal what it was dangerous to avow, was, of course, misunderstood by those who are not Adepts, and to their enemies seemed to be pantheistic. For the Johannism of the Adepts was the Kabbalah of the earlier Gnostics [which] degenerat[ed] afterwards into those heretical forms which Gnosticism developed.

To all this the absurd reading of the established Church, taking literally the figurative, allegorical, and mythical language of a collection of Oriental books of different ages, directly and inevitably led. The symbols of the wise always become the idols of the ignorant multitude.

The end of the drama is well known, and how Jacques de Molay and his fellows perished in the flames. But before his execution, the Chief of the doomed Order organized and instituted what afterward came to be called the Occult, Hermetic, or Scottish Masonry. In the gloom of his prison, the Grand master created four Metropolitan Lodges, at Naples for the East, at Edinburgh for the West, at Stockholm for the North, and at Paris for the South. The initials of his name, J:.B:.M:., found in the same Order in the first three Degrees, are but one of the many internal and cogent proofs that such was the origin of modern Freemasonry. The legend of Osiris was revived and adopted, to symbolize the destruction of the Order, and the resurrection of Hiram, slain in the body of the Temple, of Hiram Abif the Master, as the martyr of fidelity to obligation, of Truth and Conscience, prophesied the restoration to life of the buried association.

Nevertheless [the Order] lived, under other names and governed by unknown Chiefs, revealing itself only to those who, in passing through a series of degrees, had proven themselves worthy to be entrusted with the dangerous Secret. What the Chiefs of the Order really believed and taught, is indicated to the Adepts by the hints contained in the High Degrees of Freemasonry, and by the symbols which only the Adepts understand.

(One can't help but be struck by the similarities between this "history" of the Knights Templar and what would, nearly three centuries later, prompt the rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church that would become known as the Protestant Reformation.)

Whether or not Pike, throughout his Masonic career, held to this outline of the origins of Freemasonry--or even whether or not he held to it at all and only believed it to be possible if not probable--remains the subject for further study. This is only what I've gathered from my readings of Pike to date, which are certainly not exhaustive by any means. But I can state, without question, that Pike rejected the notion that Freemasonry as a philosophical system evolved from the guilds of working stone masons of the Middle Ages.

Perhaps the closest we will come to a definitive look at what Pike believed concerning the origins of Freemasonry is revealed in a letter he wrote to Robert F. Gould (of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge 2076 in London) in 1888, just three years before his death:
I cannot conceive of anything that could have induced Ashmole, Mainwaring, and other men of their class to unite themselves with Lodges of working Masons, except this--that, as Alchemists, Hermeticists, and Rosicrucians had no association [of their] own in England or Scotland, they joined the Masonic Lodges in order to meet one another without being suspected; and I am convinced that it was the men who inherited their doctrines who brought their symbols into Masonry, but kept the Hermetic meanings of them to themselves.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Albert Pike and Freemasonry - Part 4

Number 4 in a series on Albert Pike's views on Freemasonry.

In this fourth installment in my series on Pike's views on Freemasonry we are going to look at his understanding of the Scottish Rite and where it fits in the "big picture" of Freemasonry. The following is adapted from Pike's address to the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction in 1866.

When Freemasonry appeared in Europe in the Middle Ages, it had a mission that exposed it to persecution, and that accounts for the solemnity of the obligations of its Lesser Mysteries.* If it had been only what Blue Masonry now is in England and America, its obligations, being out of all proportion to its objects, and unnecessary, would have been inexcusable or absurd.

The Freemasonry of the Ancient and Accepted Rite is "The Royal and Sacerdotal Art." It teaches "The Holy Doctrine" of Pythagoras and Plutarch. It conceals the profoundest mysteries in its words and symbols, as the Alchemists and Hermetic philosophers did in their seeming jargon. It is Isis, wearing her mask impenetrable except to the adepts. Those whose Master "is clad in blue and gold" ought to know why it is termed "Scottish" Masonry and understand the meaning of the Kadosh, and know why that leads to the mountain of Heredom, Heredom, or Heroden in Scotland.

Our instruction and discoveries ought to be jealously retained within our Sanctuaries. Our degrees are not mere commentaries, or commentaries at all, on the Blue Degrees. Legitimate commentary upon these indeed, would be but brief. That the Master Mason obtains only a substitute for the True Word is exceedingly significant and suggestive for everyone who will reflect. If the old Masters have in those degrees concealed the profounder meaning of the symbols, I will not be wiser than they and reveal them. If the true meanings have been lost by time, like those of the Assyrian hieroglyphs, and the keys contained in the Higher Degrees enable us to solve the enigmas of the sphinx, I will not lessen the value of those degrees by transferring that which belongs only to those who receive them to the Brethren who do not choose or are not permitted to ascend; and still less to those who treat us with a rude discourtesy.

