Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tidbits from Morals and Dogma - #1

I am a year into my Masonic journey, and I have finally started working my way through Albert Pike's Morals and Dogma in earnest. I think even the most seasoned Masonic scholar will admit this is far from an easy read. Every page--indeed, almost every paragraph--practically demands thoughtful reflection to digest the genius that is Pike's view of Freemasonry.

As I progress through this tome of Pike's, I will be posting from time to time small excerpts--what I'm calling "tidbits"--which I think are of particular interest to modern Masons seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the fraternity to which they belong. The first tidbit is from the chapter on the Second Degree of Masonry, that of Fellowcraft:
Knowledge is convertible into power, and axioms into rules of unity and duty. But knowledge itself is not Power. Wisdom is Power; and her Prime Minister is Justice, which is the perfected law of Truth. The purpose, therefore, of Education and Science is to make a man wise. If knowledge does not make him so, it is wasted, like water poured on the sands. To know the formulas of Masonry, is of as little value, by itself, as to know so many words and sentences in some barbarous African or Australasian dialect. To know even the meaning of the symbols, is but little, unless that adds to our wisdom, and also to our charity, which is to justice like one hemisphere of the brain to the other.

Do not lose sight, then, of the true object of your studies in Masonry. It is to add to your estate of wisdom, and not merely to your knowledge. A man may spend a lifetime in studying a single specialty of knowledge,--botany, conchology, or entomology, for instance,--in committing to memory names derived from the Greek, and classifying and reclassifying; and yet be no wiser than when he began. It is the great truths as to all that most concerns a man, as to his rights, interest, and duties, that Masonry seeks to teach her Initiates.

And what of these "great truths" that Masonry seeks to teach its members?
Truths are the springs from which duties flow; and it is but a few hundred years since a new Truth began to be distinctly seen; that MAN IS SUPREME OVER INSTITUTIONS, AND NOT THEY OVER HIM. Man has natural empire over all institutions. They are for him, according to his development; not he for them. This seems to us a very simple statement, one to which all men, everywhere, ought to assent. But once it was a great new Truth,--not revealed until governments ahad been in existence for at least five thousand years. Once revealed, it imposed new duties on men. Man owed it to himself to be free. He owed it to his country to seek or give her freedom, or maintain her in that possession. It made Tyranny and Usurpation the enemies of the Human Race. it created a general outlawry of Despots and Despotisms, temporal and spiritual. The sphere of Duty was immensely enlarged. Patriotism had, henceforth, a new and wider meaning: Free Government, Free Thought, Free Conscience, Free Speech! All these came to be inalienable rights, which those who had parted with them or been robbed of them, or whose ancestors had lost them, had the right summarily to retake.

And how does Masonry, by adding to the "estate of wisdom" of its members, ensure that these great Truths are not lost?

The wiser a man becomes, the less will he be inclined to submit tamely to the imposition of fetters or a yoke, on his conscience or his person. For, by increase of wisdom he not only better knows his rights, but the more highly values them, and is more conscious of his worth and dignity. His pride then urges him to assert his independence. He becomes better able to assert it also; and better able to assist others or his country, when they or she stake all, even existence, upon the same assertion.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The boy who wanted to be an astronaut.

The Palmetto Bug has posted over on his blog about the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and how one of the astronauts, Buzz Aldrin, was a Freemason. I've added a bit to that discussion by pointing out that Aldrin was actually deputized by the Grand Lodge of Texas with the charge to claim Masonic jurisdiction of the moon for the Texas Grand Lodge.

Bug's post has reminded me of the excitement I felt 40 years ago as a 10-year-old boy following the news updates of Apollo 11's voyage to the moon. And then the fateful day of the landing arrived and we were all glued to the TV listening to Walter Cronkite's commentary as we watched Armstrong descend the LEM ladder and set foot on the surface of the moon.

