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When the Muse Fell Silent

By WB Mike Priddy

Writers go through periods when the muse is simply silent, and the words do not come. Last year, during the last weeks leading up to the presidential election, I began to feel my voice diminish until it finally fell silent. Only in the last few days has it returned, and so here I am.

As Masons we share many traits but principally the compulsion to become better men. What makes our fraternity so great is that this simple idea expresses itself through so many different personalities. Each personality presents unique challenges to the desire to improve, like different stones present different challenges to the mason as they are worked into perfect ashlars.

During these fallow months I, being an introvert, have explored the landscape of my own personality as if instinctively knowing that I needed to reconnect with something deeply personal before my muse would return. That instinct was, or rather is, correct.

During the furor of the election I felt repulsed by the political conversation. It was angry, base, and worst, for me, of lacking depth. One of the things I found, for myself, is that I am only interested in depth, truth, and meaning. I’m a scientist who rejects the materialism of science and a spiritual person who rejects the blind faith of religion as taught by man. Science can be cold and inhuman without spirit, and religion can be divisive and cruel with out compassion. I crave depth and multiple dimensions in my truths. For me these deep truths are the foundations of a Mason’s “internal castle”, to quote Theresa of Avilla. She saw spiritual advancement as an exploration of an internal castle, and the layers of your soul as a series of concentric walls that surround your true self, your divine spark. To take the analogy farther if the foundation is not true, the castle will fall, no matter how well it’s built. Conversely a modest castle built on a strong foundation might stand for centuries.

So, we are all adults. Our castles are at least partially built. That does not mean we are done with our foundation work. Freemasons have always stood against the forces that would erode or society and we have often been the vanguard of progress. I like to imagine us as a line of defensive castles on the frontier of society, providing a solid defense against the darkness and a forward position from which to launch assaults into that darkness. That said; if we as men are going to take our position on the front line we need to ensure our foundations are strong. We must, from time to time, venture in to the deepest basements of our personality and look for flaws and cracks, in a word weakness.

While this particular approach might be uniquely suited for an introverted man like myself, I think it has value for everyone. Just as I find value in sharing my thoughts with others, and thereby testing them, I think the extraverted brother might find value in taking the time to look within, at those core beliefs and traits that identify us as unique individuals. Look beyond the stories other people have written for you, beyond the chips and cracks that life has made in your foundation and see who you are at your core. These journeys into the hidden parts of our personality can be daunting, but as a Freemason you are fortunate, you are not alone in the journey. You have brethren who have made the journey and can act as guides. Our Craft in all its manifestations, Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, or York Rite, all offer maps for this journey. In fact the fundamental nature of all the degree systems is this internal journey in search of universal truth and enlightenment. The pattern is a type of solar cycle, as the sun descends into darkness to be reborn each day, so you as a Mason are called to travel into the darkness in search of the Light.

So for me, this time, my muse led me into the dark. She waited until I was deep in the basement of my soul before she spoke. There in the dark she showed me my silence was not inactivity, but rather a time alchemical transformation, digesting my experience of a troubled time into an insight into my own spirit. She was never absent she was just waiting for me in the dark, so that she might guide me to the Light.

Brethren, Whence came you?

By W:.B:. Mike Priddy

Over the last few months my blogs have been pretty academic and serious in nature. This time I thought I would throw something lighter out for your consideration.

As young Masons we are told we will get an education in the symbols of Masonry, and to be certain we do get some instructions on some of our symbols during the degrees, but it is truly left to us to seek their deeper meaning. As you no doubt know there is something of a cottage industry around the ‘secret’ symbols of Freemasonry, but what most non-masons don’t know is that the symbols we use are so obscure many of us don’t know what they mean!

I have spoken with many of our brothers about our symbols and am always stumped by the lack of interest in personally investigating their meanings. To be clear I don’t mean reading what someone else has written about them but rather a personal quest for esoteric meaning. Each of us has our own story, with our own experiences and perspective. I encourage each of you to take a moment and look at our symbols, and explore the emotions, ideas and memories they elicit. Other men may know more about the traditional meaning of a symbol, but no one knows more about what it says to you than you!

image-1About 10 years ago I was walking through our preparation room, as I had done many times but on this night I was drawn to the circle, point, and two parallel lines which is displayed in all regularly constituted Masonic Lodges. Now I am sure each of you have had the experience of something that has become routine in your life suddenly taking on special significance and meaning. That night this most common of masonic symbols jumped out at me in a completely new way, with meaning and clarity. I saw in that set of symbols a map! I did not know where it pointed, though I should have, but it was clear to me in that instant I was looking at a symbolic representation of the world.

I’ll explain what I saw later, but first I would like to explain something about symbols. We have language that we use every day, which is composed of, letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, syntax and grammar. This method of communication can be very precise and can relay ideas and thoughts between individuals separated by time and space with a clarity and depth that can be startling. Consider the power of the Bible, Koran or Torah. Volumes written centuries ago can still inspire men and women in today’s modern technological and complex world. But before there was the written word our species used another method to communicate, symbols. Much science has been dedicated to the power of symbols, and how in many cases the power of symbols to elicit meaning across not only time and space but also across cultures. Unlike the precise meaning of a word a symbol has layers of meanings and as we study them they can lead us on a journey toward not just the common truth but to universal Truth that only the soul can experience. Because of the depth and power of symbols we can see different meanings in symbols each time we look at them, and yet the sum of the symbol’s meanings over time can become itself a complex tapestry of enlightenment.

Some symbols are natural, ingrained in all people. Carl Jung, a 20th century psychologist called these symbols ‘archetypes’. In our common unconscious for example we all experience symbolic images of Mother, Father, and Shadow and many times they speak to us in dreams as characters representing fundamental human meaning. Other symbols are created, like the US Flag, the square and compass and a red octagon (Stop!).

image-2So, the circle, point and parallel lines are in the rudimentary sense a symbol of moral compass. We all learn this early in our practice as Masons. Let’s say that is a surface meaning, and that there might be another meaning, in this case a map. So how can that be a map? That night when I looked at the parallel lines what jumped out at me was the images of the Holy Saints John standing next to the parallel lines. They were the first clue. You see each Saint in the Catholic tradition has a feast day. Many old churches in Europe face sun rise on the feast day of the Saint they are named after. The early churches like our Lodges are aligned toward the east and since the sun rises in a different place each morning, east was assigned at sunrise on the day of the Saint’s feast. The interesting thing about the two saints John is that their feast days fall very close to the two solstices, approximately June 21st and December 21st, the longest and shortest day of the year. The feast days of the Saints John are June 23rd and December 27th. On Solstices the sun is as far north or south as it travels in the sky, and the lines that represents that southern and northern most point are two parallel, horizontal, lines on maps and globes. These are called the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. The fact that the feast days of these two saints fell near the dates of the solstices, from which the tropics were derived, and that they were standing next to two parallel lines seemed to great a coincidence.