Assuredly we have no apologies to make to Blue Masonry for daring to devote ourselves to so holy a cause. ... We do not reply to the ridicule or invectives of those, nor seek to confute or enlighten them, who are content with the Masonry of the Blue Lodges. What they write against the Higher Degrees can deter none from seeking our Sanctuaries who are fit to enter them and are wanted.

You style yourselves "Sovereign Grand Inspectors-General, Grand Elect Knights of the Holy House of the Temple, Grand Commanders of the Holy Empire. You are so, if you know the Royal Secret and understand the Holy Doctrine. You claim to hold all the powers of the first and last Grand Masters of the Templars, within this jurisdiction; and that claim is valid, there is ample internal evidence in the degrees, to those who understand them. The Kadosh are the real "Soldiery of the Temple."

*Frequently in Pike's writings you will see him refer to the Blue Degrees as the "Lesser Mysteries" of Freemasonry.

Albert Pike and Freemasonry - Part 3

Number 3 in a series on Albert Pike's views on Freemasonry.

While at times Albert Pike can come across in his writings as denigrating or downplaying the Blue Degrees, the truth is quite the contrary. Pike had a profound respect for the Blue Lodge, for this was, for him, the gateway into Masonry, and its symbols and ritual contained and concealed the truths of the Fraternity to which he devoted most of his life.

Pike set out his views of the Higher Degrees in relation to the Blue Degrees quite definitively in his 1886 "Address of the President" delivered to the Masonic Veteran Association of the District of Columbia:
If our labours and writings in other Degrees and Bodies tend to elevate the Symbolic Masonry, to illustrate its symbols and invest them with a higher significance and a more solemnly religious meaning, to apply and expound and comment upon and make more forcible the moral law of the Blue Degrees, 'the principle tenets of Freemasonry,' 'included between the two points of the compasses,' to communicate to the zealous Masonic student more exalted ideas of the God in whom Masons put their trust, and strengthen him with more convincing proofs of the existence of the soul after this life ends, then those who work and write there are the efficient Apostles of the Freemasonry of the Blue Degrees, true fellow-workmen in the field of Masonic Labor.

Let us therefore, my dear Brethren, always remember, that first of all and above all, we are Master Masons; and wherever we work and labor, calling ourselves Masons, let us work and labor to elevate and dignify Blue Masonry; for we owe to it all that we are in the Order; and whatever we may be elsewhere, we are always amenable to its law and its tribunals, and always concerned to maintain and magnify its honour and glory.
Pike spent the latter part of his life true to the admonition he gave in his "Address of the President," immersing himself deeply in the study of the symbolism of the Blue Degrees. The result of that study was what could arguably be considered his third Magnum Opus: the book Esoterika: Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry (the other two being his first rewrite of the Scottish Rite rituals and, of course, Morals and Dogma). Pike never intended Esoterika to be published and only two manuscript volumes were produced, one of which rests in the archives of the Supreme Council and the other with the Quatuor Coronati Lodge 2076 in London. In 2005 the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite for the Southern Jurisdiction authorized the publication of Esoterika and it is now available not only to Scottish Rite Masons, but to all Masons. In my opinion, it should be required reading for all Master Masons in the Blue Lodge.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Albert Pike and Freemasonry - Part 2

Number 2 in a series on Albert Pike's views on Freemasonry.

As I pointed out in Part 1 of this series, Pike believed the great truths of Masonry are concealed in the rituals and symbology of the Blue Degrees. Let's explore that further in the following, adapted from the lessons of the 32d Degree:

What is most worth knowing in Masonry is never very openly taught. The symbols are displayed, but they are mute. It is by hints only, and those the least noticeable and apparently insignificant, that the Initiate is put upon the track of the hidden secret. A word seemingly used at random, and as it were by chance, long escapes notice, and at last attracts the attention of some inquring mind, and gives the clue that leads to new discoveries. Many of these [clues], by the manipulations of the improvers of the work, men of audacious mediocrity, such as Preston and Webb, have disappeared forever, and meaningless trivialities have taken their places. Some remain, proofs of the great antiquity of Masonry much more convincing than all the babble of those whose business is to invent and pervert and not to discover. Masonry, tortured out of shape by these interpreters, no longer has a Secret and Holy Doctrine, is no longer Sanctum Regnum or Holy Empire.

It was never intended that the mass of Masons should know the meaning of the Blue Degrees, and no pains were spared to conceal that meaning. The commentators pretend to do what they cannot do and have no right to do. They deceive and delude those who read their works; and their only exucse is that they are blind leaders of the blind.

