A Focus on Masonic Research, News, and other Tidbits

Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

As We Move into the New Year...

Oh, How the Times Never Change

The Winter 2008-2009 edition of The Plumbline, the quarterly bulletin of the Scottish Rite Research Society, carried a reprint of an article by Albert G. Mackey, titled Reading Masons and Masons Who Do Not Read as was originally published in Voice of Masonry in June 1875.

Interestingly, Mackey addressed some of the very same issues that Masons discuss today – one hundred and thirty-four years later. In fact, one could probably remove Mackey’s name and the date of publication from the article and then easily pass it off as something written yesterday.

Mackey’s article contains his opinions about the title seekers in Freemasonry and the multitude of Freemasons who do not seek self enlightenment via personal research. Mackey divided Freemasons into three classes as follows.

1) Those that petitioned because they felt membership in the Fraternity would “personally benefit them” in their business, political, or other profane endeavors.

2) Those that applied for admission into Freemasonry due to a “favorable opinion conceived of the Institution, and a desire of knowledge.”

3) Somewhere between the first two classes are those that believe all of the Masonic teachings are imparted by their initiations into the various degrees.

Mackey felt that the first group is without hope. “They are dead trees having no promise of fruit. Let them pass as utterly worthless, and incapable of improvement.” He referred to the second group as the “shining lights” of Freemasonry and then concentrated on discussing the third group.

Mackey plainly felt that this third group was the most dangerous to Freemasonry.
Such Masons are distinguished, not by the amount of knowledge that they possess, but by the number of jewels that they wear. They will give fifty dollars for a decoration, but not fifty cents for a book.

These men do great injury to Masonry. They have been called its drones. But they are more than that. They are the wasps, the deadly enemy of the industrious bees. They set a bad example to the younger Masons – they discourage the growth of masonic literature – they drive the intellectual men, who would be willing to cultivate masonic science, into other fields of labor – they depress the energies of our writers – and they debase the character of Speculative Masonry as a branch of mental and moral philosophy.
Mackey did not let up on his condemnation of this third class as he concluded his article.
The Masons who do not read will know nothing of the interior beauties of Speculative Masonry, but will be content to suppose it to be something like Odd Fellows, or the Order of the Knights of Pythias – only, perhaps, a little older. Such a Mason must be an indifferent one. He has laid no foundation for zeal.

If this indifference, instead of being checked, becomes more widely spread, the result is too apparent. Freemasonry must step down from the elevated position which she has been struggling, through the efforts of her scholars, to maintain, and our lodges, instead of becoming resorts for speculative and philosophical thought, will deteriorate into social clubs or mere benefit societies.
Oh, how the times never change.

Note: All quotes are from Mackey’s referenced article in the Winter 2008-2009 edition of The Plumbline.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What is the Purpose?

As do many of those outside of the Fraternity – be they potential petitioners or not - almost every Freemason eventually asks the question, “What is the purpose of Freemasonry?” Though the question may not always be vocally offered up, it would be hard to find a member of the oldest fraternity that has not entertained this question.

In many cases, each Mason is left to his own devices when it comes to discovering an answer to this often asked question and one also finds that different Masons develop different answers – each according to his own needs and experiences. Sadly, there are those that never arrive at an appropriate response to their inquiry. These men can often be found on the rolls of lodges though they do not attend any meetings or events. Even more regrettable are the ones who demit or are suspended from the order because they see no value in their membership. In other words, they could never arrive at a satisfactory answer to the “what is the purpose” question. There is most certainly another group of Freemasons that get the answer wrong and look at the Freemasonic order more as a social club than as what it is truly intended to be.

It may be very possible that an explanation as to why some Masons can not arrive at a proper or suitable answer to the “purpose” question lies in the fact that some men are just not capable of grasping the teachings of the Fraternity and should not have been admitted into the organization in the first place. There are others that, though capable of understanding the answer, never voiced the question to other Masons or – if they did – there was no experienced Freemason available to help them in their quest for a purpose behind the Fraternity. If the latter is the case, then one can be very certain that such an inquiring Mason belongs to a lodge made up of members who do not know the answer themselves or have gotten the purpose wrong – i.e., the social club subscribers.

There is no one correct answer to the “purpose” question. As mentioned earlier in this article, different Masons often arrive at different conclusions and there is a certain amount of flexibility built into Freemasonry that allows for such. Each Freemason has the opportunity to be a cog in the Freemasonic machine and all cogs are not of the same size and each cog serves its own purpose towards the operation and betterment of the machine. There have been attempts throughout the years, however, to define – even codify – the purpose of Freemasonry and a brief examination of some historical documents may be in order.

In 1939, the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina adopted a “Declaration of Masonic Principles” that – in part – stated,
Freemasonry is a charitable, benevolent, educational and religious society. Its principles are proclaimed as widely as men will hear.

Through the improvement and strengthening of the character of the individual man, Freemasonry seeks to improve the community. Thus it impresses upon its members the principles of personal righteousness and personal responsibility, enlightens them as to those things which make for human welfare, and inspires them with that feeling of charity, or good will, toward all mankind which will move them to translate principle and conviction into action.

To that end, it teaches and stands for the worship of God; truth and justice; fraternity and philanthropy; and enlightenment and orderly liberty, civil, religious and intellectual. 1
The General Regulations of 1721 touched on another possible answer in Regulation I.
…whereby Masonry becomes the center of union, and the means of conciliating true friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance. 2
Another hint to a possible answer to the “purpose” question can be found in Albert G. Mackey’s Landmarks.
XXII. That all men in the sight of God are equal, and meet in the Lodge on one common level. 3
These quotes touch upon the ideals of the Fraternity as are displayed to the public. But what of the esoteric purpose that so many Freemasons search for? Those purposes exist – but only in a format that requires the individual Mason to find them for himself. No article or book can explain this aspect of Freemasonry or provide the answers. Those possible esoteric answers to the “purpose” question are buried deep within the secrecy of the Fraternity and require intense self study to be discovered. Such self study ultimately leads to different conclusions or answers to the question – as has now been mentioned thrice in this article. The individual Freemason may be able to glean some insight into the esoteric purpose of the Fraternity by way of discussions with experienced and knowledgeable Brothers but – ultimately – it is up to the individual to discover these answers for himself.

That self discovery, and the path to it, may – in all actuality – be the true purpose of Freemasonry.

1. Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, Ahiman Rezon, Lexington, S.C.: 2007, pp. 486-487.
2. Grand Lodge of England, General Regulations, 1721, Regulation I.
3. Ahiman Rezon, p. 457. (See also: Mackey, Albert G., M.D., A Text Book of Masonic Jurisprudence, New York: Clark & Maynard, 1872, Chapter I).

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Today is the Last Day of the Masonic Year…

…well – sort of.

Tomorrow, 27 December 2009, marks Saint John the Evangelist Day and – for many Grand Jurisdictions – the beginning of a new Masonic Year. Many newly elected and appointed lodge officers – that may have already been through their various installation ceremonies – will officially assume their duties tomorrow.

In South Carolina, there are three different Masonic years that are used. For purposes of lodge leadership, the Masonic year runs from the 27 December to the next 26 December. The calendar for the leadership of the Grand Lodge, however, runs from the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge to the next one ensuring. The Annual Grand Communication commences on the fourth Thursday in April. The third Masonic year used pertains to administration and the Annual Returns. The Grand Secretary and the lodge secretaries are most concerned with this year, which is simply the calendar year that begins on 1 January and ends on 31 December.

A study of other Grand Jurisdictions will show that several other Masonic years are used – one of which revolves around Saint John the Baptist Day on 24 June.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Boston Tea Party - 236 Years Ago

Though the jury of the Masonic research community is still out on the subject when it comes to Masonic involvement, it is still worth noting that today is the two hundred and thirty-sixth anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tennis Shoe and T-Shirt Wearers Should Read This


My Brethren,

Our society today is one of casual to less than casual dress and it has made its way into our Honorable Institution. So much so, our Fraternity in South Carolina has lost much of its dignity and decorum. As I visit various Masonic functions across our Grand Jurisdiction, I observe many of our Brethren wearing forms of dress, which I find not only to be inappropriate but also unacceptable such as t-shirts, tank-tops, shorts, jeans, overalls, no socks and open toed shoes. Freemasonry is not a club for “good old boys” and we should not be dressed as if it is. I firmly believe unacceptable dress will lead to unacceptable manner. It all goes hand-in-hand with each other.