The obvious problem with this idea is that the lines, while parallel, are vertically aligned setting them 90 degrees off. In fact, in my research I discovered that someone had approached Albert Pike years ago with the same idea as mine and Pike had dismissed it for exactly that reason. So for a time I let it go, but I was not satisfied. You see there was another part of the symbol that caught my eye. The Bible at the top of the circle was key to decoding the symbol. As in our Lodges the east is considered, symbolically, to be the direction from which enlightenment comes. That Bible on top seemed to say, “look at me dummy, I’m the east!” If that was true the lines would be oriented correctly, but why would someone draw the symbol on its side? There was an answer and eventually I found it.

When you look at a map you usually turn the map until North is at the top. We call this “orienting” the map. BUT the word orient is Latin for EAST. Why would turning the map to a north alignment be called “easting” the map? Because in medieval times maps had east on top! That’s right, and on those maps the tropics would have been aligned vertically!

image-3These maps were called O and T maps because a circle, the O, represented the earth, and the continents formed a rough T. Now it get’s really interesting. O and T maps sometimes have a dot in the center that represents a city. Do you care to guess what city? It seems the Holy Saints John are pointing us to Jerusalem!

So, while I have no proof that this ancient Masonic symbol is in fact intended to be a map to Jerusalem I think I have shown that it could be. Even if it never was intended to be a map to Jerusalem for me this symbol now is a reminder of our Masonic mythology as well as a reminder to live with in a certain moral and ethical compass. Like many symbols this one has depth for me, and I hope perhaps its does for you too.

Now Brethren I challenge you. Go to Lodge, pick a symbol that speaks to you and explore it, stare at it, research it, meditate on it and listen for that quiet voice in the still parts of your heart. Bring our symbols to life again and you will breathe new Light into your Lodge.image-4

Freemasons… Ministers of Civility?

This is an election year, in case you didn’t notice! It seems to be all anyone is talking about, so I guess I will talk about it too! For must of us its harder and harder not to get caught up in the fervor of this election cycle in our ever increasingly media driven society. Whether its your television, computer, tablet or phone you are probably getting news alerts every few minutes to announce the newest political insult to one candidate or the other (in reality these insults are falling directly on our republic, more on that later). Members of both political extremes would have you believe the United State’s survival is hinged on a single issue, and if you don’t agree you are some kind of traitor. The only breaks seem to be when the news reports on celebrity scandals. Its no wonder ever one is on edge.

Its not news to say that fear is the best motivator of people. Our minds and bodies are wired in such a way that fear can easily override our rational mind and our compassionate heart. This makes sense from a survival point of view, when predators waited behind every tree to attack, but in the modern world it is sometimes misplaced, and can be used to manipulate us. It has long been known that base survival instincts manifest as emotions can be used as tools to control our thoughts, limit our freedom and of course sell us things.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-9-36-17-amOur Constitution guarantees freedom of the press because it’s the best way for the people to communicate with each other and their Government. When it works well it informs citizens of what they need to know to protect their personal interests, and to keep the Government accountable to the people. In principal this is a great and important part of our Republic. Unfortunately like many rights it can also lead to abuses. Much of today’s media has become a platform for retail marketing; this includes social media and with the pretense of reporting important news chooses to bombard you with constant and ever increasing vitriol. Its important to remember that you did not elect the members of the press, and while freedom of the press is crucial to our nation, it is largely a business intended to make money. If they can use fear to do that, well in my opinion, they will do that, its just good business. With twenty four hour a day, seven day a week news telling you to be afraid or angry you have to have come a long way in subduing your passions to resist. I feel I should add here that not all news media is run this way, and not all journalists are profit motivated. I wish I could say that responsible journalism was the norm but I can’t say that.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-9-36-29-amBecause we live such short lives it’s easy to assume this is one of the worst election cycles ever, but that is not true. The election of 1800, between Adams and Jefferson was one of the worst. Through political surrogates they both attacked each other on the most personal issues, portrayed each other in the worst light. In those days our young republic was by no means a sure bet for survival, and everyone knew it. That said, today we remember BOTH Adams and Jefferson as great presidents and patriots and use them as examples of great Americans. This is an important point to remember as we engage in political discussion today. In two hundred years subsequent generations may well wonder what all the fuss was about.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-9-36-41-amSo what has this got to do with Freemasonry? As I have shown in earlier blogs there are elements of our Craft handed down to us that are at least 600 years old. During those centuries we have survived many contentious times, and for the most part have emerged stronger. Operant Masonry survived the great wars over religion in England, as well as wars about the style of government. We survived the wars between England and Scotland, as well as England and France. Speculative Masonry survived the American and French revolutions, as well as the American Civil War. The lessons we learned during those periods of conflict continue to serve us today. A simple example is the prohibition against discussions of politics and religion in Lodge. How long would we have lasted as a guild and then a fraternity if open conflict over monarchy or parliament had erupted or debates between Catholic and Protestant religions? Not long I assure you. Our behavioral strategies go much further than simple prohibitions. A Masonic Lodge culture has evolved in which everyone gets to speak his mind on important decisions, and strong Masters prevent the discourse from becoming contentious and experienced Past Masters soothe ruffled feathers when the decision is made. We can do this because our core beliefs are based in four very important concepts. The first is to preserve the unity of the Craft, a brotherhood based in brotherly love. We can do this because we have as a foundation a belief in Faith, Hope and Charity. Faith in a good God, who will, if we listen, guide us to a better future and a faith in the fundamental good in all men’s hearts, Hope in a better world for ALL people, and Charity which calls all of us to extend a hand in friendship to all people in need, even in the darkest times. I don’t mean to leave you with the impression we are perfect, we are all of us imperfect ashlars seeking to improve ourselves.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-9-36-51-amI would call upon my brethren to remember these principals in the weeks to come, leading up to our next election. Within our Lodges we have maintained, for the most part, something becoming increasingly difficult to find in the outer world, civility. This is something we as Masons can bring to the larger world. In a time of so much passionate division, men who have learned to subdue their passions can be of crucial importance. We should counter unbridled passions in debate with reason and civility, remembering that like in Lodge when the decision is made we are still a Nation, and we must cherish that nation at least as much as our opinions. As Masons we should recognize that the United States was the first nation to adopt so many Masonic tenets and it remains the best example of the world we would create as any nation on earth. We should meet darkest despair with the light of a divine hope that permeates our Craft, and with Charity in our hearts gently remind our countrymen (and women) that each person has his or her own story that makes their beliefs valid to them. We could remind our friends and family of our shared humanity, that we all have hopes, and dreams as well a fears, no one thinks they are doing wrong.