Whether the Higher Degrees have for you any real value depends upon your capacity to understand them and upon the amount of study and the degree of reflection you have bestowed upon them. The wisdom that constitutes true intellectual wealth is not easily acquired. In these degrees, the Lectures, the Obligations, the incidental explanations, the opening and closing ceremonies, are all in unison, each word carefully weighed, and each meant to have effect. No man can understand them fully without close and long study, and profound thought. Often the sentence is truly the symbol that hides the meaning, or the hint that puts you upon the track of discovery. The symbolism of Masonry is not only a sphinx, but a sphinx nearly buried in the sand, which the envious centuries have heaped around it.
And from the 14th Degree:

It has been objected to us, that in our lectures we under value that which is absurdly called "Symbolic Masonry," as if any Masonry could be not symbolic. It is quite true that we should not value it if we saw nothing in the Symbols of the Blue Lodge beyond the imbecile pretences of interpretation of them contained in the ordinary sterile instruction which we owe to Webb and his predecessors. These misinterpretations are not so much guesses at the true meaning as merely arbitrary and unwarranted explanations invented with but a moderate degree of ingenuity, and no more authoritative or genuine than any others that an ingenious fancy might invent today. To pretend that they have been transmitted to us from antiquity is a mere fable. By the same process, an Egyption hieroglyph might be made to mean anything. To these pretended interpretations it is owing, and to those blind guides who look no further into Masonry, that intelligent men find so little to attract and interest them in Masonic Symbolism, and that much which is found in the Blue Degrees seems trivial and sometimes absurd.

Freemasonry must once have had other and very different purposes, and other and vastly more interesting and important objects than those for which, in the United States and England, at least, it now exists. All of its symbols, that are not merely modern inventions, have a concealed meaning, which never appeared in the Liturgies or Rituals, these containing only hints cautiously given, and ideas easily misunderstood (and so intended to be) by all but the Adepts.

We do not demand your assent to these conclusions. We state them here to lead you to reflect and study, that you may decide for yourself. All that we positively assert is, that so far from containing in themselves all Freemasonry, the Blue Degrees, especially in England and the United States, only conceal the Light from the Initiates, were at the beginning only a means of organization, and are now only preliminary and rudimental.

Albert Pike and Freemasonry - Part 1

This is the first post in a series I plan to do on Albert Pike's views on Freemasonry. The substance of this post was the reply I made to a poster's comments on my post "Why I joined the Scottish Rite."

Based on my reading of Pike and the history of the Scottish Rite (which certainly is not exhaustive, by any means), Albert Pike viewed Masonry as an organic whole, with each modern iteration of it representing to a greater or lesser degree the pure Masonry lost in its own pre-history. Pike believed the AASR captured the essence of true Masonry and that other "rites" did so to a lesser degree, but the sum and substance was hidden in the Blue Degrees.

Pike believed (and it's still reflected in the teachings of the Scottish Rite) that the Blue Degrees with their elaborate symbology and ritual were purposely designed to conceal, not reveal. So, in that sense, when the anti-Masons claim that the "truth" of Freemasonry is hidden from the the holders of the lower degrees, they are correct. Where they are in error is in what they believe is being hidden.

Pike believed, and the Scottish Rite teaches, that the sum total of Masonry can be found in the symbology and ritual of the Blue Degrees. But by design the sum is never taught in the Blue Lodge. Pike believed true Masonry always involved more than the first three degrees as given; these are just the entryway. What Pike lamented is the belief that what is given as given to the Mason in the Blue Degrees represents the truth of Masonry on its face. Pike believed the teachings of the Blue Degrees as given had one end: to prod the Mason to look behind and beneath the surface of those teachings to find the treasure within. And he believed the Higher Degrees of the AASR were the most suitable pathway to that treasure.

I believe the current notion of the Scottish Rite as being an "appendant body" to Masonry would have been foreign to Pike. Keep in mind that while not generally practiced, the Scottish Rite has its own versions of the first three degrees, and is, therefore, a complete system of Masonry unto itself. And I believe that is the way Pike viewed the Scottish Rite. It was, for him, Freemasonry in its most unadulterated form.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why I joined the Scottish Rite

Today I completed the 15th through the 32d degrees of the Scottish Rite. During one of the lectures one of the officers made the comment that the Scottish Rite is the "University of Freemasonry," which is true...IF.

It's true if you view the Higher Degrees as a means and not an end. For the Higher Degrees to be of any benifit to the Master Mason, he must view the Scottish Rite as a life-long "distance learning" program of the University of Freemasonry. And it's a program from which you never graduate: there is always more to learn, more to comprehend, more to master.

