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.