Your Grand Lodge Officers are the leadership of Freemasonry in our state. I deem it our responsibility to set the standard in all aspects of the Fraternity for all other Masons. As to the standard of dress, they were informed unless they hear otherwise, they are required to be dressed in a coat and tie at any and all Masonic related functions. Blue Lodge Officers are the leadership of their Lodge members and, likewise, should be setting a higher standard for their members.

With these thoughts in mind, I encourage you while attending all Masonic related meetings such as Scottish Rite, York Rite, Shrine, Eastern Star, Amaranth, Masters’ and Wardens’ Club, Square and Compass Club, Past Masters’ Club, Rainbow, DeMolay, as well as Grand Lodge and Blue Lodge, to be appropriately dressed. Our personal appearance, attire and attitude will broadcast the message to others of our devotion, pride and respect toward the Fraternity and aid in setting the tone of our meetings. It is my belief, over time, this action will influence others to pause and reflect upon their own dress and act accordingly. If you are a Past Grand Lodge Officer, you as well should be helping to set the example. Being a Past Grand Lodge Officer does not relieve you from your responsibilities. Once you have served Grand Lodge in any capacity you always belong to the Grand Lodge Family.

One Brother has this to say concerning dress, “It is the internal and not the external qualifications of man that Masonry regards…That phrase is intended to be a leveler, to say that Freemasonry regards no man for his wealth or goods but for his internal qualities, his morality, his integrity, his sense of justice; qualities that can exist in an unemployed day laborer and the highest paid CEO in equal measure. Unfortunately, what it has become is an excuse. Apologia for slovenliness borne of the cursed notion that jeans, t-shirts and sneakers are appropriate attire for attendance at a gentleman’s organization, the odd idea that no one, not even you, should care how you look. Freemasonry is not intended to be a lowest common denominator group. It is a society of gentlemen created for our mutual encouragement and uplift, to become better.”

I ask, Brethren, that you will make a commitment to improve your personal dress so as to demonstrate to others you have a renewed pride in our Fraternity. I ask you to join me in raising the bar of our dress and appearance while attending Masonic related functions. At times it will be inconvenient. At others it will be bothersome. At still other times it will be uncomfortable. But remember, “Our Focus is on Quality.” Will you step forward? Will you join me? Will you help raise the bar? Will you help promote a higher standard? Think about it, my Brethren. Will you require of and for yourself a higher level of respect for Freemasonry?

As we leave Thanksgiving and enter into the more Sacred Season of Christmas and Hanukkah, Gail and I wish for all of you and your families, safety and security and a renewed faith in God and your fellowman.

May God continue to bless America and our great Fraternity and may the blessings of Heaven rest upon you and your families.


Barry A. Rickman
Grand Master

Friday, December 4, 2009

Next Meeting of the South Carolina Masonic Research Society

The South Carolina Masonic Research Society (SCMRS) meets tomorrow - 5 December 2009 - at 11 AM in the hall of Fort Jackson Lodge No. 374. Elections of Society officers will take place during this meeting

Significant rumor has it that I will be providing the entertainment in the form of a research presentation to the Society members on hand at the meeting. I only hope that - before tomorrow - I can shake this cold that sent me home early from work today.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Visiting 101

Note: The problem with this short article is that those Masons who need to read it will never find it and those that are seeing it will feel like Noah reading about the Flood.

The Fourteenth Landmark of Freemasonry on the list of what is often called “Mackey’s Landmarks” tells us that every Mason has the right to visit and sit in every regular lodge. Now, some Masons may would stop right there and think, “Ah ha – Lodge X has to let me visit.” The next Landmark, however, places some burdens on the visitor. The Fifteenth Landmark requires that the visitor be known as a Mason by a member of the visited lodge or the visitor must pass an examination before being allowed to visit.

There is only one legal way – Masonically speaking – for a Brother to know if a man is a Mason. He must have sat in open Lodge with him. If this is not the case, the visitor must pass an examination. But what is the examination?

There are several ways for an examination to be conducted, but a common method requires that the visitor demonstrate that he is in possession of the various words and grips. If the visitor successfully demonstrates this and is allowed to sit in open Lodge – the Master would still be in error, however. The reason for this is that expelled or suspended Masons – as well as some members of clandestine bodies – would certainly possess the words and grips.

The key ingredient in any examination is a certain piece of paper. The visitor should have in his physical possession a current dues card, certificate, or demit. Such a document must have been issued by a lodge or Grand Lodge that is recognized by the visited lodge’s Grand Lodge. It would also be prudent to have the visitor to produce photo identification so as to ensure that he is not using a stolen card, certificate, or demit.

Even unaffiliated Masons – not to be confused with Masons suspended because of nonpayment of dues – should possess a demit or certificate. Some jurisdictions will allow an unaffiliated Mason to visit once for the purpose of requesting affiliation with the visited lodge.

The key lesson of Visiting 101 is simple. Masons that intend to visit should have their dues card, certificate, or demit. Do not leave home without it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Whew! It is Almost Over. Or is It?

In many Grand Jurisdictions, Masons are entering the last two months of the Masonic year. As the Masters of lodges enter the final sprint, many of them start anticipating that sigh of relief that they will expel as they leave their demanding responsibilities to someone else at the end of their term of office. Some will start relaxing a bit during these final two months and actually began practicing a sort of lame duck type of administration. “Whew – it is almost over,” will be the thought on many of their minds.

But is it really almost over? Strong Masters with views of the long-term rather than the short-term will know that there is more important work to be done. These types of lodge leaders know that they may actually be entering the most important period of their time in the East. They know that they can not simply drop the gavel and retire to the sidelines. They realize that there must be – or should be – a smooth transition from them to their replacements. They are fully aware that the smooth transition is dictated by the outgoing administration – not the incoming.

The proactive Master is already coordinating with his presumed successor. He is briefing the supposed next Master on the state of the lodge’s various unfinished projects and upcoming events that are set by the Grand Lodge and Grand Master. He is making sure his replacement is also fully aware of the Grand Master’s vision and expectations. He is making sure that the Secretary and Treasurer are getting the documents arranged for the next Master so that he will be armed with as much information as possible before he officially becomes the head of the lodge. He also is making sure that the next man in the East has all of the point of contact information that he may need – such as for the District Deputy Grand Master. All in all – he is setting his successor up for success and doing his best to keep the lodge moving forward in a positive direction.

A Master’s time in the East may be almost over, but some of his most important work still lies before him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Universal Brotherhood and Guarding the Gate

One of the great balancing acts that faces – and has always faced – Freemasonry is the consideration of universal brotherhood while - at the same time – protecting the Craft from the initiation of those that could cause damage to the institution. This is often referred to by Masons as “guarding the West Gate.” There are probably few Freemasons who have not given thought to this subject in some fashion or another and such thoughts are more often than not of a very personal nature. The thoughts are often of a personal and intimate nature because they are usually manifested due to the petition or request for petition from a friend or family member.

But what is meant by universal brotherhood from a Masonic viewpoint? On the surface, universal brotherhood may bring forth visions of an almost Utopian concept of all men being able to enjoy the beauty and teachings of Freemasonry. However, what if it is universal Brotherhood – with a capital B? When used this way, it implies a universal nature of a Fraternity that is applicable only to the Order’s members and not necessarily to all of mankind. I submit that this latter interpretation is the accurate way of describing universal Brotherhood from a Masonic point of view.

With this description of universal Brotherhood in mind, it is now appropriate to examine who is eligible for membership into the Fraternity of Freemasonry. The qualifications as pertain to age, gender, and physical wholeness are so well known that no time will be devoted to these in this examination. Instead, one of the often stated purposes of Freemasonry – Making Good Men Better – will be used as a starting point for a deeper look into this subject, which will include a brief consideration of the religious qualification.