The Master Mason who views the 32d degree as a "terminal degree" and never picks up a book thereafter, never studies, never delves deeper into the teachings and mysteries to which the Higher Degrees are only a portal, has short-changed himself and may as well not have bothered.

For me, the reason to join the Scottish Rite is best summed up in the following, which is adapted from the lecture for the 4th Degree:

If you have been disappointed in the first three Degrees, as you have received them, and if it has seemed to you that the performance has not come up to the promise, that the lessons of morality are not new, and the scientific instruction is but rudimentary, and the symbols are imperfectly explained, remember that the ceremonies and lessons of those Degrees have come to us from an age when symbols were used, not to reveal, but to conceal, and that these antique and simple Degrees now stand like the broken columns of a roofless Druidic temple, in their rude and mutilated greatness; in many parts, also, corrupted by time, and disfigured by modern additions and absurd interpretations.

A few rudimentary lessons in architecture, a few universally admitted maxims of morality, a few unimportant tradtions, whose real meaning is unknown or misunderstood--these will no longer satisfy the earnest inquirer after Masonic truth. They are but the entrance to the great Masonic temple, the triple columns of the portico. Let him who is content with these seek to climb no higher. But you have taken the first step over this threshold, the first step toward the inner sanctuary and heart of the temple. You are in the path that leads up the slope of the mountain of truth; and it depends upon your secrecy, obedience and fidelity, whether you will advance or remain stationary.

Imagine not that you will become indeed a Mason by learning what is commonly called the "work," or even by becoming familiar with our traditions. Masonry has a history, a literature, a philosophy. Its allegories and traditions will teach you much; but much is to be sought elsewhere. He who desires to understand the harmonious and beautiful proportions of Freemasonry must read, study, reflect, digest, and discriminate. The streams of learning that now flow full and broad must be followed to their heads in the springs that well up in the remote past and you will there find the origin and meaning of Masonry.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

From the 3d to 14th in less than 48 hours

What a day. Up at 3:30 am. Coffee and the paper. Shave and shower. Get ready and leave for Greenville by 6:00 am in order to be at the Scottish Rite Center by 7:00 am. I got there about 6:50 am and it was still pitch dark. No cars in the huge parking lot, so I just stood there in the dark. About 7:00 a Lincoln Town Car pulls into the lot and parks right beside me. An older Brother gets out wearing the white hat of a 33d Mason. He greets me and I shake his hand and introduce myself.

"Where is everybody?" I asked.

"C'mon," he replied, "we gotta go in around back."

Now keep in mind this is a large parking lot and I'd parked toward the front of the center. We start a rather long walk down the hill to the back of the center and as we round the corner I see several cars in the back. I was immediately struck by how kind and gracious this elder Brother had been to me. He could have just pulled up, rolled his window down, and said "You need to park around back." But he didn't. He saw me standing there "stranded" and parked beside me in order to walk me to the back where everyone was--and him probably at least 25 years my senior. What a memorable way to start me off in the Scottish Rite.

I was one of 9 candidates for the Ineffable Degrees today and they were beautifully done. The SGIG made a point of telling the class that I had just been raised a Master Mason on Thursday. I don't know if proceeding to the Lodge of Perfection less than 48 hours after being raised a Master Mason is some sort of record, but it sure seemed to surprise most of the Brothers when they heard it.

So, I'm now a 14th Degree Mason. I will get the 15th through the 32d degrees next Saturday.

Raised a Master Mason

This past Thursday evening was the penultimate event in my Masonic journey, a journey which began back in April when I petitioned my lodge for membership. From that point forward, as I was entered an Apprentice and passed to the degree of Fellow Craft, I have committed to memory copious amounts of arcane dialog and information, the sum and substance of ancient rituals that millions of men before me have learned in their own journeys toward the light. It was all to prepare me for that singular event, being raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason, the Third Degree of Ancient Craft Masonry.

The trek has been rewarding in ways that can never be adequately expressed in a mere blog post. Indeed, the marrow of Freemasonry can't be shared in words or conveyed in a documentary on The Discovery Channel. To truly know Masonry is to experience it. The books you read, no matter how many, and the shows you watch, no matter how farfetched, only give an imperfect glimpse into the reality that is Freemasonry. The truth is in the doing, the working of the Craft, and my work has just begun.

For a larger version of this picture, click here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A peculiar system of morality, veiled...

I was logged in to the Masonic Central broadcast last night, and as usual it was a good and lively discussion. I would encourage all Masons, or anyone interested in learning more about the Fraternity, to listen in on Sunday nights at 9 pm Eastern.