Finally Brethren, lead through example. While you might leave the Lodge after the Volume of Sacred Law is closed, you carry your obligations in your heart. Lead by example. Become your best version of the embodiment of your obligation as an example of others. Respect the opinions of others as part of respecting their humanity. Remember that at the center of the black and white tiled floor sits the altar of Masonry. It is in balance we find our civility. It is my opinion that this is our opportunity to become ministers of civility to a world that has for now lost sight of the value of civil discourse.

God bless the United States of America, and all good Masons everywhere.

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The Evolution of the Craft Through the Old Charges

In my last Blog entry I laid out one way to break down the evolution of the Craft from its medieval origins to today. The way I described the development of the Craft through time was from the perspective of a man on the outside, looking in as an observer. In this entry I will take a different perspective, that of a man within the Craft.

As Masons we enjoy a certain amount of homogeneity of the Craft, such that when we travel geographically as Masons we pretty much understand the ritual and customs of the Lodges we visit, but would this be true if we could travel through time? Would you recognize a Lodge from 1390 C.E.? 1425? 1738? To put this in perspective a Lodge in 1390 could have the grandson of a Templar in attendance, 1425 was 67 years before Columbus landed in the Caribbean, and 1738 was before the US Revolution.

To answer these questions I have turned to what are collectively known as the Old Charges. The Old Charges are essentially the documents that spell out the rules, regulations and customs of Lodges in the time before the 1717 founding of the Grand Lodge of England. I have included Anderson’s Constitution (1738 C.E.) as a bookend to the development of Lodges. There are many Old Charges, but I have selected six (including Anderson). These six are, The Regius Poem 1390 C.E., The Cooke Manuscript 1425 C.E., the two Shaw Statues 1598 and 99 C.E., Old Rules of the Grand Lodge of York 1725 C.E. and Anderson’s Constitution 1738 C.E.

I will not be exploring the history of these documents, as that would be a whole blog in itself, but rather will call out familiar Lodge elements first appearing in Craft development in these documents.

My primary source for this blog is “Old Charges of Freemasonry: From the Original Manuscripts”, by WB Walter William Melnyk, Springfield-Hanby Lodge No. 767 in Springfield, Pennsylvania.

Regius Poem 1390 CE

We will begin with the elements of the Craft that are familiar to all of us that are found in the Regius Poem. Before I begin I have to admit that the language of these ancient documents is difficult to read. I have relied on translations and my best guesses when reading them, however any errors are mine, not those whose translations I relied on.

This period relates to what I called in my last Blog the Operative Era, or the period in which Masons were focused on building with stone. Lodges were at this point in history job site specific and Masons moved from one job to the next.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.48.32 AMBefore I tell you what the Regius Poem said of Masons, lets take just a moment and reflect on the life of a common person. This period is clearly the Middle Ages (476-1400 C.E.), and the feudal and manorial systems were still very much alive. This meant that the ‘average’ person had little property, few freedoms, no education and not much hope for improvement. The Black Death had just passed and the European population was decimated. In short the average person lived a short, difficult life. Now consider the life of a Mason, educated, free to travel and seek better work, free of many of the restrictions of the period. What follows is what these Masons valued and recorded in the Regius Poem.

Geometry, we all know its central place in our Masonic culture, and it shows up immediately in the Regius Poem, as does the man credited with its development Euclid. Its importance to the Craft in 1390 is no less than it is today. What you may not know is that geometry was considered as almost synonymous with architecture. You would also be interested to find the seven liberal arts, more or less as we know them today called out in the poem as valued by Masons.

Education being so important to the early Craft might seem odd, but you have to remember when it came to castles they were the most advanced military technology available at the time, they were the aircraft carriers of their day. Like today those charged with the design and construction of advanced technology, a castle in the Middle Ages, would have had to apply the most sophisticated engineering principals available.

The requirements of candidates would seem familiar, only free men, only men of good reputation (not thieves or murderers), a belief in God is required, as is a healthy body (here it is slightly different than today, but the idea is the same. You must be able to contribute.)

The requirement that a mason be a free man was a little more than you might understand as a modern mason. I have heard many say they thought it was a reflection of ideas concerning slavery in America and that the requirement that a man be free was used as an excuse to prohibit African Americans from membership. While this excuse may have been used, it was not based in fact. In the feudal and manorial systems a common man would have been ‘bonded’ to a lord and his land. You were not free to leave the manor or the service of the lord without the lord’s permission. There were not many free men, so admission to the craft would not have come easily. This apparently is the origin of the requirement that a man be free.

Other elements you would recognize are that all Masters are considered equal, a Mason should respect the chastity of a Brother Masters wife, you must keep secrets, you should obey the law and be a good citizen (subject) and you are expected to aid and support brother Masons. Also the Steward is mentioned as a supplier of refreshment. Masters and Fellows are mentioned, but here I believe Masters are the Masters of Lodges and Fellows are the highest rank under the Master, having the place in Lodge today of a Master Mason.

Cooke Manuscript 1425 CE

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.49.19 AMThe next document I will draw from is the Cooke Manuscript. Even though it was written very near the Regius Poem in time, there are some significant developments in the Craft. I can’t say that these elements did not exist 35 years earlier, but they were not called out.

The Cooke manuscript offers some names we would all recognize, even if they were used differently in the Lodge. This is where we first see the name Tubal Cain and the King of Tyre mentioned. Jabal and Jubal, names similar to names we all know today are discussed. We also see the first mentions of Pythagoras and Hermes in this document.

Much of the wisdom of the Roman world was lost to the West after the fall of Rome, but one book Asclepius of the Corpus Hermeticum (the Corpus is a collection of works attributed to the man Hermes Trismegistus) had survived and Stone Masons were obviously aware of it. The study of geometry had never been lost, nor the names Euclid and Pythagoras.

The importance of two hollow pillars, in which secrets are kept, to the mythology of the Craft is discussed, as is the fact that Masons built King Solomon’s Temple.

To the requirement that a Mason respect the chastity of a Master’s wife a similar requirement for his daughter is added. The use of the word “hele” can be seen in the Cooke manuscript.

Finally, the idea that the Wardens would fill in for an absent Master is spelled out in the Cooke manuscript.