“Making Good Men Better” is a catchy phrase, but it does not explain what makes for a good man. Though there is no one-size-fits-all description of a good man, most Freemasons know of good men that would not be suitable material for the Craft. It may come as surprise for some to learn that – not less than approximately one hundred and sixty years ago – Freemasons have wrestled with this subject before.
Every candidate for initiation into the mysteries of Freemasonry must be a man of good moral character, of irreproachable reputation, and living, as our ritual expresses it, ‘under the tongue of good report.’ The Lodge which admits a member who has not these necessary qualifications, is bringing into our fold not a lamb, the emblem of innocence and purity, but a ravenous wolf who will inevitably destroy the flock. Neither is an ignorant or uneducated man desirable as a candidate for our mysteries. Without some intellectual culture, it is not likely that he would appreciate the symbolical character of our Institution, nor would he be capable of becoming a very useful or honorable member of the Craft. – from an encyclical letter issued from the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina on 5 December 1848
There is really only one proven method to determine whether a petitioner possesses good moral character. A thorough investigation must be conducted before an educated determination can be made as to a man’s moral character. Such an investigation must necessarily include an honest attempt to discover a man’s motivation that led him to petition. A man who petitions due to a less than honorable or pure motivation can not meet the moral qualification requirement.

The mention of “an ignorant or uneducated man” is worth further contemplation. As already mentioned, most Freemasons are familiar with good men that would not be suitable for the Fraternity. Many of this type of men are considered as undesirable for Masonic purposes due to their lack of ability to comprehend the beauty and lessons of the Craft. This is not meant to disparage these otherwise good men or to serve as a “Non-Geniuses Need Not Apply” sign. Most Freemasons can generally agree, however, that at least a basic intellectual capacity and educational background are necessary for a man to properly benefit from and serve the Fraternity. The initiation of the ignorant or uneducated would prove to be a disservice to the initiate and has the potential of causing real harm to a lodge and the Craft as a whole.

That same encyclical letter of 1848 also addressed the religious requirement.
As to religious qualifications, the action of some other Grand Lodges makes it expedient that we should impress upon you that no other religious test is necessary or proper in the candidate, except that he declare himself a firm believer in the existence of a Supreme Being.
Though this passage would seem to be rather finite, one must take into account that there are men in the world who have attached Supreme Being status to some rather irregular entities. A man that has adopted his pet goldfish, the spirit of Adolf Hitler, or Satan as his Supreme Being probably does not meet the religious qualification. Some amount of investigation must be used to make an educated determination about a man’s belief in a Supreme Being.

The encyclical letter of 1848 went on to attach even more importance to guarding the West Gate.
…let it always be remembered that in balloting for a candidate each Lodge is not acting for itself alone, but for the whole Order at large. It is not simply admitting a new associate into its own narrow circle, but is introducing a brother to the great Masonic family, whose virtuous or vicious conduct will affect the Institution in all parts of the world, for good or evil. Let no brother forget, that it is as sacred a duty to reject the worthless as it is to receive the worthy.
Without a doubt, men who are unworthy have at times been initiated into Freemasonry. These mistakes sometimes only cause disappointment for the initiated and wasted efforts on the part of a lodge Рoften leading to demission or suspension of the ones who should never have been accepted. There have been occasions, however, where the results were much more far-reaching and included such things as written expos̩s, fractured or darkened lodges, and damaged Grand Lodges. Ultimately, the needs and protection of the Fraternity outweigh the most well-intentioned desires to bring an individual into the fold.

Guard the West Gate of universal Brotherhood.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Masonic Education and Research

"Truth" and "light" are words that hold - or should hold - a special meaning for Freemasons. With this in mind and unless a Freemason belongs to a lodge that already leans heavily toward education and research, I am often left in wonderment at the large numbers of Brothers who do not belong to some sort of research society or research lodge. Yes - I know that there are many Brothers who are capable of conducting education and research at an individual level, but the resources offered to even these types of Masons by the research societies and research lodges are invaluable. An added benefit - primarily due to the existence of the Internet - is the networking that these research bodies provide for the serious researchers and - especially - the writers.

I highly encourage all Masons to belong to at least one research body of their choice that also meets with the requirements of their individual Grand Jurisdictions. Here are the three that I belong to and I highly recommend each of them. Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina should certainly belong to the first one.

The South Carolina Masonic Research Society

The Scottish Rite Research Society (not limited to members of the Scottish Rite; I am not in the Scottish Rite)

The Masonic Society

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Worshipful, Worshipful, Everywhere a Worshipful

The landscape of honorifics used to address certain leaders and past leaders in lodges and Grand Lodges can be confusing to even experienced and informed Masons. The adjective “Worshipful” is applied in several variations to describe and honor current and past holders of such positions as a Master of a lodge, elected and appointed officers of a Grand Lodge, and Grand Masters. “Worshipful” can actually be disturbing to some of those outside of the Fraternity when they mistakenly apply a more modern religious connotation to the word. The use of the word in Freemasonry, however, stems from its older use as a term of respect.
Worshipful - British. a formal title of honor used in announcing or mentioning certain highly regarded or respected persons or groups.
Source: Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/worshipful (accessed: September 27, 2009).
Using the Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina as a starting point in this examination, there can be found three primary variations involving the word “Worshipful” – Worshipful Brother, Right Worshipful Brother, and Most Worshipful Brother.

Worshipful Brother (other variations: Worshipful Master, Worshipful Sir, and Worshipful). This honorific is used to address current or past Masters of a lodge of Freemasons. This title is also applied to the following appointed and past officers of the Grand Lodge: Senior Grand Deacon, Junior Grand Deacon, Grand Marshal, Grand Pursuivant, Grand Steward, and Grand Tiler – all of which have to be Past Masters before being appointed. Note: The position of Grand Chaplain, which will be mentioned in the next paragraph, is the only Grand Lodge office that does not require the holder to be a Past Master.

Right Worshipful Brother (other variations: Right Worshipful Sir and Right Worshipful). In South Carolina, this address is used for current or past Grand Lodge officers in the following positions: Deputy Grand Master, Senior Grand Warden, Junior Grand Warden, Grand Treasurer, Grand Secretary, Grand Chaplain, and District Deputy Grand Master.

Most Worshipful Brother (other variations: Most Worshipful Sir and Most Worshipful). This honorific is reserved for the current and past Grand Masters of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina.

Though this may seem straightforward thus far, the confusions will now be illustrated by way of a couple of specific, real-world, examples.

If the office of Grand Secretary, who would normally be addressed as Right Worshipful, is held by a Past Grand Master – he retains the title of Most Worshipful. If the office of Grand Marshal, who would normally be addressed as Worshipful, is held by a Past District Deputy Grand Master – he continues to be addressed as Right Worshipful. In other words, a Mason retains the honorific suitable for the highest position held – regardless of his current position.

To add to the confusion – current and past Senior Grand Deacons, Junior Grand Deacons, Grand Marshals, Grand Pursuivants, Grand Stewards, and Grand Tilers wear aprons that look exactly like those worn by current and past District Deputy Grand Masters. The absence of jewels – which only sitting Grand Lodge officers in these positions will have, name badges that clearly identify the Mason’s past status, or personal knowledge of the Mason’s Masonic resume can certainly lead to confusion when it comes to addressing these Masons as Worshipful or Right Worshipful.

Once one considers other Grand Jurisdictions, the confusion is amplified. In some Grand Jurisdictions, the Grand Master is addressed as Right Worshipful rather than Most Worshipful. Pennsylvania offers an example of this difference. In some other Grand Jurisdictions, such as Scotland, a lodge Master is addressed as Right Worshipful Master rather than Worshipful Master. One can also find such titles as Very Worshipful (Connecticut) and Right Honorable (Florida) in some Jurisdictions that have positions such as District Grand Lecturers and District Instructors.

Despite this confusion, there is one title that will always work and be appropriate – “Brother.”

Note to Tim: Thanks for the idea.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Higher or Side Degrees?

Many Masons are familiar with the charts that show a hierarchy in the Freemasonic family. Two examples are shown here and both place the Craft, or “Blue,” lodge degrees at the bottom of the scale. These types of illustrations and trains of thought have often led to the misconception that the degrees and orders offered in the York and Scottish Rites are the higher degrees of Freemasonry.

Of course, any learned Freemason is aware that there is no higher degree in Freemasonry than that of the Third Degree, which can only be provided by a Craft lodge. The degrees and orders of the two Rites, or any other appendent body, are actually side degrees. The following chart – in my opinion – better illustrates that concept than do the two previous.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Line Up to be the First to Read The Better Angels...

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War is scheduled for release in the Spring of 2010.

