Late on Friday evening, 22 April 2011, the South Carolina Masonic Research Society (SCMRS) concluded its first Banquet and Symposium in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, which is right across the Cooper River from downtown Charleston – the seat of Southern secession and home of so much Masonic history. The theme for the symposium was “Freemasonry and the Civil War” – properly referred to as the War Between the States. It was an appropriate theme in that the Country is currently commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the start of that terrible war. The immediate Past President of the SCMRS, Worshipful Brother Paul C. Graham, has described it as a “home run” event.
It was truly an enlightening and first-class occasion that featured two internationally known Masons who are accomplished authors and speakers. They were Right Worshipful Brother Michael A. Halleran, author of The Better Angels of our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War and current Grand Junior Warden of the Grand Lodge of Kansas; and Worshipful Brother Wayne E. Sirmon, a Past Master from Alabama, an expert in the Masonic connections surrounding the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, and a member of Lieutenant George E. Dixon’s lodge in Mobile, Alabama. For those that do not know, Brother Dixon was the last commander of the Hunley – the first submarine to sink an enemy ship.
The fellowship, the good food, the period appropriate music, and the diverse crowd of attendees – Confederates, Federals, Brothers, ladies, etc – all added to the special night. It was the type of event that has caused many non-attendees to say “I’d wish I had been there” after they heard how it went.
Grayson W. Mayfield, III DDGM
South Carolina Masonic Research Society
On 19 March 2011, a Lodge of Sorrow was held by the lodges of the Fourth Masonic District, Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina. The Lowcountry Masters and Wardens Club of the Fourth Masonic District took the lead role in the coordination and execution of the event. Despite his very busy schedule, the Grand Master of Masons in South Carolina made it a point to be in attendance.
For those not familiar with a Lodge of Sorrow in South Carolina, the ceremony is not to be confused with a Masonic burial or memorial service. Masonic rites are delivered on the occasion of the internment of an individual Master Mason. The Lodge of Sorrow – though it can be convened for a single deceased Brother – is typically used to honor the memories of multiple Brothers and is not tied to the time of internment. In the Fourth District of South Carolina, a Lodge of Sorrow honors those that have passed during the previous year though, this year, Brothers that passed in 2009 and 2010 were remembered due to an unfortunate hiatus of the ceremony last year.
A Lodge of Sorrow is not esoteric and can be; therefore, open to people that are not Masons. In the case of the Fourth Masonic District’s annual Lodge of Sorrow, widows are specifically invited to the ceremony. It is a somber and beautiful occasion. Some even describe it as a bit morbid but the beauty of the ceremony still shines through. It can be an emotional experience for those in attendance – especially the family members of the deceased.
Most Masons have never witnessed a Lodge of Sorrow. Despite its beautiful and reflective nature, it requires much logistical planning and practice in order to properly perform the ceremony. It is most likely because of the time and work required that the Fourth Masonic District of South Carolina may be the only place that one can currently witness the event in the Palmetto State. The good news, however, is that interest in the ceremony is being revived. In fact, a District Deputy Grand Master from another District attended the ceremony and took notes back to his District. A seed may have been planted.
It should probably go without saying that the entire system of Masonic correspondence and the Masonic experience were never designed to operate in a modern world now dominated by Internet forms of communication and information. Though this can also be said about other organizations, Freemasonry is rather unique in its slow moving, deliberate, and useful process of making changes. The result is that Freemasonry as an institution has been one of the slowest to embrace Internet technology and equally slow in recognizing the implications that this technology can and will have on the Fraternity.
The fact, however, is that the Internet is here and is being used by many as their primary form of communication and information gathering. Freemasonry is not immune from this trend. Men are now very likely to use their electronic devices to search for information about Freemasonry, search for lodges in their communities, and to make inquiries about becoming a Freemason. The old norm of a man personally asking a Mason about the Fraternity is quickly being eroded.
In addition, individual Masons and lodges are turning more and more to the Internet as a way to communicate with each other. Lodges has discovered, for example, that newsletters can be emailed for far more cheaply that they can be sent out via the Postal Service. Grand Masters have also realized that email is a cheaper and quicker way to relay information to District Deputy Grand Masters and other Grand Lodge officers.
Websites have also become a way to provide information that otherwise would not have been easily available to many people. Calendars of events, locations of lodges, and contact information for lodges are all items that are increasingly being provided by way of websites. In this day and age, many people have sort of adopted a mindset of, “if an organization does not have a website, then it does not really exist.”
All of this notwithstanding, the Internet is not the answer to all of Freemasonry’s information and correspondence needs. It is just a tool among others. It is a powerful tool, however. It is also one that can be used – intentionally or unintentionally – to cause great harm to the Fraternity. That may be the primary reason for Freemasonry at all levels to embrace the Internet. Yes – it should be embraced for the good that it can be used for, but it should also be embraced as a potential enemy to Freemasonry. “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”* If the institution of Freemasonry does not know about how the Internet can be – and is - applied as a weapon against the Fraternity, then it can not be prepared to deal with the implications of such.