So, while we are talking about men who were definitely stonemasons we can see elements of our Lodge and ritual existed over 600 years ago.

The Shaw Statues 1598 and 1599 CE

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.49.46 AMThe two Shaw Statutes bring us much closer to the Craft we know today. The first thing that they reveal is the presence of geographically fixed Lodges. Kilwinning and Edinburgh Lodges specifically are addressed in the Statutes. Before this period Lodges are generally discussed as temporary buildings and meeting places, here they exist, as we know them today, linked to a location. This is probably due in part to the evolutions of cities and towns in the period between 1390 and 1598. It should be noted that in the new cities and towns the men who governed, Burgesses, were often guild members. This reflects the development of a middle class that was dominated by crafts and businesses.

Other elements that are familiar are the presence of Deacons, the unanimous agreement of Masters, Wardens and Deacons on the admittance of an apprentice (someone different than today) and the idea that Lodges were somewhat sovereign under its master. Today each degree requires a minimum number of members to open, and the Cooke manuscript requires that that least six members be present for the operation of a Lodge.

We also see the first mention of “Cowans”, the election of a secretary and a clear requirement of dues.

Lodge records show that after the Shaw Statues gentlemen, not stonemasons were initiated as “Accepted” or “ Speculative” Freemasons. Some authors mark the Shaw Statutes as the date of the transition from Operative to Speculative. The last Shaw Statue was written in 1599, and we know that Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) was initiated in the 1640s. By anyone’s definition Ashmole was a modern speculative Freemason.

The Old Rules of the Grand Lodge of York 1725 CE

The Old Rules of the Grand Lodge of York adds to the establishment of our craft the use of the gavel (mallet), monthly meetings, strict examination of visitors and of course refreshments after meeting.

Anderson’s Constitutions 1738 CE

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.50.45 AMThe Final document I will explore is Anderson’s Constitutions, 1738. Here we see the requirement in a belief in God, no women can be admitted, no bondsman a requirement that a candidate be of “good report” and a respect for the State’s government and laws. Other familiar developments include that Masters and Wardens be elected based on merit, officers must be fellow-crafts (this was before the Master Mason degree), there will be no talking in Lodge without the Master’s permission, there is now a Grand Master, and Grand Lodge can be called on decide disputes.

The phrase “meeting on the level” makes its first appearance, and probably most important the prohibition against discussing politics and religion in Lodge. By in large these Lodges would be familiar in operation and culture to us. While there were differences that are significant, like the absence of Master Masons and therefore the Master Mason’s degree drama.

Conclusion

This exploration of the evolution of our Craft through its documents has been cursory at best, but I think it shows that even in the earliest operative craft documents we do see a Craft we recognize. It feels to me though that we tend to see these similarities in terms of our present world rather than consider them in terms of the times in which they evolved. For example, the seven liberal arts cited in the Regius Poem. That level of education in 1390 would have been equivalent to a bachelor’s degree today, and when you consider the weight and authority of a Master in 1390 we can imagine that the term “Master’s degree” might apply to the man who became a specialist in geometry/masonry after completing his education in the seven liberal arts.

In the period of Anderson’s constitutions, less than 100 years after the reformation and the English Civil war, the prohibition against politics and religion in Lodge shows a wisdom of brotherhood we may have forgotten in today’s contentious political and religious environment and it might encourage us to tread gently in and out of the Lodge when we espouse our religious and political opinions, for the sake of that brotherhood we love.

There are other elements of culture that do not show up in the documents I cited that have affected the development of Freemasonry. The care of widows and orphans, as an example, is a biblical injunction that was shared as standard behavior in many medieval guilds. Religious drama such as is used in modern craft initiations was common practice (even required by law) in the medieval

guilds, as many were expected to perform religiously inspired plays in public in late medieval times. It’s not hard to imagine this evolving into degree dramas.

Finally I have not addressed the role of the Moderns and Ancients or the evolution of the Scottish or York rites in this analysis. No doubt meaningful insight could be gleaned from the addition of those traditions. It is also possible that some of the elements I have stated originated in a particular document may in fact be present in older documents I have not addressed. I do not intend this to be an exhaustive exploration, but as I said a cursory review intended to demonstrate that our Craft as shared some fundamental traits since its earliest formal documents.

Finally I would hope that you take a moment and reflect on the privilege of being a member in a 600 plus year old tradition that was born in a dark and difficult time, has adapted to and participated in history, science, philosophy and politics, and has managed to preserve its most ancient tenets. Let that sink in as you pin on that lapel pin, and let the weight of it inform you actions in and out of Lodge, but in particular when you consider admitting a man to our Lodge. You will be entrusting our traditions to them for safe keeping, just as they were passed on to you, we owe a debt of obligation to the men who came before us to seek the best of men, rough ashlars they may be, so that they can realize their potential as men and Freemasons.

A Brief History of Freemasonry: A New Model

After years of research I have begun to view the evolution of Freemasonry through the lens of a new theory of biological evolution called “punctuated equilibrium.” Punctuated equilibrium holds that evolution, change, in a species does not happen gradually but suddenly. In simple terms it holds that the relationship between a species and its environment reaches equilibrium, balance, and stays static until something changes in the environment and then the species will select only those members who can survive the change to reproduce. This results in a fossil record that shows that long periods of stability in a species with periods of rapid change, then long periods of stability.

In the case of Freemasonry I have found a similar process at work. I have broken the development of the Craft into five distinct periods, each initiated by an event that demanded evolution or extinction. These five periods or eras are, Operant Craft Masonry, Pre-Speculative Masonry, Speculative Masonry, Post-speculative Masonry, and Philanthropic Masonry. I like to imagine each of these stable periods as mountain lakes, ending at a waterfall and feeding the next lake. The waterfalls represent the change or crisis that caused an in-equilibrium (instability) that required the Craft to evolve.

picOperant Craft Masonry (ends in 1350) is exactly what it sounds like, stonemason guilds working to build the great stone structures of Europe’s medieval period. This period is characterized by the lack of “accepted masons” and that the work of these masons was centered on construction. In this period masons would move from one job site to another, thereby making Lodges temporary entities that were literally lodges for living and working. Part of what brought stability to this period was the feudal style of government based on the manorial system. In this period the State and the Church limited social mobility. This stable period was ended by the impact of three environmental factors, climate change (Europe cooled considerably), the great famine (caused by climate change) and the Black Death. These three forces all hit in about 50 years and saw Europe’s population drop by more than half. That drop in labor resulted in competition for the remaining work force, enabling the common man and the craftsman to seek better pay and better living conditions. It also saw the beginnings of towns or burgs, which were often governed in part by guild members.