I have had the pleasure of corresponding with the author, Michael A. Halleran, for some time and - if my dealings with him are any indication at all - I am anticipating that The Better Angels of Our Nature will be a great read. Well-read Masons will recognize Halleran's name from the regular "Brother Brother" column in the Scottish Rite Journal and from his published work in Heredom. Halleran is the 2007 recipient of the Albert Gallatin Mackey Award for Excellence in Masonic Scholarship for his "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Masonic Courtesy and Relief in the American Civil War." Brother Halleran currently serves as the Assistant Editor of the Scottish Rite Research Society's The Plumbline.

A Facebook group with the same name as the book has been started where you can keep up with the author's pre-release speaking engagements and the progress toward release of the book.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Funerals and Masonic Rites – Inspiration from the Grave

The idea that funerals are for the living and not for the recently departed is not one invented by me. The deceased have gone on to their just rewards and need not the physical manifestations of a funeral. For the loved ones that are left behind, however, the funeral provides a vehicle on the path of closure and is an important part of the grieving process. In many ways and despite the sad nature of what necessitated them, funerals can sometimes serve as an inspiration to the living.

Most people are no stranger to the religious inspiration that often results from attending a funeral. For Masons, however, there is another, additional type of inspiration that can come from a funeral and is certainly evident when a Mason dies and is buried with Masonic Rites – something I recently witnessed again.

The second line signer of my petition for the Degrees passed away this past Monday and was buried with military honors and Masonic Rites on this past Thursday. I initially dreaded attending the funeral for – I imagine – the same reason many people dread funerals. We do not like to face death and funerals force us to face that thing which will come for all of us one day.

In my recently departed Brother’s case, he led a long and full life and – when death came for him – he went to the afterlife quickly and without suffering. My Brother had many lofty titles associated with Freemasonry and the associated bodies of the Order, but what happened immediately after his passing and at his funeral tells more about him and his Fraternity than can a list of those titles.

Within an hour of my Brother’s death, the network that connects Masons over great distances was alive with the sad news. Knowing his love for the institution, some of the very first people contacted by his widow were members of the Fraternity.

The number of properly clothed Masons in attendance at the funeral were too numerous to count and they included our Grand Lodge’s sitting Grand Master, our sitting Senior Grand Warden, three Past Grand Masters, numerous current and past District Deputy Grand Masters, sitting and Past Masters, and many other Masons. Many of these men travelled many hours to attend the service, which was held in a very rural corner of our State.

The atmosphere of fraternity was so thick that you could almost reach out and touch it. The pastor that conducted the service was also a member of the Craft and had actually been attracted to Freemasonry in large part due to the influence and example of the man that he now preached over. The Masonic Rites were delivered in a very solemn and dignified manner by one of the best ritualists in the Grand Jurisdiction.

When it was all over, I left the grave side with inspiration – not dread. In addition to the inspiration gained from reviewing my deceased Brother’s trials, tribulations, and achievements in life; I was inspired in a fraternal way. I was reinvigorated about Freemasonry and my appreciation of the meaning of Brotherly Love was reaffirmed and bolstered.

Thank you – my Brother – for letting me be at your funeral. Even in death, you continue to serve the Fraternity.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Recommended Reading - Solomon's Builders

I have just [finally] gotten around to finishing Solomon's Builders by Christopher Hodapp, who was kind enough personally sign it for me in Alexandia, Virginia, in February 2009.

Folks, it is worth reading and I highly recommend it. You can track it down by going here: http://www.hodapps.com/

The Internet – A Blessing and a Curse to Freemasonry

The Internet has become both a blessing and a curse for Freemasonry. On one hand, the Internet is a tool of immeasurable value to those that are involved in research and writing about the world’s oldest fraternity. Imagine what Albert G. Mackey could have done if he had the Internet! The World Wide Web provides a quick and easy way for Freemasons to communicate over great distances and to keep current on the various activities of the fraternity. On the other hand, the Internet also makes it easy for clandestine masons and those who oppose Freemasonry to express their views – sometimes in a disproportionately loud manner – to the unsuspecting public. Recognized Freemasons – if they are not sufficiently knowledgeable and careful – can also often be trapped into discussing Freemasonry in an inappropriate manner.

Let this be made clear – Freemasonry can not be practiced on the Internet. There are, however, Internet sites that have Freemasonry as their predominant subject material. This is often commonly referred to as e-Masonry. Most readers will already be familiar with the websites that belong to Grand Lodges, subordinate lodges, and appendant bodies. Those types of sites are not the subject of this piece as we all know about those sites and their purposes. Many readers will also be familiar with the conspiracy theory and anti-masonic sites and, since those can not be considered as containing accurate information about Freemasonry, they will also not be examined in this article.

The push to discuss and form connections about Freemasonry on the Internet has blossomed in the last decade or so. The somewhat legendary CompuServe Masonry Forum existed until at least 2001 and gave birth to much of what is often called e-Masonry. From this, Masonic forums blossomed and personal websites were created in an ever evolving landscape in cyberspace.

The situation today finds a variety of e-Masonry sites. The ones that most folks come into contact with are the forums and it is in these sites that many Masons first experience e-Masonry – often leading to other Internet sites and ventures. There are a variety of forums that are oriented toward Freemasonry, of which The Sanctum Santorum and the Mastermason.com Forums are but two examples.

Beyond the forums, one can find the personal websites, of which there are many. An example of one of the longest running can be found in Anti-Masonry: Points of View, which makes a point of exposing anti-masonic rhetoric as well as bogus or quasi-masonic organizations. Anti-Masonry is now in its eleventh year of existence. The Masonically inclined personal websites multiplied drastically as people discovered the ease and cheapness of using existing blog services. Such services as Blogger and WordPress gave even the most website design challenged folks an easy way to share their message. One of the more popular examples of these types of sites can be found at Freemasons for Dummies. Even some Grand Lodge officers have began to use blogs to communicate their messages to their jurisdictions and with others. An example of this can be found at Grand Master’s Musings.

Despite the perceived popularity of e-Masonry, the most prolific forum posters and the website owners represent a very small percentage of Freemasons. This relatively small group of e-Masons has, over time, loosely organized itself into an online community by way of cross links to each other’s sites and cross posting of various articles. One can go to a variety of forums and sites that allow outside comments and find the same screen names over and over. This has resulted in a loose nucleus of sites and Internet personalities that could be thought of as the unofficial news network for Freemasonry. The King Solomon’s Lodge Blog Aggregator is representative of one useful method that has loosely tied these sites together.

As should have been expected, this relatively small group of e-Masons began to talk by using various voice programs available – ultimately leading to podcasts such as Masonic Central. These podcasts are often populated by the very same nucleus of online personalities that are so often found in the forums and blogs.

Relatively recently, an effort to more formally organize some of these sites was undertaken and Freemason Information was the result. Freemason Information brought some of the more popular sites – all of which happened to be blogs – under one umbrella along with the Masonic Central podcast.

In what is probably the greatest concentration of serious online students, researchers, and writers of Freemasonry; a new research society – operating almost entirely on the Internet – was born not very long ago. The Masonic Society includes many of the “who’s who” of modern day Masonic researchers and operates its own forum for members only. The methodology of The Masonic Society has allowed it – best as is possible at this time – to solve the problems associated with anti-masons and clandestine masons on the Internet.

Due to the nature of their fraternity, Freemasons have understandably been hesitant to jump into the Internet world without caution. Like those that feel the need to spout anti-masonic rhetoric, people belonging to some of the clandestine, quasi-masonic bodies have never – for the most part – been constrained by this sense of caution. This resulted in a proliferation of sites and online personalities which represent irregular and unrecognized masons. As Freemasons explore their fraternity on the Internet, they can not help but to run into these types of sites and personalities. Therein is found one of the dangers of e-Masonry. The other danger arises when Freemasons – out of ignorance – engage in discussions that can be construed as Masonic communication of an unauthorized nature or divulge internal Grand Lodge or lodge business that should not be shared with the rest of the world.

There can be little doubt that Grand Lodges were caught off guard by the proliferation of e-Masonry. Quite frankly, the codes and constitutions of the various Grand Lodges were not written to directly deal with this phenomenon – though the obligations should be sufficient. The phenomenon is here, however, and time will tell whether Grand Lodges are able to effectively cope with it by way of education and guidance to their members – and it must be coped with in this age of an increasingly Internet savvy society where a young man will “Google” first and ask questions later.

