A Focus on Masonic Research, News, and other Tidbits

Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Origins of Memorial Day and a Masonic Connection

Despite the fact that President Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1966, declared the birthplace and birth date of Memorial Day to be Waterloo, New York, on 5 May 1866 – there remains much mystery and variety of opinions concerning the actual first observance of what is now known as Memorial Day. It may come as a shock to some to learn that the origins of the day may have actually been of primarily Southern and Confederate invention. There are recorded observances of some sort of days of remembrance in such places as Columbus, Mississippi; Macon, Georgia; and Richmond, Virginia – all taking place in 1866. The one in Columbus, Mississippi, was recorded as taking place on 25 April 1866 when women decorated the graves of Confederate – and later – Union soldiers.

In all likelihood, Memorial Day was probably born from several events that took place in the North and South. Several Southern states still observe Memorial Days specifically set aside to honor their Confederate dead.

John A. Logan gets primary credit for institutionalizing Memorial Day. A Union Major General – Logan, as national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed a day of remembrance for 30 May 1868. Logan was a Master Mason from Illinois, having been raised in Mitchell Lodge No. 85 in Pinckneyville, Illinois, well before the beginning of the War Between the States.

Regardless of the origins of this day – let us all pause, reflect, and honor the memories of those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.

References:

1. Denslow, William R. with foreword by Truman, Harry S., 10,000 Famous Freemasons from K to Z, Part Two, Reprinted from the Transactions of the Missouri Lodge of Research, pp. 99-100.
2. SUVCW and Merchant, David, Memorial Day History. http://www.usmemorialday.org/backgrnd.html (Accessed May 31, 2010)
3. United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Memorial Day History. http://www1.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp (Accessed May 31, 2010)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book: The Lodge of Washington and Its Past Masters

The Lodge of Washington and Its Past Masters
By Donald M. Robey

Published 2008 by Anchor Communications, LLC
(http://www.goanchor.com/); Lancaster, VA 22502. Hard Cover, 200 pgs, 8-1/2 X 11 with Color Dust Jacket.; $30.00 plus $3.89 S&H.

Donald M. Robey, Past Grand Master of Masons of Virginia, has compiled a detailed book concerning the historical Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22. This book should be of interest to even those outside of the Commonwealth of Virginia due to connections that many Masons feel with one of this old lodge’s early Masters – George Washington.

See http://www.aw22.org/documents/Lodge_of_Washington.pdf for a review of the book and ordering instructions. Note: As of 6 April 2010, the total price – including shipping – is $33.89 according to correspondence received by me from the author.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Commentary: Should All Good Men Be Made Masons?

“Freemasonry: Making Good Men Better” is an often seen and heard phrase that is intended to wrap up the core purpose of Freemasonry into a nice, neat slogan. It is not a bad slogan, but does it go far enough? Does it really separate Freemasonry from other organizations and paths that can accomplish the very same thing? Most would agree that religion can better a good man. Very often, marriage can cause a good man to become something even better. Freemasonry does not have a monopoly on the business of making good men better.

I submit that the core purpose of Freemasonry is to make good men – not only into better men – but into Masons. Here is where we arrive at the question posed in the title of this commentary. Should all good men be made Masons? Better yet – Should all good men be eligible to be made Masons? And even further – Are all good men capable of understanding Freemasonry?

Short of the most obvious of qualifications – being a man, of proper age, of satisfactory physical wholeness, with a belief in a Supreme Being – the moral qualification (ie: being a good man) has become the primary consideration exhibited by some Freemasons and some lodges when examining the qualifications of a petitioner and even the Masonic value of an existing member. If a Mason is defined simply as a member of a regular and recognized lodge, all good men are eligible to be made Masons. The missing and often overlooked qualification, however, is that of the mental or intellectual.

It is the proper attention to the mental qualifications of men that has elevated Freemasonry above the many social organizations and fraternities that exist throughout the world. Without these qualifications, a man is unable to participate in what lies behind what it means to be a Freemason. He is unable to embark on a journey of enlightenment – the search for truth and knowledge. He is not capable of recognizing the importance and beauty of the simple structure of Freemasonry. He is unable to learn, understand, or use the rituals and lessons of the Fraternity as a springboard to appreciation of the esoteric truths hidden within. It should go without saying that a man does not have to be the next Einstein, Sagan, or Mackey to meet the necessary mental qualifications. He does, however, need to possess the capability – and desire – to expand his intellectual inventory as relates to what Freemasonry offers.