The Pre-Speculative Era (1350-1642) is defined by the decline in the masonic guilds being focused exclusively on construction, the first appearance of “accepted” masons, the involvement of mason’s in the community beyond just building (burgesses in the towns for example), the fixing of Lodges in one geographic location, and a growing interest in the Craft’s mysteries.

The period between 1350 and 1642 saw the beginning of the renaissance, the protestant reformation, the English civil wars, and the growth of the middle class. European educated elite were obsessed with the previously lost knowledge of the Classical age that was flowing back into Western Europe after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

pic 1Masonic lore held that as a Craft it’s science (geometry/ architecture) had come to them from Euclid and Hermes Trismegistus (See the Cooke Manuscript circa 1425). When gentlemen scholars, already hungry for more ancient wisdom, learned this they were naturally curious about what else was held secret in masonry. Amongst the “accepted masons” a new type of mason shows up “speculative” masons, who tended to be from among the educated nobles of Europe.

In 1599 William Shaw the Warden of Masons in Scotland issued his statues. There were two elements to the Statues that initiated the change that would create the “Speculative era”. First he fixed Lodges in geographic locations, as we know them today and he called Masons to include the “art of memory” in their instructions.

pic 2The art of memory was more than just memorizing lines in a ritual, but was an integral part of a spiritual system called “Hermeticism. ” Hermeticism takes its name from Hermes. The subject of hermeticism could easily fill volumes on its own, so I will not dive to deeply here, except to say it touches on topics like astrology, alchemy and Kabbalah. It seems that Shaw had met with famous hermeticist Giordano Bruno, and had been influenced by him. In the Shaw Statutes we see the codified origin of much of the mystical component we know in modern Masonry. Shaw’s motivations for writing these Statutes is unfortunately lost as he died three years later. What we do know is that the stage was set for the great golden age of masonry. It’s important to note that the appearance of Hermetic subjects in the Lodge coincided with its appearance in society in general.

The Speculative Era (1650-1826) was initiated by two events; the Protestant Reformation and the English Civil war. This era is marked by the decline of operative masons, and the ascendance of speculative masons. Back near the end of the Operant era, just before the Templars were arrested the French King Philip manipulated events so that he could place his ally on the throne of St Peter (the Pope). Over the next few years the Papacy was moved from Rome to Avignon (1309-1377), so that the King of France could control the Pope. Eventually the Italians named an alternative Pope and for a few decades there was two Popes. These popes famously wrestled for power including but not limited to efforts to use sorcery to defeat their each other. Of course this weakened the sanctity of the Papacy in the eyes of Europeans, and when combined with papal abuses of power obvious during this period a resistance to the power of Rome began to grow, culminating in Martin Luther’s famous 99 theses (1517) that initiated the Reformation.

pic 3Protestant or Catholic was the question that decided what side of numerous wars your nation would be on. At the same time, the right of a King to rule based on ‘divine right’ came into question, leading to the second great conflict of this period namely whether kings or parliaments would rule. These competing forces tore Europe apart for over a century.

During this period of uncertainty Masonry, for the most part, seems to have attracted men from both (all four) camps and is probably the source of our prohibition against religion and politics being discussed in Lodge. That said, it is clear from the public lives of many of our Brethren of this period like Benjamin Franklin and François Marie Arouet (Voltaire) that the topic of democracy was important to them and they were active in bringing it to fruition in both the American and French Revolutions. I personally believe it was the safety of association that our tyled lodges provided that was the incubator of much that developed in this period.

The list of prominent Freemasons of this era reads like a who’s who list of revolutionaries, scientist, and reformers of the period. While there is little evidence that Masonry as an order conspired to change the world, there is substantial evidence that the lessons and tenets of Freemasonry held in the hearts and minds of her members did change the world through their participation in many reforming political movements.

Unfortunately with the fame that came to the order during this era were planted the seeds that were nearly her undoing. Three events that occurred between 1776 and 1826 created the crisis that caused our next evolutionary adaptation. The Illuminati, founded in 1776, the French Revolutions de-evolving into the Terror 1789, and the Morgan Affair 1826 all cast a very dark shadow over our order in the eyes of many non-members and the backlash almost destroyed Masonry.

pic 4The French revolution (1789-1799) had many causes, but primary among them was the poverty experienced by society that was caused by the Seven Years War (American French and Indian War) and the French participation in the American Revolution (1776-1784). In 1793 the results of the French Revolution degenerated into the Terror (1793-94). After the Revolution was over Freemasonry was accused of being the agitator that caused the revolution. Of course this is not true, but the accusation stuck in the minds of many non-masons.

The Bavarian Illuminati was an order founded on May 1, 1776 by Adam Weishaupt “to put an end to the machinations of the purveyors of injustice, to control them without dominating them.” From the start the Illuminati were associated with Freemasons and when they fell in to disrepute the association was exaggerated. In 1798 there was what is known as the ‘Illuminati Scare’ in New England, which held that the Illuminati were infiltrating and manipulating government. Combined with suspicions that they and Freemasons had orchestrated the French Revolution a general air of suspicion was building in the public eye toward Freemasons.

pic 5In 1826 a man named William Morgan threatened to publish all of the Masonic secrets he had learned as an initiate. Obviously there were Masons who spoke out against this action, and when Morgan was kidnapped and never seen again, it was assumed Freemasons murdered him. Several prominent Masons were accused of his murder and some did serve prison sentences. Today it is widely believed that individual Freemasons acting on their own murdered him, even though there was reports that Morgan survived and was sighted in Europe. In any event the entire episode set badly with the public and forever blemished the reputation of the order that opened this era with such prominence. It seemed that the claims of a worldwide Masonic conspiracy had been proven on the home front. In New York, where the Morgan Affair occurred, the number of Masons dropped by more than half. Soon after Americas first third political party was formed based on anti-masonic ideology.

The Post Speculative Era (1826-1945) opened with Masonry in decline. For the first time in it’s history being a Freemason was not necessarily a good thing. In the world Napoleon had finally been defeated and France was again a monarchy, America had defeated England in what has been called our second war of independence, and the tensions that would lead to the American civil war had begun to build.

Because of the negative publicity generated at the end of the Speculative era it was less common that a prominent politician would be actively, openly, involved in Masonry.