The Internet is a tool and, like all tools, Freemasons must use it with caution and respect. Remember – a hammer can bless you with a properly driven nail or curse you with a busted thumb.

Worth Reading - from the Pages of the Scottish Rite Journal

In addition to some other fine articles in the September-October 200 edition of the Scottish Rite Journal, here are a couple that really caught my attention.

There Can Only Be One Grand Lodge.

The Worshipful Master: His Ultimate Duties.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

District Deputy Grand Master – Revisited

See also: District Deputy Grand Master – Origin of the Position

It is interesting to examine the reasons leading to the creation of the positions of District Deputy Grand Masters, the growing pains associated with the adjusted system of governance associated with the positions, and the eventual tweaking of the District Deputy system that overcame its initial deficiencies.

Prior to 1871, the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina had at various times used a single position – that of Grand Lecturer – to assist the Grand Master and Grand Lodge in ensuring that subordinate lodges were uniform in their workings. Due to vast distances involved and the slow nature of travel in those long ago times, it is obvious to see how this was an inefficient system at best.

The initial District system approved by the Grand Lodge of South Carolina in 1871 did little to alleviate the same problems associated with the Grand Lecturer system. Only ten Districts were created and many of the District Deputy Grand Masters reportedly suffered from some of the same problems which a Grand Lecturer had – distances and difficulty of travel. In the years immediately following the creation of the system, some District Deputy Grand Masters reported that they could not even find some of the lodges in their District. Some reported that they – being that most were men with professions – did not have the time to devote to such a large undertaking as that of visiting all of their District lodges and managing the requests for decisions coming from such.

By 1887, rumblings were being heard that called for the abolishment of the District system. Some of the District Deputy Grand Masters, themselves, were proponents of the abolishing the system. In 1891, a constitutional amendment was proposed that – if passed – would have ended the office of District Deputy Grand Master and revived the position of Grand Lecturer. In 1892, the Grand Lodge postponed consideration of this proposal indefinitely.

The situation involving the District system was finally tweaked into a workable part of the government of the Grand Lodge when, in 1896, the Grand Lodge voted to increase the number of Districts. This set in motion the future practice of redrawing District lines and increasing the number of District Deputy Grand Masters as the Grand Jurisdiction grew in its number of chartered lodges – with roughly ten lodges in each District.

Source: Cornwell, Ross & Willis, Samuel M. A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina; The Years 1860 - 1919. The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, 1979.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Masonic Diplomacy

Many Masons are undoubtedly not familiar with much of the interaction between Grand Lodges. This is to be expected since much of this Grand Lodge diplomacy does not have an immediate or direct impact on the individual Mason or his lodge. It does, however, have a large impact on the worldwide Fraternity of Freemasonry.

A study of these interactions between Grand Lodges can be most educational, simply interesting, and sometimes humorous – especially when viewed over the distance of time.

From a perusal of the history of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, the following random bits of information can be found.

In 1882 and concerning the Grand Lodge of Idaho’s decision to cease Masonic intercourse with the Grand Lodge of Scotland due to Scotland’s dispute with the Grand Lodge of Quebec, South Carolina’s Grand Secretary at the time, Charles Inglesby wrote:

To adopt resolutions of non-intercourse is an extreme measure, and a Grand Lodge which is yet in its teens, ought not hastily to take to such action.1
Following South Carolina’s recognition of the Grand Lodge of South Australia in 1886, South Carolina’s Grand Master J. Adger Smyth had this to say.

This is a vital question, and affects the very existence of Masonry. The rule has been that not less that three Lodges in any territory where no Grand Lodge previously exists are competent to form a Grand Lodge. Most of the older Jurisdictions now hold, however, that a majority of the Lodges in the new territory must concur in such a formation. Some even go so far as to hold that it must have the unanimous consent of all the Lodges in the new territory. We adhere to the majority rule. This would prevent a minority – as in the case of New South Wales – from attempting to coerce the majority.2
Though an unfamiliar subject to many Freemasons, the diplomacy between Grand Lodges has been – and remains – an important part of the cement that holds the Fraternity together.

1. Cornwell, Ross & Willis, Samuel M. A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina; The Years 1860 - 1919. The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, 1979, p. 106.
2. Ibid, pp. 127-128

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Examining the Political Mackey - Revisited

See first: Examining the Political Mackey.

Now that I have a copy of A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina: The Years 1860 - 1919, more information concerning Brother Mackey is available. It seems that the effects of the War Between the States were still being felt within the Fraternity in South Carolina (see also: Pushed to the Brink: The Stresses of War on Freemasonry). From the portion of that text that addresses 1866 and the end of Mackey's long service as Grand Secretary in South Carolina, this following footnote is found.
The proceedings of the year 1921, more than 50 years later, indicate that the elections were bitterly divisive in 1866, and that Mackey was rejected because he had sided with the Union supporters during the War Between the States. The collapse of the Confederacy would have brought considerable wrath on the head of one who had spoken out against the Southern cause. What is remarkable is not that Mackey was defeated, but that the proceedings do not explain why until 1921.1
Brother Mackey's final years in South Carolina were clouded by suspicions and allegations of financial irregularities in regards to the Grand Secretary's office. A motion - one which was never acted upon - was actually made during the 1868 Grand Communication to expel Mackey from the Order.2

Mackey left South Carolina two years later.

1. Cornwell, Ross & Willis, Samuel M. A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina; The Years 1860 - 1919. The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, 1979, p. 26.
2. Ibid, p. 35.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pushed to the Brink: The Stresses of War on Freemasonry

[Author's Note: Thirty years after its first and last publication, A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina: The Years 1860 - 1919, has again been published. It is the "Part II" of Mackey's work. I have limited copies in my hands for interested Brothers of the 4th Masonic District of South Carolina to purchase. The price is the same as it was in 1979 - $20.00.]

Even the casual student of Freemasonry is aware that Freemasonry has survived many calamities over her long recorded history. Natural disasters, powerful tyrants that considered Freemasonry to be an enemy, and wars have come and gone while Freemasonry continued to exist and sometimes flourish. Freemasonry, however, is not immune to the effects of outside, negative influences. The stresses of war, in particular, have pushed Freemasonry to the brink of disaster in many jurisdictions.

Evidence of the damaging effects of war on the Fraternity can be found by examining the history of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina during the dreadful years of the War Between the States. When the Grand Lodge of South Carolina met for its annual communication in November 1861, the State of South Carolina had – eleven months prior – already seceded from the Union and the firing on Fort Sumter had occurred just seven months earlier. The proceedings of that Grand Communication give a glimpse of the troubles to come. Following the installation of the new Grand Master, David Ramsey, on 19 November 1861, this statement was entered into the proceedings of the Grand Lodge.

The Grand Master being compelled, by urgent public business, to depart immediately for the city of Charleston, the remaining officers were installed by Past Grand Master B. R. Carroll…1
By the next annual Grand Communication in November 1862, the stress of the war was rather evident. Initially, not enough lodges were represented in order to constitute a quorum. The Grand Master, Deputy Grand Master, Senior Grand Warden, Junior Grand Warden, Grand Treasurer, Grand Chaplain, the Senior and Junior Grand Deacons, the Grand Pursuivant, and at least one Grand Steward were absent when the Grand Lodge was to be opened at noon on 18 November 1862. The Deputy Grand Master and one other Grand Lodge officer, along with representatives from nineteen more lodges eventually arrived later in the evening.2

The proceedings of this communication in 1862 speak of money being sent to “suffering soldiers,” the failure of many lodges to submit annual returns, and a Grand Lodge budget that was running a deficit. Times were about the get worse, however.3

When the Grand Lodge met again on 17 November 1863 in Columbia, South Carolina, the Grand Master – David Ramsey – had been dead for three months after to succumbing to battle wounds he received while being a part of the defense of Battery Wagner on Morris Island, Charleston, South Carolina. The proceedings of the Grand Communication indicated that the treasury of the Grand Lodge continued to shrink and the list of lodges failing to provide returns had grown. All but the most urgent of Grand Lodge business was suspended by suggestion of the acting Grand Master, Deputy Grand Master D. J. Barnett.4

Again meeting in Columbia, Grand Master John H. Boatwright opened the November 1864 Grand Communication on the following note.