Often, the discussions you can't hear during the broadcast are just as interesting as the ones you can. There are usually two or three of us carrying on a conversation in the IM-like interface that pops up when you log in to Talk Shoe to listen to the broadcast. Last night, the text "chat" strayed a little off topic when the main audio conversation was dealing with showing movies (projected DVDs) in the lodge (a "movie and popcorn night," if you will). I made the point that the license a person is granted when they purchase a DVD does not cover any sort of public showing. When you buy a DVD, you are licensed to watch it in your home. That's it under US copyright law and international intellectual property laws. One Brother responded that he didn't pay any attention to stuff like that. Is that an appropriate way for a Mason to respond?

I believe as Masons we should strive to follow the law insofar as we know what the law is. The posted speed limit is 65 mph? Then don't drive 70. It's that simple. Want to show movies in your lodge? Then take the necessary steps to secure the proper license for showings by a non-profit organization.

No man is perfect, which means no Mason is perfect. But if I truly want to "improve myself, in Masonry," am I just going through the motions, or am I really trying to make a difference in the way I conduct myself? When I'm late for that meeting and I fly past motorists who are driving the speed limit, and I've got my Masonic license plate and/or Masonic emblems showing proudly on the back of my car, who am I kidding? And what sort of message am I sending out about Freemasonry? That it's a "peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory?" Or veiled in hypocrisy?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Approved for the Third Degree

At their regular meeting last night, the Lodge voted to approve my raising to the degree of a Master Mason. The ceremony is scheduled for October 9.

In the meantime, the memory work on the Fellow Craft degree continues. I have met with my coach twice now and we have already covered most of the material that I have to learn. There is a lot of similarity to what I had to memorize for the Entered Apprentice degree, so that makes it somewhat easier this time. Plus, there is less material to digest. Therefore, I am confident I’ll be ready to recite the required material on the 9th in preparation for being rasied to the 3d degree.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Passing to Fellow Craft

On Thursday, August 28, 2008 I was passed to the degree of Fellow Craft, the Second Degree of Ancient Freemasonry. In order to be qualified to pass to this degree I had to recite in open Lodge all the material from the Entered Apprentice degree that I have been working to memorize over the past month. I wish I could say I was able to do it perfectly, but there were a couple of stumbles. The Fellow Craft Degree itself was memorable and moving, and the fellowship warm and welcoming at the dinner afterwards.

The memory work for this degree starts next week as I prepare to be raised a Master Mason at the end of September.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Do you believe?

I started reading Robert Lomas's book Turning the Hiram Key last week. This book is Lomas's attempt to chronicle his personal journey into Freemasonry as he delves into how the rituals of the Craft have affected him.

Lomas begins the story of his journey with his first exposure to Freemasonry and his subsequent desire to join the fraternity. When he gets to the point of talking about submitting his petition to join the Lodge, he recounts this verbal exchange with the man to whom he was about to hand his letter of application:

"Before you can hand that in, I need to talk to you about an important question. You'll have to come for an interview and answer it before we'll decide if you'll be allowed to join."

"What's that?"

"When you come for interview you'll be asked if you believe in a supreme being."

"Do you mean do I belong to a church?"

"No, that's not necessary," he said. "But you must accept that there is such a thing as a supreme being."

"Can I think about my answer?"
Those who are totally ignorant about Freemasonry may not realize that one of the central tenets is belief in God. But much to the dismay of fundamentalist Christians here in the US, Freemasonry doesn't care which God. Therefore, membership is open to all men who profess a belief in God, be it the Triune God of Christianity, the God of the Torah for Jews, Allah for the Muslims, or virtually any other deity of a recognized religion. Therefore, a little alarm bell sounded in the back of my mind when I read Lomas's response to the first question that is asked of anyone seeking to join Freemasonry: Do you believe in God?

"Can I think about my answer?"

What's there to think about? Either you do or you don't. But not for Robert Lomas. I'll let him explain:
By trade I am a scientist, and I found this question difficult to answer. It is ambiguous--with hindsight, I suspect deliberately so. I ended up doing considerable research before deciding how to answer, and I began by looking at the meanings of the words used. ...

Often the term "supreme being" is taken as a synonym for God. But the dictionary possibilities are wider. You could legitimately join [Freemasonry] if you believe in a deity who, though limited in power, is made of a rich cream sauce; this hypothetical supreme being might be called "the custard god." ... But a custard god is too weird for a scientist to accept, and anyway my wife keeps me on a diet. But, luckily, "supreme being" can also mean the greatest nature or essence of existence that can be imagined; to me this is the "Laws of Physics."