Most Masons would be at home in the Blue Lodges of this era, our rituals and customs being largely unchanged. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite had come to Charleston, from France, via Jamaica. The period of “higher degree” development ended and the AASR was composed of 33 degrees. While Freemasonry was recovering in some areas it had not regained the vitality it had known before the Morgan Affair.

pic 6After the Civil War a former Confederate general and polymath named Albert Pike ascended to the Grand Commander position of the Southern Jurisdiction of the AASR. In an effort to revitalize the fraternity Pike published in 1872 Morals and Dogma, a tome of 861 pages that was a compendium to the degrees of the order. By 1884 he had revised all the degrees, and the Scottish Rite blossomed into a vital and expanding rite.

The degrees are set in historical periods, teaching the moral, ethical and spiritual lessons in the context of antiquity. It is my opinion that by focusing so much of the degree work on ancient subjects Pike unintentionally focused the Craft on past glories. Even today, outside of the philanthropic activities of the craft, much of our scholarship and energy is devoted to the past, not the future. During the Speculative Era the luminaries of Freemasonry applied their energies to advancement of all mankind, thru democratic reforms, scientific discovery and social activism. While there are certainly examples of progressive masons today, where are the specifically Masonic contributions to the modern civil rights movement? Where is our great debate on the moral and ethical issues of our day? Has there been a presentation in your Lodge on scientific breakthroughs? In the last few years there have been many paradigm-shifting discoveries, have we shared in the excitement that they produced? How long after the end of the Civil War, after the Slaves were emancipated, after the African Americans got the vote before White Masonry recognized the Prince Hall Lodges? We certainly were not in the lead. Can you imagine the Freemasons of Franklin and Washington’s era being so slow to champion the cause of civil rights? The power of Pike’s contribution changed the course of the Craft, in order to save it from the ravages that came at the end of the previous era. Our prohibition against discussing politics in Lodge seems to have silenced our voice in world affairs. Its understandable, but perhaps its time to reevaluate.

This era ended with the last of the World Wars. The world had changed and Masonry was as affected as everything else. Unfortunately our retrograde focus left us playing catch up with the rest of the world.

pic 7I have named the next era the Philanthropic Era (1945 to present). It opens with thousands of men coming home from war looking for the fellowship they had known in war and found it in Masonry. In many lodges the numbers of members swelled, and many new Lodges were formed. These men brought a sense of public service and patriotism to the Craft, and from that the great Masonic charities grew. Today’s Lodges and concordant bodies raise millions of dollars each year to help the needy. Children’s hospitals, reading programs, support for widows and orphans. Today the face of Masonry is best recognized at the fundraiser.

Unfortunately the upheaval of the sixties saw a change in fortune for Masonry. While the men of the greatest generation flocked to Freemasonry their sons did not. The reasons could fill a book, and I will not go into them today. What is important here is that they did not join. Today, across America numbers are dropping as the men who joined in the 40s and 50s pass away. The threat to the Craft is as great as after the Morgan Affair. My own Lodge has lost approximate 40% of its membership in the last 10 years.

To further complicate things in the early 2000s Dan Brown wrote the Da Vinci code, which later became a blockbuster movie. Nicolas Cage stared in National Treasure, another blockbuster. Both movies had components of the legends of Freemasonry, and as a result interest in our Fraternity grew again. Cable media has been flooded with pseudohistorical documentaries about Freemasonry and as I said in an earlier Blog a new story about Freemasonry is evolving that is not necessarily true and likely will not benefit the Craft in the long run.

What’s next? If the pattern I have described holds we are approaching another crisis. Diminishing numbers alone will threaten the Craft soon and combined with the false history that is being developed in the media we face a real dilemma.

But with crisis comes opportunity. We stand now at a threshold, we can choose to take a leadership role in the world once again. In addition to the great charities we support we are uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in religious tolerance and we have 300 years experience with civility in debate. In a time of such angry bipartisan disagreement and disrespect we could be the example that shows the way forward. Once our great fraternity was leading man toward the great unification of humanity and I think the time has come for us to do that again. While I would willing admit in many small ways we still do, but in the larger sense we seem to have rested comfortably on our laurels for almost 200 years. During the early speculative era we provided Catholic and Protestant, Royalist and Parliamentarian a place to meet that was safe, based in their common humanity and belief in a God. From this grew the tolerance that today allows me a Buddhist to sit comfortably in Lodge with a Christian. As a Democrat I am able to enjoy the fellowship of Republicans. As a white southern man I can take the hand of an African American in friendship and brotherhood and as a scientist I can marvel at the wonders of the universe with a brother who defines himself as a religious man. Because of this experience, I can imagine the Masonic Temples becoming a place where the advancement of science could be presented to the public, a place where difficult topics that currently divide our Nation are discussed in a safe and civil manner. Perhaps the time has come for us to be the shepherds of society, protecting and guiding society to a better, calmer state, not a particular place, but along a particular path that honors the humanity of all people. I am encouraged by the efforts of progressive Masons who are calling for those of us who seek the Light to become the Light for others.

History: An Exercise in Humility

As I said in my last entry to this blog, my goal in writing these blogs is ‘reclaiming our story’. We have seen that many of the narratives that currently define our Fraternity in the common mind are in fact fictions written by either those who would exploit the Craft for profit (literature and movies) or our enemies (The Protocols). That said a reasonable man could see some small truth in some of these myths about the Craft. So how do we, as Masons, know what is true and what is false, or more importantly, I feel, what is important and what is not?

I’d like to first talk about the something that will at first seem unrelated, but I hope to use this story to illustrate the problem at hand.

image 1It’s hard to imagine someone who has not heard of the Nile River, so important to Biblical stories and to the evolution of Western Civilization. What is even harder to believe is that the source of the Nile was not determined until 1858! As you can see from the map the Nile is created from two rivers, the Blue and White Niles (Nile means river). When we talk about the source or origin of the Nile, what do we mean? Most of the water that feeds the Nile comes from the Blue Nile, BUT the farthest point of origin derives from the White Nile. Which is it? If you want to understand the Nile thoroughly you would have to study all sources equally, and weigh the impact of each river proportionately.

History is much like a river, the main story being comprised of many ‘tributaries’ each contributing something. If you wish a cursory understanding then the major contributors will be your focus, but you may choose to pursue smaller, more distant and exotic sources if you have a particular interest in a singular aspect of History.

History like science has rules, or a method, that governs what is accepted as history and what is not. Like science history relies on data, some of which is scientific data like archeology and carbon dating. Unlike scientific data historical data might have a less rigorous pedigree, like eyewitness accounts and source documents generated by humans. This historical data can be accepted on equal terms with scientific data. Historians are however just as strict in the analysis of data as any scientist, and often have to work much harder to determine what data is valid. The history of history is filled with errors made by people to eager to accept data that supports a popular belief, and because of that mainstream historians are very careful making interpretations.