While without the startled ear is struck on every side with the crash of conflicting arms, and the sky is overcast with the lurid clouds of was, here, at least, for a brief period, around this sacred altar, and within this holy temple, all is serenity and peace.5
Despite this optimistic statement, gloom surrounded the Fraternity in the Palmetto State. The physical home of the Grand Lodge and many subordinate lodges in Charleston had been struck by shells from Union forces on more than one occasion – forcing the Grand Lodge to move its offices to another part of the city. Half of the lodges in the State had gone dark – or dormant – though the Grand Lodge wisely and justly decided not to arrest the charters of these lodges. The Grand Master was also forced to address the increased popularity of Freemasonry in some parts of the State that had led to desires for a shortening of the time required for initiating and advancement in the three degrees of Freemasonry. There was a “dramatic upsurge for admission to the Order by candidates who came seeking the comfort and reassurance of an old and relatively stable institution in an age when all institutions were threatened.”6 Grand Master Boatwright stated…

At no time since the organization of the first Lodge in this State has there been so much danger as there is at the present day from the popularity of masonry.7
By the next annual meeting of the Grand Lodge, however, much more serious matters than the popularity of the Fraternity would show just how close to the brink the war had pushed the whole of Freemasonry in South Carolina.

When the Grand Lodge met again in Columbia on 21 November 1865, the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on 9 April 1865 was still a fresh memory. More telling of the horrors of war to the attendees of the Grand Communication was the destruction that surrounded them. Columbia had been burned as it fell to the advance of General Sherman’s forces. All three lodges in Columbia escaped not this burning – each of them lost their halls and furniture.8

The Grand Lodge could not open at the appointed time – noon – due to the absence of so many lodge representatives. It was not until seven thirty in the evening of 21 November 1865 that enough delegates finally arrived. The Senior Grand Warden, W. T. Walter, found himself as the acting Grand Master due to the deaths of the Grand Master and Deputy Grand Master just a few months prior. Walter addressed the Grand Lodge with these words.

In that portion of the jurisdiction through which the armies have passed, our Lodges have been destroyed, our altars thrown down, and it is with maimed rites we can practice our ceremonies. That errors and irregularities have crept into our Lodges I have little doubt. These are, no doubt, caused by the disorganized state of the country, and the irregularity of the mails. In the decision of every trespass against our rules, I trust you will act with moderation, mercy, and charity…9
Freemasonry in South Carolina had been brought to the brink of the abyss by the stresses of war. She did survive, however, and begin to rebound once the conflict and its aftermath had subsided and – from the end of this dark period – examples of what Freemasonry is all about can be found. The acts of Brotherly love displayed by Masons in the states that had been the enemies of South Carolina was duly recorded in the proceedings of the Grand Lodge annual communication of November 1866. These included such things as: one thousand dollars donated to the South Carolina Grand Lodge by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; a new set of jewels donated to Orange Lodge No. 14 by “some wealthy brethren in Boston;” from a New York Mason, a return to Landmark Lodge No. 76 of a Past Master’s jewel which had been stolen during the war; and the return by a Illinois Brother of the warrant of constitutions which had been taken from Allen Lodge No. 38.10

War can stress Freemasonry and push her to the brink, but it can not kill her.

1, Cornwell, Ross & Willis, Samuel M. A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina; The Years 1860 - 1919. The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, 1979, p. 9.
2. Ibid, p. 10.
3. Ibid, pp. 10-11.
4. Ibid, pp. 12-13.
5. Ibid, p. 15.
6. Ibid, p 16.
7. Ibid, p 16.
8. Ibid. pp 18-19.
9. Ibid, p. 19.
10. Ibid, p. 23.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shifting Out of Neutral: Reengaging the Craft

See also: “The Decline of Civil Society and the Rise of Freemasonry.”
[Author’s Note: This piece was inspired by a very timely talk given by my Grand Master at a very recent District Inspirational Meeting.]

It probably can be safely said and generally agreed upon that the Brotherhood that is Freemasonry has been idling in neutral for at least several decades now. This is not to claim that Freemasonry has not been involved in sustaining herself – despite some negative trends and actions that have sometimes eroded the Fraternity’s collective character – but a statement of presumed fact as pertains to Freemasonry’s role in general society.

Let it be made clear that Freemasonry as an entity does not engage in the shaping of society. However, the lessons contained in Freemasonry have often been an integral factor when individual Masons became involved in shaping – or building – society. Some of the best examples of this can be found in the Revolutionary and Constitution-writing eras of the United States. During that time period, society was in a state of turmoil in this nation and Freemasonry was very well represented among the men that stood up and provided the leadership and action needed to guide society through the trials and tribulations of those times. Known and productive society was unraveling during those days some two hundred plus years ago and many Freemasons were instrumental in bringing order – an order based on liberty – out of the chaos.

Many people now feel that known and productive society is again unraveling. As was the case with the years leading up to the American Revolution, this unraveling did not happen overnight. Rather, it has taken years to occur – one loosened strand at a time – and Freemasons have, in large part, sadly stood idle as it has happened.

Despite this, there are signs that the Craft is beginning to shift out of neutral and again engage in the business of providing the leadership and action needed to shape societal direction. The bad news is that there is a massive learning curve to overcome – being that it has been a very long time since this type of activity was engaged in. The Fraternity will have to shake off its collective social club mentality if it is to be successful in teaching its members how to reengage in the shaping of general society. It will also have to relearn the concept of positive elitism or exclusiveness. It will have to reeducate itself on the real purpose of Freemasonry, which has little to do with maintaining a physical building or bringing in new members.

The learning curve can be overcome and there are more and more signs that point to a shift in thinking that will defeat that curve. Assuming these steps will be successful; the Craft will indeed no longer be sitting in neutral and will reengage general society.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Working without a Paycheck – Revisited

First, see Working without a Paycheck.

I had the pleasure of conducting – what we call in my Grand Jurisdiction – an official visit to a two hundred and fifty-three year old lodge last night that was conferring a Third Degree. This lodge has a proud history and its members obviously are fully cognizant of their lineage.

In one of the very few times since I started conducting official visits, I – a Grand Lodge officer – felt like the underdressed fellow in the lodge. I was in my standard coat and tie with my Grand Lodge regalia but I was surrounded by lodge officers wearing tuxedos and white gloves. It looked almost as though they had chosen a uniform for the entire officer corps. Despite looking like “country come to town,” I was greeted with wonderful hospitality and perfect respect for the position I occupy in the Grand Jurisdiction.

The full proficiency delivered by the Third Degree candidate was almost flawless and the degree work itself was superb. The care that the lodge takes in providing for quality experiences for their candidates was very evident. The presence of the candidate’s father and grandfather – both of whom had travelled great distances to attend – was the cherry on the top of my visit.

The pay continues to be so very good in this job.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welcome to the Palmetto Mason

This is the site that has grown out of the now quiet The Masonic Line. Regular readers of The Masonic Line will be familiar with many of the articles to be found here as well as the layout and general feel of the site.

Part of what has changed, however, is my general direction. Much more emphasis will be placed on Masonic research, pertinent news, and other suitable tidbits related to Freemasonry. In addition, comments will be more heavily moderated than what some may have been used to at The Masonic Line.

As it was at The Masonic Line, esoteric discussions or internal Lodge or Grand Lodge business will not be entertained and acknowledgment of anyone as a regular and recognized Freemason will not occur unless I know beyond a reasonable doubt that such a status exists. If you are a regular and recognized Freemason, please do not take offense if I do not exchange the normally appropriate greetings with you.

I hope that all who visit will enjoy this blog and maybe even gain a little knowledge or food for thought.

And just so the regular readers of The Masonic Line will really feel at home...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Freemasonry on the Moon

Tomorrow marks the fortieth anniversary of the first landing on the Moon by humankind. The second man to step foot on the Moon on 20 July 1969 was Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. – a Freemason from Clear Lake Lodge No. 1417 in Texas. Reportedly, Aldrin carried with him a small embroidered flag representing the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. All types of conspiracy theorists have jumped all over that little piece of information. Heck, if Freemasons are already ruling the Earth it is only logical that they extend their reach to our closest neighbor in the Heavens.