I actually had to put the book down after I read that paragraph. The little alarm bell was now a resounding gong as I realized what sort of prevarication this man was willing to go to in order to become a Mason:
If I wanted to become a Freemason the first peculiar question I had to face up to was, did I believe that there was an order underlying the behavior of the universe?
Do you see what Lomas has done? In order to be able to answer the question in the affirmative, he had to redefine the term "supreme being." Again, I'll let Lomas's words explain:

Thinking my position through, I had no doubt. I could answer a truthful "yes" to the admission question. And I did not have to compromise my scientific beliefs. This, then is my definition of "supreme being"--my scientist's creed if you like:

I believe in a number of immutable laws that apply throughout the whole of creation. These relate to the way matter behaves and are often called the Laws of Physics. They include such well-known relationships as the conservation of energy and mass and their interchangeability, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, Fermi-Dirac statistics and the laws of thermodynamics. I believe that matter is made up of twelve fundamental particles, six quarks and six leptons. There are four forces, strong, weak, electromagnetic and gravitational. I also believe that forces are mediated by the exchange of particles. I accept the existence of twelve force-carrying particles and think there might also be a thirteenth, the graviton, but I'm not sure about that.
Can any man, if he is being honest with himself, actually think that by requiring a belief in a Supreme Being, Freemasonry expects or accepts a deity you made up yourself ("the custard god"), or the abstract and impersonal "Laws of Physics"? When the Lodge is opened with prayer to the Great Architect of the Universe, can any man in good conscience believe that he is seeking the blessings and wisdom of the Laws of Physics? When faced with the trials and tribulations that life throws at us, how much comfort do prayers to the Laws of Physics bring to a troubled and weary traveler?

These questions may seem facetious, but I assure you they are not. They reveal the heart of the matter at issue when a prospective candidate is asked "Do you believe in a Supreme Being?" If you allow the person being asked to create his own god so that he may answer in the affirmative, the answer becomes meaningless and an exercise in sophistry. Would Mr. Lomas find it acceptable if he asked me if I believed in the Laws of Physics, if I answered "Yes, so long as I can make up my own Laws of Physics"? I doubt it.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Approved to pass

The Lodge had its regular meeting last night and I was elected to receive the second degree. The date set for my passing to the degree of Fellow Craft is August 28, 2008.

In the meantime, the memory work continues. The Master of the Lodge, who is my coach, tells me I’m making good progress and he’s confident I will do fine on the 28th when I have to recite from memory a large chunk of the Entered Apprentice degree in open Lodge in order to pass to the Fellow Craft degree.

We met last evening for a memory work session before the start of the regular lodge meeting. There were several brothers there early and a few of them had fun peppering me with questions to see how much I had learned of the Entered Apprentice degree. I think I acquitted myself well.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Origins of Freemasonry

There have been literally thousands of books written on the subject of Freemasonry, from well-researched scholarly tomes, to the most off the wall and amateurish conspiracy theories. Once I made the decision to become a part of "the world's oldest secret society," I spent a great deal of time delving into the history of Freemasonry and have to date read at least a half dozen books on the subject.

First, let me say that I have never bought the idea that modern Freemasonry evolved from medieval stonemasons. I grew up in a family that had several Masons in it, so I remember hearing this particular "history lesson" of the origins of the Craft at various times throughout my childhood whenever I or someone would spot an uncle's Masonic ring and ask "What is that?" Something about this explanation for the origins of Freemasonry just didn't seem cogent to me. And as my research has revealed, my "hunch" that there was more to the story than ancient stonemasons was probably right.

In a nutshell, here are some of the conclusions I've reached regarding the history and origins of the Freemasons:
  1. Freemasonry more than likely originated with fugitive Knights Templar, who fled to Scotland from Europe and England in 1307 when the Pope sanctioned the arrest of all Templars on the charge of heresy.

  2. In an effort to continue their Brotherhood "underground," the fugitive Templars met covertly as "masons," eventually adopting the working tools of the stonemasons and developing elaborate symbology based on these tools to teach and memorialize spiritual and moral lessons, as well as to teach and preserve the history of their Brotherhood.

  3. Being devote Roman Catholics, when the Templars were in effect cut off from God by being excommunicated by the Pope, they developed their own rituals which may have been derived from Jewish rituals they were exposed to in Jerusalem, or perhaps from Essene documents discovered when they were excavating the Temple mount in Jerusalem.

  4. The Templars/Masons recognized a fundamental theological truth that would eventually be fleshed out in the Protestant Reformation 250 years after they were condemned as heretics, namely, that every man himself is ultimately responsible for his own relationship to God, and no intermediary in the form of an earthly priest is needed. This would have been rank heresy to medieval Roman Catholicism.