As Freemasons we are not exempt from the temptations of our Crafts mythology, which runs close to, sometimes parallel with, recorded and accepted history. This is, in my opinion, no excuse for lazy or indulgent research that jumps to exciting and aggrandizing conclusions.

A good example of this can be found at Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh Scotland. I visited Rosslyn Chapel with my wife in 2008 and was amazed at the intricate carvings in and on the Chapel that have stimulated so many theories about the Templars, the discovery of America and the link between the Templars and the Freemasons. I do not have the space to go into all these theories here, but there is one I would like to explore as an example. The Chapel was dedicated in 1450 CE to St Mathew, almost 150 years after the Templars were arrested in France, October 13, 1307 CE. Freemasonry commonly accepts the date of June 24th, 1717 as its nominal start date, a little more that 250 years after the Chapel was erected. On one of the outside walls of the Chapel is a carving that many Masons will recognize (wink). image 2In this carving there seems to be a blind folded man, kneeling with a cable around his neck and behind him a man holding the cable. Both seem to wear the Templar cross. Now, I live by the same oath as you, so I will have to assume you get the importance of this image (see photo). I also have to add that the stone that the Chapel is made from has degraded over the centuries, which makes this image a bit tough to see. Whole books have been written that hang their evidentiary hat on this engraving. At first glance this carving does seem to prove in the minds of many that there is a link between the Templars Knights and Masons.

image 3I would like to start by saying, I believe this link is worth researching, not that I accept it as fact. Here are the facts that support this possibility. The Templars had many Bailies, local offices, and source of the term “the whole bailiwick”. These served as local centers of operations. In Scotland there were several centers, but one in particular was in Balantrodach Scotland (modern Temple Scotland), which is only 7 miles from Rosslyn Chapel.

While everyone focuses on the Templar Knights, as romantic warriors, the Templars possessed many craftsmen and specialist. Everyone knows they had accountants, being bankers, but few consider the farriers, armorers, carpenters and yes, masons that would have been required to keep the order functioning. History tells us that the Templars lasted longer in Scotland than other countries because the whole kingdom was essentially excommunicated after Robert Bruce, later King of Scotland, murdered his primary competitor for the throne in a church. This allowed the members of the order to survive, (i.e., avoid arrest and torture) much longer than on the continent.

If there were stonemasons at Temple Scotland, and if they survived its likely they would have eventually assimilated into the local masons guilds.

image 4From about the time the Templars were arrested until the end of the 14th century Europe was devastated by climate change, leading to famine, and the Black Death. The population plummeted and the rules of guild membership were relaxed, as were all rules of social and economic mobility. The local guilds, guilds that would have been close enough to Rosslyn to be affected, would have been open to receiving new, skilled masons. These ex-Templar masons may well have brought their initiation rituals with them and these rituals assimilated into guild ritual. Over time those rituals may well have propagated throughout the guilds that evolved into Speculative Masonry. It’s important to note, to the propagation theory, that Rosslyn and Temple Scotland are a day’s ride from Edinburgh, the seat of Scottish power and economics for centuries.

This possibility, remote though it might be, would be a minor tributary into the great river that is Freemasonry. It seems more likely than warrior knights, often born to noble classes would become craftsmen, essentially a step down in social rank. It would also make the connection between the Freemasons and the Templars a backwater of history and not the main thrust. I think this idea is worth exploring. I think this line of thought shows that jumping to the conclusion that the Knights Templar as a whole organization became Freemasons, based on the one carving is a less likely scenario than the one I just offered.

Before you write me telling me there are many other reasons, found in Scotland, to believe the Templars are the antecedents to the Freemasons I ask that you include the source documents that prove it. The fact that something “could be true” is not proof that it is true. Even the idea I expressed above is pure speculation based on loose facts and is as likely to be false as true. Before I would ever state it as fact, I would need a lot more research.

Lets say for a moment that my theory, the one I just put forth, is true. Is it important? Would it change the kind of Mason you are? Would it change anything? Its only real value would be in adding a small chapter to the story of the Templars and the Freemasons, that’s it. What is important? That Shriner hospital, that reading program, that time when you could have chosen the wrong thing and because you are a Mason you chose the right thing. That’s what is important. Not some distant event that aggrandizes our egos and does little to improve the world.

History supports the idea that Freemasonry evolved as a part of European history, not as its main event. We are as much influenced by the events of European history, as we are an influencing agent. In my opinion our ascension as a Fraternity is linked to many factors such as the catastrophe of the Black Death and the social freedoms acquired during the reformation and renascence. Our mysticism and esoterica appeared at the same time in history as they appeared in European society, much of which is the result of the fall of Constantinople creating a great diaspora of knowledge. In my next blog I will address the arrival of many of the influences of our Craft’s mysticism and science, and show that we did not bring them through time to reveal them to Europeans, but rather that we acquired them just like everyone else. What makes Freemasonry important to history is that we provided a Tyled hall, where men, under oath to keep each others secrets, could freely discuss ideas that might well have brought them to the inquisition, the hangman’s noose or the guillotine. This Brethren is no small thing, and something that should cause us to feel proud of our heritage.

Reclaiming Our Story: How Fiction Can Be Dangerous!

Last summer at the Grand Communication in Kennewick our then newly made Deputy Grand Master Jim Mendoza approached me about being a part of the Grand Lodge Technology Committee during his year as our Grand Master. He explained that he was looking for someone who could provide content for the Grand Lodge’s web presence. During subsequent conversations, I learned the RWB Jim had two primary goals for the content he wanted me to provide. First, reclaiming our story. As many of you know Freemasonry has become the subject of many books, movies and television shows and usually our beloved Craft is presented in ways that are either unsubstantiated or blatantly untrue. RWB Jim expressed his interest in taking our story back, and correcting these many misunderstandings. This is a subject I am VERY passionate about, and look forward to exploring with you. The second thrust RWB Jim wants to develop is a fulfillment of the promises made in our first-degree initiation, that we would receive education in the moral and symbolic elements of the Craft. The second goal will be crucial, I think, to the successful achievement of the first. I will need to show the truth of our fraternity is at least as interesting and valuable as the false history of our Fraternity.

So, let us begin.