It has long been circulated that the first man on the Moon, Neil A. Armstrong, was also a Mason. That does not appear to be the case. Even if Armstrong had been a Mason, it would still have been impossible to open Lunar Lodge No. 1 on 20 July 1969 since – as all Freemasons know – it takes more than two to do such a thing.

Besides – they would never have been able to get those altar candles to light in the Moon’s non-existent atmosphere.

The Purpose of Grand Lodge and Lodge Web Sites

Masonic Traveler over at Freemason Information has got a pretty interesting project going on. He is going State-by-State and examining Grand Lodge web sites. He has recently examined and commented on the web site of the Grand Lodge of California and – in a comment to his postTom Accuosti has posed an interesting question about the web sites. “Are they geared toward public use, or are they geared toward existing members?”

That is a very good question that could equally be extended to lodge web sites. I know that my own lodge’s site is primarily for the benefit of the members and I would have to say that my Grand Lodge’s site leans the same way. I have seen some other Grand Lodge and lodge web sites that seem to be aimed more towards the general public.

But what should the purpose of the sites be? Should they be primarily for the membership or for the public? The answer is ultimately up to each Grand lodge and lodge, but I do think that there should be a happy balance – with the balance tilting in favor of the existing membership.

If a site is geared too much towards public consumption, it runs the risk of having the appearance of solicitation or advertising. If there is nothing there, however, for the public; then an avenue has been blocked for men in this “Google” age to inquire about Freemasonry. Besides, there are plenty of web sites that will mislead the public about Freemasonry and the Grand Lodge web sites probably should be balancing this out with some accurate information.

As for tilting towards the existing membership, I believe the primary purpose of web sites should be to provide a means for easily spreading information to the members in a cost saving way. Calendars, newsletters, research sources, and messages to the Craft are just some of the things that can be included on web sites – as long as sensitive information is not involved – and can go a long ways towards saving on the cost of postage.

Personally, I look forward to Masonic Traveler’s continued examination of Grand Lodge web sites. Once he has completed this large project, it might be interesting to rank the sites according to which way they are geared – to the public or to the membership.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

GWMM on YouTube

While looking for something else on YouTube, I came across the following videos. The official web site of the George Washington Masonic Memorial can be found at http://www.gwmemorial.org/.

Working without a Paycheck

It has become my running little piece of humor – when Brothers inquire about how my time as a Grand Lodge officer is going – to reply with, “The Grand Master is working me hard and he doesn’t pay worth a durn (“darn” for you Northerners).”

Recently, during a long and late-night ride back home from an official visit to a lodge, I got to thinking about my little one liner. I do work hard for Freemasonry and I imagine that many of the folks reading this do the same. We serve as officers; participate in the various events of our lodges; learn ritual; and spend hard-earned money on dues, donations, and memberships in research societies – all without a paycheck from the Fraternity that we work so hard for.

I work hard at my usual vocation and I enjoy it to a certain extent. But I am like most folks in that I go to work in order to sustain or improve a certain level of lifestyle for myself and my family. To put it bluntly – I work at my usual vocation in order to get a paycheck. But why do so many work so hard for Freemasonry without the benefit of a paycheck at the end of the month?

Love – It has to be all about love. We love the Fraternity and what it stands for. We love being involved in sustaining her and being involved with our Brothers. We love talking and learning about Freemasonry. We love teaching others what we have learned through Freemasonry. We even love being involved in helping to get Freemasonry back on the right path after we – as imperfect men – have caused her to drift away from the proper course. Something about all of this is ultimately satisfying and maybe it is there – in that satisfaction of being involved in what we love – that we can find the pay for our toils.

There is no paycheck…but there is pay and this gig pays well.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Looks and Acts Like a Mason

Once upon a time, one of my many duties that I have had in the military included the review and processing of the evaluations prepared on officers and non commissioned officers. Sometimes, comments would be placed on these evaluations by less than fully inspired or imaginative evaluators. One of my all-time favorites went something like this: “Looks and acts like an officer” or “Looks and acts like a soldier.” I often asked myself when I saw these types of comments, “What in the heck else is he supposed to look and act like?”

If written evaluations were conducted on individual Freemasons, a comment of “looks and acts like a Mason” would probably be a bit more powerful than its military counterpart. Unlike members of the military, Masons do not wear standardized uniforms and they are not subject to a rigid structure that – by legal force if necessary – controls almost all aspects of their daily lives. There is much more free will involved in looking and acting like a Mason than is involved in looking and acting like a soldier.

There is also another aspect to be considered here. There is really only one way for service members to look and act. But how does one determine the way that a Mason is to look and act? If you asked a hundred Masons this question, you would probably get about a hundred different answers. I do think, however, that most dedicated Freemasons can generally agree that if the individual Mason looks and acts in such a way so as to bring honor to the Fraternity, then he looks and acts like a Mason.

What say you? What constitutes looking and acting like a Mason?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Elusive Brother De Kalb

So there lies the brave De Kalb; the generous stranger who came from a distant land to fight our battles, and to water with his blood the tree of our liberty. Would to God he had lived to share its fruits![i]
– George Washington as he gazed upon De Kalb’s grave.

The Baron de Kalb’s heroics during the American Revolution – as well as his military activities in France prior to him arriving in the Colonies – are rather well documented but there remains an elusive aspect of De Kalb’s life. The particulars pertaining to where and when De Kalb became a Freemason continue to hide themselves from researchers.

That De Kalb was a Freemason there is little doubt as his contemporaries clearly regarded him as such. Following his death on 19 August 1780 from wounds received at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, he was buried with Masonic honors by a military lodge attached to the very British Army that he had opposed and the British commander, Lord Cornwallis, reportedly personally performed the Masonic ceremony.[ii]

There is another well documented acknowledgement of De Kalb’s membership in the fraternity of Freemasons. Known Freemason, close friend of De Kalb, and fellow Revolutionary War general – the Marquis de Lafayette – returned to the United States from France in 1824 and – on 9 March of the following year – presided over the Masonic cornerstone laying ceremony at the monument erected at the site in Camden, South Carolina, where De Kalb’s remains had been re-interred.[iii]

The fact remains, however, that no researcher has been able to pinpoint with accuracy the time and place that De Kalb became a Freemason – though there is one very plausible theory that involves General Mordecai Gist and a military lodge. Gist, who would later become the second Grand Master of the Ancient York Masons of South Carolina, was in proximity to De Kalb on the right side of the Patriot line during the Battle of Camden. Gist – at the time of the battle – was the Master of Army Lodge Number 27, which had been warranted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, and commander of the Second Maryland Brigade, which was part of the Maryland Line commanded by De Kalb.
…and the Baron DeKalb, if not made in it [Army Lodge No. 27], doubtless affiliated therein, while the “Maryland Line” were serving under his command in General Gates’ army of the South.[iv]
The search for Brother De Kalb’s elusive Masonic beginnings continues.

[i] Griswold, Rufus W. Washington and the Generals of the American Revolution, Volume II. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1856, p. 271.
[ii] Chaplin, W.J., Editor. The Michigan Freemason, Volume VIII. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Ihling Brothers, 1877, p. 109.
[iii] Meace, Eric A. Of Heroes, Masons Trowels and Jewels. http://www.scgrandlodgeafm.org/History/LafayetteTrowel.htm (Accessed 7 June 2009).
[iv] Grand Lodge of A.F. & A.M. of Maryland. Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Maryland. Baltimore: Griffin, Curley & Co, 1887, p. 8 of the Oration of Carter, John M.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Masonic Communication or Conversation

Interesting discussions and debates are often generated when attempts are made to define exactly to what “Masonic communication” refers beyond – of course – the use of the term to indicate a formal meeting of a Masonic lodge or Grand Lodge.[i] To avoid confusion, “conversation” should probably replace “communication” when dealing with the subject of individuals talking or corresponding about Masonic subjects.

Just as it regards non-Masons, it is generally well accepted that regular and recognized Freemasons “are forbidden to associate or converse on Masonic subjects” with clandestine Masons.[ii] What exactly does “associate or converse” mean? No reasonable person should think that the prohibition on association and conversation should include social, vocational, or religious contact with those that do not belong to regular and recognized Freemasonry – as long as such contact is not for the purpose of discussing Masonic subjects. But herein may be the root cause of debates concerning this subject. What exactly are Masonic subjects and what is considered Masonic conversation?