Though possibly lacking the mental qualifications as described thus far – there are men that have been described as “good Masons” because they are always available and willing to do such things as fry fish for a fundraiser, cut the grass on the lodge grounds, and participate in building maintenance or cleaning projects. These are probably good men and should be respected as such. But are they practicing Freemasonry or are they Masons in name only? Bear in mind that most all of these same tasks can be accomplished by a day laborer for hire. There is certainly nothing wrong with a Mason rolling up his sleeves and providing the necessary labor for the benefit of his lodge, but – if that is all he is capable of – he is not a practicing Freemason. He is a drone. Albert G. Mackey foresaw the danger of these types of Masons in 1875. He described them as…
…those that believe all of the Masonic teachings are imparted by their initiations into the various degrees.

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.

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.1
The acceptance of these types of men into the Ancient Fraternity of Freemasonry does a disservice to the individual man by creating the false impression that he is something that – in all practicality – he is not. It also weakens his lodge and Freemasonry in general since he now has become an example to the profane world and to new Masons. Not all good men are capable of understanding Freemasonry and – therefore – not all good men should be made Masons.

ADDED on 19 September 2010: See also - Should All Good Men be Made Masons? - Revisited.

1. Mackey, Albert G., Reading Masons and Masons Who Do Not Read, Voice of Masonry, June 1875.

Related posts:
Oh, How the Times Never Change
The Life Cycles and Personalities of Lodges

Monday, May 17, 2010

Next Meeting of the South Carolina Masonic Research Society

The next meeting of the South Carolina Masonic Research Society (SCMRS) is scheduled for 12 June 2010, 11:00 AM, in the Charleston Masonic Center located at 1285 Orange Grove Road, Charleston, South Carolina.

From the President of the SCMRS: "One important item of business for the society that we will be discussing is the possibility of our first annual Masonic Research Society Symposium and Banquet. A committee was formed at our last meeting and they will be reporting their finding. They have been in contact with a nationally recognized Masonic author and are in the process of pricing out some venues where this event could take place. This will be a very nice, catered event if we can work out the details and get the support of the members."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Life Cycles and Personalities of Lodges

Lodges have life cycles. They always have and always will. Lodges are born, they grow, they mature, they develop a personality, they become old, some marry (merge with another lodge), and some die. This is the life cycle of a lodge.

All lodges, of course, do not have the same life cycle. Some seem to live almost forever while others pass away while still very young. There are many factors that impact a lodge’s life cycle. Many of these factors come from the profane world and lodges are unable to resist those types of outside influences. Changing community demographics, local economic situations, and even natural disasters can and do influence the life cycle of a lodge.

The one factor that can be controlled by a lodge is its personality. As already mentioned, lodges do develop personalities – just like a person does. A lodge’s personality is developed and changed over long periods of time. Each new member of a lodge adds to the fabric of a lodge’s personality and – maybe more importantly – absorbs the existing personality of the lodge of which he has become a member.

The tough thing for a lodge is the ability – or inability – to recognize how its own personality is influencing its life cycle. Is the personality promoting or hindering a long, productive life cycle? Some often seen lodge personalities can be grouped into the following general categories.

1) The education based personality: Lodges with this type of personality tend to understand and appreciate the beauty of the lessons, structure, and rules of Freemasonry – or at least hunger to learn about those things. The core personality involves the promotion of Masonic education. These lodges usually are growing or are at least stable when it comes to membership numbers. They also usually have good, consistent attendance at the various meetings and events of the lodge. Its members typically look, act, and talk in a way that exemplifies the elevated status that Freemasonry has enjoyed.

2) The social club personality: Lodges that have developed this type of personality often have many members that are more interested in making new members – as opposed to making new Masons – and show little interest in learning about the beauty of the lessons, structure, and rules of Freemasonry. It is often found in these types of lodges that there is a much more relaxed interpretation of the rules and expectations of the Order. Poor attendance often plagues these lodges and there is usually much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth when it comes to the subject of deteriorating membership rolls. From these lodges, one will find – as Albert G. Mackey put it in 1875 – many men who “will give fifty dollars for a decoration, but not fifty cents for a book.”

3) The life support personality: Lodges in both of the previous categories can reach this point. The lodges in the first category can reach it because of the uncontrollable influences of the outside world and the second category lodges can reach it because of their own personality and/or because of the outside influences. The results are the same, however. These are the lodges that are at the end of their life cycle but have failed to adequately and calmly prepare for the end. Everything they do revolves around keeping the lodge alive. These lodges – however well-intentioned – are often dangerous. They are desperate and will do just about anything to survive. They often fail to adequately guard the West Gate when they get the rare petition and they are typically the type of lodge that continuously reaches out to the profane community to pay their bills by way of fundraisers.

There are certainly variations and intermingling of the lodge personalities just described. In other words, there are lodges that possess both the first and second personalities. A question that Masons should ask themselves from time to time is “what is the personality of my lodge and how is it influencing its life cycle?”

Saturday, May 1, 2010