  5. The Templars were French speaking, which can account for some of the oddities of Masonic vocabulary. For example, the Templars referred to each other as frére, "brother." Once they went undercover as masons, a "brother Templar" would be called frére Maçon. Over the centuries, as Masonry evolved in the English speaking lands of Scotland and England, frére Maçon became Anglicized into "Freer Mason" and finally "Free Mason."

  6. By the early 18th century, with the Reformation having changed the theological landscape forever, the necessity for the Templar/Masons to remain underground in fear of their lives had passed. Freemasonry became "public" with the formation of Grand Lodges in England and Scotland, but its true origins were still veiled by the cover of operative stone masonry in allegorical form.

  7. Freemasonry's ultimate triumph comes with the founding of the US, and its government based on a worldview that had evolved over the preceding three centuries in the underground Lodges of Freemasons.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Repetitio mater memoriae

The memory work continues, and my journey so far as an Entered Apprentice is as a catechumin. My coach tells me that I’m making good progress.

One precept that my Latin teacher in college hammered home was repetitio mater memoriae, “repition is the mother of memory.” Having nothing in writing to study means I have to remember the very questions I need to ask myself if I want to “study” on my own when I’m not working the material with my coach. Amazingly, I’ve found that I can do it. Since my first session with my coach last Friday I have been going over the catechsim in my mind off and on several times a day. Today was the first time I’ve worked with my coach since then and I was able to repeat the material we went over last week with only one mistake.

The material we covered today was a bit more complex, so we didn’t cover quite as much as last time. We are going to meet again tomorrow. Also, there is someone being intiated as an Entered Apprentice at a neighboring lodge on Thursday evening, and my coach and I are going. As an Entered Apprentice I can only attend a lodge that is open in the First Degree, which basically means I can only attend the initiation of another Entered Apprentice. I’m looking forward to being a part of someone else’s inititiation while my own is still fresh in my mind.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Can a Christian be a Freemason?

I ran into a man today, a perfect stranger, while we were both waiting in line. I had prepared for the wait and had John J. Robinson’s book Born In Blood with me to read. The man asked me about it, and I gave him a brief synopsis of what I’d gathered from the book thus far. He then proceeded to tell me that his “problem” with Freemasonry was that you only have to believe in “a god” to be a member, and if you are a Christian you believe in “the God.” I didn’t tell him I was a fresh initiate into Masonry. I just nodded my head and let him continue: “The very first oath they make you take, you have to deny Christ,” he said. I looked surprised. “Yeah, they lead you in blindfolded and half naked and you have to say you’re a poor candidate and then they ask what you are seeking and you say ‘more light’. But a Christian doesn’t need more light.”

It is said that there are three things that every Freemason contends with: Ignorance, Tyranny, and Fanaticism. This poor fellow was imbued with his fair share of at least one and possibly two of these. I never did tell him I was a “new” Mason. I didn’t tell him how wrong he was in his narrative of what a candidate is asked and swears to. Maybe I should have. But I’ve dealt with people like him many, many times and they are usually much happier if they don’t have to be burdened with the facts.

Can a Christian be a Freemason? The obvious answer to that questions is “yes.” Usually what people who ask it really mean is “Should a Christian be a Freemason?”

I am a Christian. Most people who know enough about Christianity to be able to discern the difference would label me as a “conservative” Christian. If at any point in my journey into Freemasonry I am faced with ritual, doctrine, teaching, or whatever that would cause me to deny Christ or the fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity, then my “journey” would end right then and there. From what I know of Freemasonry at this stage of my trek, however, I don’t think that will ever happen.

Initiation: The Degree of Entered Apprentice

My initiation as an Entered Apprentice Mason took place at the Masonic Temple on the evening of July 17, 2008. Having done a considerable amount of research on Freemasonry, I more or less knew what to expect. Perhaps that is partly why I wasn't really nervous—but I'm sure that had more to do with the warm fellowship and encouragement I received from all the members of the lodge prior to the start of the ceremony.

I'm not going to discuss any of the details of the ritual and ceremony involved in my initiation to the first degree of Masonry. Anyone reading this can do a Google search and find out the basic details of all three Masonic degrees. Keep in mind, however, that no matter what you read on the Internet, in books, or see in TV documentaries about Freemasonry, each Masonic jurisdiction will have slight differences in the detail of the ritual involved in each of the three degrees. This I quickly discovered during my initiation as an Entered Apprentice.