Some Masons take the position that Masonic subjects are limited to those involving certain esoteric teachings and rituals of the Fraternity or – more specifically – the modes of recognition and that the discussion of such with another is the only thing that amounts to Masonic conversation. Some will take it a step further and include in the definition of a Masonic subject the tiled proceedings of a lodge or Grand Lodge that take place behind closed doors. Others are broader when defining Masonic conversation and feel that acknowledging another – without concrete evidence – as a Freemason amounts to Masonic conversation. Then there are those that go to the extreme of not discussing any aspect of Freemasonry or disclosing that that they are a Freemason except with and to those that they have indisputable knowledge that confirms the other man’s status as a regular and recognized member of the Fraternity.

This subject has become very pertinent in the last few years as more and more Masons are using the Internet to correspond and discuss the Fraternity. Grand Lodges and individual Masons are wrestling with how to use the Internet for the good of Freemasonry and their own Masonic self-development while – at the same time – ensuring that inappropriate Masonic communication or conversation does not occur. Without a doubt, the Internet is a medium that the Freemasons of old did not anticipate or plan for and many of the constitutions of Grand Lodges do not adequately address the issue of online sites and forums. The obligation of an Entered Apprentice – as is used in most Grand Jurisdictions – does, however, address the issue and as long as Masons abide by such there should be no real problems.

[i] Mackey, Albert G. as revised by Hawkins, Edward L., An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences, Volume I, New York and London: The Masonic History Company, 1914, p. 170.
[ii] Ibid, p. 154.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Reminders are All Around Us

As we approach Memorial Day 2009, one normally only has to look around his lodge room during a meeting to see living reminders of what the day is all about. If your lodge is anything like mine, you are surrounded by veterans of wars and conflicts ranging from World War II to the current Global War on Terrorism. During this past week alone, I have sat in various Masonic meetings with veterans that represented of all these wars and all of the branches of service.

These men are the living reminders of those for which Memorial Day exists – the ones who lost their lives in the defense of the United States of America. You can bet your bottom dollar that they remember those who died because they were their peers, friends, and loved ones. Many people today think of a military grave marker when they reflect on the reason for Memorial Day. The veterans have something more. They have the memories – which they carry with them everyday – of real faces, conversations, shared trials and tribulations, handshakes, and hugs.

The veterans are walking memorials to those that did not make it home. They are the reminders that are all around us. Please take time this Memorial Day to thank a veteran – inside and outside of Freemasonry. That veteran will surely pass on your feelings to the memories – his friends – that he carries within him.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Invitational Bodies

Sprinkled throughout the multitude of appendant – or side – bodies of Freemasonry, there are those that require invitations in order for Masons to be accepted into them. An example of these invitational bodies can be found in the Allied Masonic Degrees, or AMD, where each Council is limited to a membership of twenty-seven.

Some Masons have commented that having invitational bodies associated with Freemasonry is an affront to a fraternal system that is predicated upon the ideas of equality and meeting on the level. Individual feelings about this issue may well depend upon the point of view of the observer – including his personal experiences as relates to invitational bodies.

Assuming that a Mason has not used some sort of campaign to gain entry into an invitational body, the extension of an invitation can be quite an honor. The invitation indicates that his Masonic peers, who happen to already belong to the invitational body, have recognized something extraordinary in the Mason and that they desire to add his knowledge, experiences, or attributes to the group. A look to the example of the invitation-only Allied Masonic Degrees offers a glimpse of this process. The Allied Masonic Degrees in North America tends to be a research minded organization and, therefore, it not uncommon for Masons with a demonstrated propensity for Masonic research and writing to be the types invited to join.

Problems – or negative perceptions – can occur with invitational bodies because of two types of Masons. One is the Mason who wants to be a part of the body, but is not extended an invitation, and becomes bitter and resentful. The other is the Mason who is invited but then uses his membership in the body to – in his own mind – elevate himself above Masons who are not members of his invitational body. Both of these types of Masons forget the following important fact. The invitational body is not Freemasonry. It is a side order that does not trump the greatest of titles to be found in Freemasonry itself – Master Mason, Worshipful Master, and Grand Master among the few. All of the possible honorifics from side bodies – invitational or otherwise – can not change the fact that the Third Degree is the highest step in Freemasonry and that there only certain current and former leaders of Freemasonry that are entitled to a certain level of extra respect.

As long as Masons remember that the invitational bodies actually exist outside of Freemasonry proper, equality will still be the rule and all will still be meeting on the level within the Freemasonic Lodge.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Grand Lodge of SC Concludes 272nd Communication

The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina concluded its 272nd Communication today in The Holy City - Charleston, South Carolina. I was only able to attend today's sessions - which included the elections, appointments, and public installations of Grand Lodge officers. See the article in The Post and Courier concerning this event.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

District Deputy Grand Master – Origin of the Position

Most well-read Masons are familiar with the position of Provincial Grand Master, as used by the Grand Lodge of England and – later – the United Grand Lodge of England, and that the man in such a position presided over a Provincial Grand Lodge that was subordinate to the Grand Lodge in London and that the Provincial Grand Master answered directly to the Grand Master in London. Almost all Masons are familiar with a somewhat similar position called District Deputy Grand Master. Though District Deputy Grand Masters do not preside over any sort of Grand Lodge, they do answer to the Grand Master of their Grand Lodge. Like Provincial Grand Masters, District Deputy Grand Masters exist because it is practically impossible for a Grand Master to personally provide for the government of his Grand Lodge due to distances and/or the shear numbers of lodges within his Grand Jurisdiction.

But when did the idea of District Deputy Grand Masters first come about? Which Grand Lodge first instituted the position? The first mention of a position titled District Deputy Grand Master in the Grand Lodge of South Carolina can be found in the proceedings of a Quarterly Communication of that body on 3 December 1844.
At this Communication an amendment to the Constitution was adopted, dividing the State into five Districts, and placing over each a District Deputy Grand Master, who was to be either a member of the Grand Lodge, or a representative of one of the Lodges, and whose duty it was to visit the Lodges in his district, and to decide all appeals until the decision of the Grand Lodge could be obtained.[i]
When Albert G. Mackey published The History of Freemasonry in South Carolina in 1861, this was his only mention of a position called District Deputy Grand Master. Though he does not explain why, Mackey went on to state that the District Deputies were never appointed and that the amendment was omitted in later revisions of the Constitution.[ii] Therefore, as late as 1861, the position did not exist within the Grand Lodge of South Carolina and this author does not currently know when the position was formally adopted.

Additional information from the readers concerning this subject will be welcomed.

[i] Mackey, Albert G., M.D., The History of Freemasonry in South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Steam Power Press, 1861, p. 333.
[ii] Ibid, p. 334.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Masonic Relief: An Eyewitness Account

Last year’s Junior Warden of my Lodge made less than half of the regular communications during his term in office due to his poor health. He was diagnosed with cancer and it was and is doing its best to destroy his body. This former Junior Warden truly loves the Craft and his Lodge. He was also very active in several other bodies such as the York and the Scottish Rites.

We all knew about his declining health but what we didn’t know about – he being a proud man – were his financial troubles that were byproducts of his health issues. It was actually by accident that we discovered the depth of the financial problems when I made a phone call to him one evening a few months ago to check on him. During the course of the conversation I learned that his electricity was close to being turned off. Other than for his home, almost everything had been repossessed from this hardworking man – truck, boat, etc.

Following that conversation and after taking a few moments to say a prayer in my backyard, I put the phone to good use and spread the word to the “movers and shakers” of my Lodge. The District Deputy Grand Master was also alerted and we fired up the Lodge’s Masonic Relief Committee. The paperwork involved with requesting relief funds from the Grand Lodge Masonic Relief Committee was expedited and the Grand Lodge issued emergency funds even before the paperwork was completed. Within a few weeks, not less than one thousand dollars rolled in from “passing the hat” efforts in my Lodge and in our sister Lodges in the District. The local York Rite Bodies joined in the effort and collected more donations. Our past Junior Warden’s lights are still on and they will not be darkened.

He is not out of the woods and his health is steadily deteriorating, but we will make sure that his basic necessities are taken care of. If and when he succumbs to the cancer, I am confident that his widow will be looked after in the same manner.

This is the way we do it here. We do not engage in institutionalized charity for the masses or throw money at things like the child ID programs. We concentrate our efforts on our Brethren, their widows, and their orphans.