Much of my childhood was spent in and around the area of Cape Canaveral, Florida. My father worked for a NASA contractor from the early 60s until 1968, so I got to visit the space center often and even spent time with several of the Original Seven astronauts.

Here is a photo of me taken at the Cape when I was about 7 or 8. That is the Saturn V (the Apollo launch vehicle) on its launch pad in the background. I'm not sure which Apollo this one would have been, but it would have to have been one of the early (pre-moon shot) ones.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Masonic Art of Peter Waddell

It's becoming clear from the clues being pumped out on the Twitter page of Dan Brown's publisher that the plot of The Lost Symbol is going to involve the supposed Masonic layout of Washington, D.C. Whether or not the design of the capital was influenced by Masonic symbolism has long been debated inside and outside the fraternity. Well-respected Masons come down on both sides of the issue. Ill. Bro. Akram Elias, 33rd, the Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of D.C. believes the layout of the city intentionally includes Masonic symbolism. Ill. Bro. Brent Morris, 33rd, the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry, disagrees.

Peter Waddell is a modern artist who gave an exhibition of his Masonic paintings in 2005 entitled The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry and the Architecture of Washington, DC. His artwork is really quite striking, and given the title of this exhibition it's easy to see where he stands on the question of whether or not Washington, D.C. is filled with Masonic symbolism. Whatever you believe, Waddell's paintings from this exhibit are worth reflecting on, for they are themselves, without doubt, loaded with Masonic symbolism.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The A.A.S.R and The Lost Symbol

The cover art for the hardcover jacket of the new Dan Brown novel The Lost Symbol has been revealed. Dan Brown stated years ago that his next novel would deal with the subject of Freemasonry, so it should come as no surprise that there is a Masonic-like symbol on the cover of the book.

It is being reported that the wax seal on the jacket cover is actually the seal of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States. I assure you, this is not the case. Here is the wax seal on the book jacket enlarged and enhanced to reveal some of the detail:

Here are the official seals of the Scottish rite for the Southern Jurisdiction, the headquarters of which is at the House of the Temple in Washington, D.C.

As you can see, with the exception of the double-headed eagle (an emblem that has been associated with the Scottish Rite from its beginning), the wax seal on the cover of Dan Brown's novel bears little resemblance to either of the official seals of the Scottish Rite for the Southern Jurisdiction. It actually more closely resembles the seal of the Scottish Rite for the Northern Jurisdiction, but it is not identical. However, the Latin inscription at the base of the seal leaves little doubt regarding the connection to the Scottish Rite:

The Latin Ordo ab Chao ("Order out of Chaos") is the de facto motto of the Scottish Rite and has been associated with the Rite since the formation of the Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree in 1801. This motto appears boldly on the patent for the 33rd Degree that was issued to Frederick Dalcho by John Mitchel in 1801 and is the given subtitle of the Supreme Council's first pronouncement to the Masonic world, the Circular Throughout the Two Hemispheres of 1802.

The color of the seal (as well as the color of the D.C. skyline) on the book may also be emblematic of the Scottish Rite. The Freemasonry of Europe (in particular, France, as opposed to England) is often referred to as "Red Masonry." The roots of the Scottish Rite are in continental Masonry (which supposedly originated in Scotland) and not in the Masonry of England.

Given all this, I think it seems clear from the book jacket that the Scottish Rite will figure heavily into the plot of The Lost Symbol. It will be interesting to see how. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The heart is deceitful above all things.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us "the heart is deceitful above all things." This post is not going to be an exegetical essay on the meaning or interpretation of that passage from the Old Testament. But taking the words on their face, this sage proposition appears to be especially a propos in light of the recent unpleasantries surrounding Brother Victor Marshall and his membership in Gate City Lodge No. 2 in Atlanta, GA.