* Sun-tzu, Chinese general & military strategist (~400 BC)
What is Freemasonry? If this question was asked of ten different Masons, there would very possibly be up to ten different answers returned. Undoubtedly, Freemasonry means many different things to its different Brothers on the surface of their consciousness and thoughts. But what if individual Masons were asked to boil down Freemasonry to its core purpose after much reflection as opposed to going with the answer that may readily come from the surface of their thoughts? Discovering Freemasonry’s core purpose – if there is one – would define its true meaning and reason for existence.
Like many Freemasons, I have contemplated on this subject for years. I have found that my classification of the core purpose has changed more than once over time as I have studied, pondered, and consulted with other Freemasons. It was this process that ultimately resulted in a personal “light bulb” moment. This process of studying, contemplating, and learning was itself the core purpose. Freemasonry is a school.
Unlike traditional schools and though specifics can sometimes be identified in the lessons, Freemasonry does not primarily teach specific knowledge. It does not teach the specifics of geometry, logic, music, or any other subject. Instead, it teaches its students how to learn and it does so in a very non-traditional manner.
It is non-traditional in that it is not readily obvious. Freemasonry’s teaching method forces the willing student to think outside of the normal educational paradigm. It attempts to educate its students on the art of learning and that all of one’s senses and resources should be brought to bear. But it does not, however, overtly identify this goal to the Masonic student. It only hints at this process of, for lack of a better phrase, self education. Willing students are forced to become their own professors that are, ideally, consulting with others that are also their own Masonic professors. Freemasonry’s school is also non-traditional in that one can never graduate from it. Diplomas of graduation are not issued and there are no officially identified teachers. All of its students are also its teachers.
Once a student of Freemasonry recognizes the teaching method and begins to practice it, the other possible purposes and meanings of Freemasonry began to make sense and concepts of such things as Brotherly love, charity, etc can be better understood in their proper context.
Of course, the school of Freemasonry does have an administration and a structure in place. This is absolutely necessary in order to preserve, protect, and promote the somewhat unusual teaching method and the ritual behind such. Without the structure and the administrators, Freemasonry’s school would quickly find its foundations eroded and the real purpose would, therefore, be lost.
Of course, I may have this all wrong. That is why I will stay in school for the rest of my days.
The Society is proud to announce the first South Carolina Masonic Research Society Banquet and Symposium, which will be held on April 22, 2011, at 7:00 PM in the Omar Shrine Temple, 176 Patriots Point Street, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina 29464. The cost is $25.00 per person and this will be a formal or semi-formal dress event. Period dress from the time period of the War Between the States is also invited and encouraged. A catered meal will be provided.
The keynote speaker will be Worshipful Brother Michael A. Halleran, author of The Better Angels of our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War. Halleran is a freelance writer and a practicing attorney in the Flint Hills of East-Central Kansas. A lecturer at Emporia State University, he is also an active Freemason, belonging to both Emporia Lodge No. 12, AF&AM, and Mount Zion Lodge No. 266, AF&AM, Topeka, Kansas. Halleran received the Mackey Award for Excellence in Masonic Scholarship by the Scottish Rite Research Society for his article on Civil War Freemasonry in that society’s journal: Heredom, vol. 14 (2006). In addition, he is the author of a regular column for The Scottish Rite Journal. He is a member of the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle, and the Scottish Rite Research Society where he studies American military Masonry and the traditions of military lodges worldwide. See: http://michaelhalleran.com/.
We are further proud to announce that Worshipful Brother Wayne Sirmon, of Alabama, will also be a speaker at this event. Sirmon brings to us a deep knowledge of the CS Hunley and the Masonic connections surrounding that vessel. Sirmon is currently the Master of the Texas Lodge of Masonic Research.
This will not be a tiled event and you are encouraged to invite your non-Mason friends and family members – especially those that have an interest in history. Your Society’s officers look forward to seeing you at this quality event which will be filled with first class education and fellowship.
From Michael Karpovage, author of "Betrayed By A Mason? The Tragic Mission of Lt. Thomas Boyd.": "This article appeared in October 2010 issue of the The Plumbline, A Quarterly Bulletin of the Scottish Rite Research Society. Essentially it is an in-depth assessment of one of the most heinous torture deaths in the American Revolution, but from a Freemason perspective because of what happened between enemy Freemasons. It's an exposé between the American scout Thomas Boyd, and his British adversaries Colonel John Butler and Chief Joseph Brant at the end of the famed Sullivan Expedition of 1779. It's one of those lost moments in history that I had heavily researched for my new mystery thriller novel Crown of Serpents. I'm hoping this article sheds further light on an extraordinary incident in both Masonic and military history between two nations in a most horrible time of war."
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