I will say that while everything about the ritual and ceremony was solemn and serious, the members of this lodge have a good time and enjoy "doing Masonry." They all evinced a joy about introducing someone new to the mysteries of Freemasonry. From the "education" I was given before the meeting started, to the dinner afterward, everyone seemed genuinely happy to have me joining their fraternity. All in all, it was an enjoyable and meaningful experience.

Unlike in some jurisdictions, the "memory work" required to proceed to the second degree at this lodge is done the "old fashioned" way, i.e., it's all given verbally. There is nothing in writing which the Entered Apprentice can study. He can't take notes. He can't record anything. He has to learn all the required material by a give and take verbal exchange with his "coach," who in my case is the Master of the lodge. Once the coach is confident the new brother has memorized the material and can proficiently recite it by memory, the meeting to "pass" the Entered Apprentice to the degree of Fellow Craft is scheduled. In South Carolina, an Entered Apprentice cannot pass sooner than 28 days from his initiation.

My memory work began July 18, the day after my initiation. After about an hour of working with my coach I was able to recite from memory (almost perfectly) about 25% of the material I have to learn. I will meet with my coach once or twice a week until I can recite it all, perfectly, from memory. Once I can do that, I'll have to do it in open lodge before all the brothers. Only then will I be allowed to pass to the second degree.

It is my plan to be ready to take the second degree as soon as the required 28 days have passed.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Balloting

The investigation process took about two months. My petition was originally supposed to be voted on at the June meeting, but one of the officers who was on my investigation committee could not attend the meeting so the vote was postponed until the July 3rd meeting.

Despite all the positive feedback I got from the officers during the investigation process, I was still apprehensive as the day approached when my petition would be voted on. Late in the evening of the 3rd I sent an e-mail to my friend whom I’d originally called about joining to ask the result of the balloting. I checked my e-mail the next morning. No reply. All day Friday went by. No reply. All day Saturday went by. No reply. Now I was starting to wonder. No one likes to deliver bad news by e-mail, so I was starting to wonder if I’d get a letter in the mail saying “Sorry, you were black balled.” And that’s all it takes. A single “no” vote and you don’t get in.

Voting for new members in the lodge is done by secret ballot. Each member casts his “yes” vote with a single white marble-sized ball. There is one black ball in the balloting box and if any member casts his vote using that, the petition is rejected. Period. No questions are asked, and no reason need be given.

Finally, on Sunday I received an e-mail from my friend informing me that my petition had been approved and I had been elected to receive the Entered Apprentice degree, the first of the three degrees of Craft Masonry. I’m scheduled to be initiated on July 17, 2008.

The Investigation

Every person who petitions a lodge for membership is "investigated." How thorough the investigation is varies among the Masonic jurisdictions: some are rather lax; some more strict. I'd say my investigation fell somewhere in the middle. It involved a background check and three meetings or interviews with lodge officers. Two of these were in person and one was over the phone. The questions and discussions were general in nature but centered around why I desired to join and my belief in God.

Here is a list of the requirements taken from the Grand Lodge of South Carolina web site:

General Requirements

  1. Must believe in a Supreme Being.

  2. Must be male.

  3. Must be 18 years old or older.

  4. Must have resided in the state of South Carolina for 12 consecutive months.

  5. Must be able to read and write English.

  6. Must be recommended by two Masons.

Investigation and Balloting
  1. Must apply by petition at a regularly scheduled business meeting.

  2. Petition must be in the petitioner's handwriting.

  3. Petition must accompany the specified fee. Fees are set by individual lodges and approved by the Grand Master.

  4. The lodge will assign a committee of three to inquire into the petitioner's qualifications and make a report at the next scheduled business meeting.

  5. If the committee is favorable, a vote of the lodge members present at a business meeting is taken.

  6. If the vote is unanimous, the candidate is invited to take the first degree of three degrees.


On April 10, 2008, just shy of my 49th birthday, I submitted my petition for membership to one of the local lodges.

Having grown up in a family that had a lot Masons on both my mother’s and father’s side, I already knew that I would never be asked or invited to join the fraternity. To join, you have to approach a Mason and ask. But once I made the final decision to join, I realized that I didn’t actually know any Freemasons “2ASK.” All my family members that I knew were Masons have long ago passed away. So I just went to the web page of one of the lodges that meets in the big Masonic Temple downtown to get a contact address. The names of the officers were all listed there and I thought I recognized the name of one of them. Turns out it was a man I used to work with a few years ago. I had no idea back then he was a Mason. So I called him up. He remembered me well, and that’s how I wound up petitioning the lodge where he is a member and officer.

My Masonic Journey

This blog is intended to be a record of my journey into Freemasonry as well as periodic articles on, about, or related to the subject of Freemasonry.

"Manthanein" is transliterated from Ancient Greek and means "to learn."