Regular readers of Masonic blogs and web sites are no doubt already aware of the controversy surrounding Gate City Lodge No. 2. But for those who aren't, here's a brief synopsis: Brother Marshall is African-American. His admission to membership in Gate City Lodge No. 2 largely went unnoticed (he is, in fact, the second African-American to be raised a Master Mason in that lodge) until he began to do what Masons routinely do all over the country: visit other Masonic lodges. When Brother Marshall visited a lodge in Savannah, that's when the proverbial excrement hit the wind generating device. Complaints were made to the Grand Lodge of Georgia and the Grand Master of Masons in Georgia finally issued a statement saying that Brother Marshall had been duly raised a Master Mason in a legally constituted lodge and he was, therefore, a Brother Mason and should be received as such by other Masons. End of story, right? One would think so, but then the Worshipful Masters of two neighboring lodges, Metro Daylight Lodge No. 743 in Chamblee, and Philologia Lodge No. 178 in Conyers, filed formal charges against the Worshipful Master of Gate City Lodge No. 2. I won't bore you with the details of the allegations in these charges because they all boil down to a single proposition: To allow a non-white man membership in a Masonic lodge in Georgia is a violation of Masonic Law.

One would assume that based on his previous statement (that Brother Marshall was a Mason and should be received as such), the Grand Master of Georgia would not allow these ridiculous charges to stand. But he did, and a trial date was set. Gate City Lodge No. 2 then upped the ante by involving the secular courts when they filed a civil lawsuit against the Grand Lodge and the Brothers that had proffered the charges against them. The wisdom of this move is certainly questionable, but it did ensure one thing: the mainstream media would sooner or later take notice. And they did. The Associated Press was the first to report on it, soon followed by The New York Times. And now the The Guardian in the U.K. is reporting on it. Earlier this week it was reported that the Masonic charges against Gate City Lodge No. 2 have been dropped, but the civil lawsuit still stands.

As these events have unfolded I have resisted the urge to make known my thoughts on this blog. I wanted to see how all this played out, not only in the Masonic courts, but in the civil courts. I am glad to see that the Masonic charges have been dropped. I would hope they were dropped for the right reasons, namely, the Brothers who proffered the charges against the Worshipful Master of Gate City Lodge No. 2 came to their senses and realized that their premise and the charges they laid against a fellow Mason were predicated on a falsehood. I hope they realized that the ancient fraternity to which they swore solemn oaths and obligations, if it lives by the ideals it seeks to inculcate, judges no man by the color of his skin, but only by his character as evidenced by his words and deeds. Perhaps they came to understand that despite the deceit in their own hearts, there is no written or unwritten law in Masonry that says a black man cannot be a Mason.

Any Mason in the United States who was raised according to the Webb Form rituals (which is what is used in virtually ever Masonic jurisdiction in the U.S.) is taught that the first place a man is prepared to be a Mason is in his own heart. As I have pondered that foundational principle of Masonry I have come to the conclusion that's the reason Freemasonry does not recruit members--why Masons are forbidden from ever directly asking anyone to join their ranks. A man who is prepared in his own heart to be a Mason already has, albeit in a nascent form, the principles of Freemasonry burning within him. As such, he will--if given the opportunity--seek membership on his own, and once admitted to the fraternity, begin a life-long quest to improve and build upon the preexisting moral foundation that led him to the door of the Lodge in the first place.

But, alas, the heart is deceitful above all things. It can hoodwink a man into believing he is better than he is, that his aim is true and his motives pure, that the passions he holds dear are righteous. No man who seeks admittance into Freemasonry is perfect. But it is up to every man who becomes a Freemason to subdue the deceits in his own heart and improve himself by and through the sacred tenets of the fraternity to which he has sworn allegiance. For when the reverse becomes the norm, when the sacred tenets of Masonry are subdued and transmogrified to conform to the deceits of the hearts of imperfect men, Freemasonry is on a low road to irrelevance and extinction. Let us pray that the dropping of the Masonic charges in the Gate City No. 2 case is evidence that Masons in Georgia have chosen the high road.