I will start with the first goal, reclaiming our story. To do that I will begin by exploring how we lost ownership of our own history, in the eyes of the public. I will show how a story has developed about Freemasonry over the centuries since the Grand Lodge of England formed on St John’s Day 1717. I will list some key elements in the development of that narrative and then I will show how that false history has done real harm to the world and the Craft. Hopefully I will demonstrate why we must be critical of claims about the Craft’s history and why its in our best interest to engage in the public dialog about who and what we really are as Freemasons.

image 1One of the earliest bits of historical fiction, which feeds the modern conspiracy theories, comes from 1737 when Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsey (pictured) gave his famous oration in France. In it he implied the Freemasonry descended from the crusader knights. Many have interpreted his statements to mean the Knights Templars, even though he spoke more directly about Knights Hospitaller. Despite the belief of many modern Masons that it is true we are descended from the Templars there is no documented connection between the historical crusading Templars and Freemasons. This author is aware of only one piece of ‘circumstantial’ evidence that hints at a possible connection, (not necessarily descent from) the Templars. That is a carving on Rosslyn Chapel that seems to resemble elements of a Masonic ritual. I will explore this idea later in another blog. I realize the statement that there is no concrete connection from the Templars to Freemasonry will cause some controversy within our Fraternity, but I challenge anyone to supply a historical document that proves a direct descent from the Templars to the Freemasons.

We are all familiar with the golden age of Freemasonry, the years building up to the American Revolution. Many of our founding fathers were Freemasons and we can easily see traits in the original design of our democracy that seem very likely to have started in Masonic Lodges. There is no concrete evidence, however, that the American Revolution was the result of a specific Masonic agenda, but there is clear evidence that some of the men that led that revolution were influenced by Masonic ideals. This has led many to suppose the United States of America is the product of a Masonic conspiracy.

image 2Following close on the heels of the American Revolution the French revolution sought to bring democracy to the French state. Again, many of the men who were involved in the French revolution were Freemasons however; it is unlikely that the fraternity organized the revolt. The best evidence of this is the simple fact that at the time of the revolution in France many of the Freemasons were of the nobility or were landed gentry, two groups who were targeted by the revolution. That fact aside, many accused our fraternity of being at the epicenter of the revolution and thereby responsible at least in part for the terror that followed.

One of the earliest attacks on the Craft came from a man named Abbe Larudan, who in 1747 claimed that Oliver Cromwell formed Freemasonry for the sole purpose of overthrowing the British monarchy. This theory was later built on by Abbe Barruel (1741-1820) who claimed that Freemasonry working with the Bavarian Illuminati had caused the French revolution. The Illuminati was a real organization founded on May 1, 1776. The Illuminati order was formed with the goal of “opposing superstition, obscurantism, and religious influence over public life and abuses of state power. The Illuminati ceased to exist to history in 1787, though Burruel and others have kept the fear of the Illuminati alive to the modern day in various conspiracy theories that link Freemasonry and the Illuminati in an alliance to dominate the world.

image 3These accusations might well have died out if not for a very unfortunate lapse in judgment on the part of some Freemasons in America. A man named William Morgan, who was most likely a Freemason threatened to publish an expose about the secrets of the Craft. It is likely that a group of Freemasons murdered Morgan in an attempt to prevent him from publishing. While some Masons were convicted of kidnapping no one was charged with murder, as no body was ever found that could be confirmed as Morgan (even though a body was identified and buried under his name, there was some doubt if the body was in fact Morgan’s). This story feeds the public suspicion of Freemasons, seeming to prove the earlier conspiratorial theories in the eyes of many. So strong were the anti-masonic feelings that in 1828 Americas first third political party was formed, the Anti-Masonic Party. This party lasted until 1838 when it merged with the Whig party. Freemasonry in America suffered during the years that followed. In New York, the state in which the Morgan Affair occurred, the number of Lodges dropped from 227 Lodges in 1827 to only 41 in 1835.

The next major contributor to the conspiracy narrative came in 1919, from Russia. In an effort to justify the pogroms against the Jews in Europe a fictitious document called The Protocols of the Elders of Zionwas written and distributed throughout Europe and the world. This document claimed that the Jewish Elders and Freemasons were working together to dominate the world. To be clear this document has been completely discredited; but like all rumors, found a ready audience. It is clear that Hitler used The Articles as a foundation document for his final solution. The horror unleashed by Hitler does not need to be rehashed here, but this terrible period of history does show that false histories can be very dangerous things especially when they feed already dark prejudices.

image 4Now we come to the modern era. In 1983 something happened that many people would have missed. A book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail written by Michael Biagent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln claimed that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been married, had children and that a secret order The Priory of Sionand the Knights Templar had protected that secret and the blood line. The book claims that many of the Royals of Europe carried the blood of Jesus through the Merovingian family.

Partially inspired by Holy Blood, Holy Grail author Dan Brown in 2003 published The Da Vinci Code, a novel and later a movie that fictionalized the theories in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. In the closing scenes the Grail, the Templars and the Masons come together in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.

In 2004 a movie starring Nicholas Cage, National Treasure, claimed that Freemasons had descended from the Templars. These works of fiction, drawing on lies and inaccuracies of the past, have unfortunately become the popular narrative on the history of Freemasonry. Im sure we have all had the experience of being asked if these stories are true.

So whats the harm? Well, I think there are two big problems for Freemasonry in these false histories. First, many men are coming to our order BECAUSE they believe the conspiracy theories and when they find they are false they lose interest. As bad as that is its not the worst consequence.

Late in 2015 Wisconsin law enforcement prevented a Jihadist attack on a Masonic Center. Within radical jihadist groups The Articles of Zion are still thought to be true. Many radical Christian writers, likewise, use the theories put forth in the Protocols as a basis as an attack on Freemasonry. Combined with movies like the Da Vinci Code and National Treasure that seem to support this idea, an atmosphere of hate and fear can evolve among those ready to believe the worst rumors. To make matters even worse there is no shortage of Masons who advocate for many of the unsubstantiated theories that feed this madness, a fact, which lends validity to our attackers.

History shows that speculative Freemasonry has existed in some form since the 1640s in England. Since its formation Freemasonry has influenced the men who influenced the world. Our beloved order has never manipulated world events, but rather we have taken good men, men destined to shape history, and helped them develop the moral and ethical character that enabled them to bring Light to a very dark world. As their inheritors we owe it to them and the future of mankind to stand for the truth of who and what we are. Fantastic histories about our past, while fun to indulge in, can threaten our future and unfortunately influence our evolution. Freemasonry is a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Do not confuse allegory for history, and symbols for truth. They are tools to communicate morals and ethics. Our true history continues to unfold because of the hard work of serious historians, and the truth is at least as interesting as any fiction created in the minds of those who would discredit us or those who would profit from exploiting misunderstanding.

My Brethren you once asked for Light in Masonry. I challenge you now to become that Light you sought, stand for truth and help our Grand Master reclaim our story!

Next time we will explore some of our real history that you may not know!