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.
All of us know the importance of civility in our interactions and conversations with our brothers. We have been famously counseled in regard to the discussion of politics and religion among brothers at masonic activities in order to prevent ill will or hurt feelings. We need no reminders that we are to respect one another, and keep our tongue when our words would do more harm than good. These are all just common sense and we all have those unfortunate memories in our minds when that line of courtesy and politeness gets crossed and damage to the craft and individuals results sometimes with unintended consequences.
Certainly our parents, teachers, and society in general spend time teaching us throughout our lives why we need to be kind, courteous and attentive in regard to our communications with one another and provide us a framework of family values and rules. Our workplace has a Human Resource department for these matters, our churches have theological tenets, our schools teach social behaviors to follow such as sportsmanship and our community leaders create civil laws to make certain that we treat one another respectably, regardless of age, creed, color, gender, special needs, etc. So why is this of particular concern to the mason if it’s already being handled? Why it is that “civility” takes a unique role in our masonic world when it seems to be a part of everyone else’s concerns?
As initiates and as brothers, each of us has been set apart and additional expectations have been placed on us both between one another and our sphere of influence to every human being through our masonic obligation that we agreed to when we stood before our great common alter. Our masonic life lived should stand out as man’s ability to love one another regardless of the differences we may have and it is in the ability to find civil agreement between those differences around our alter that causes our unique example to shine through and above the rest. The world needs an example of what it is to work together without tyranny or oppression. To show by our example, how we can disagree and yet remain not only tolerant but affectionate towards one another.
Anyone with a television, radio or newspaper knows that civility in our nation is being challenged. The rules established in many of the categories mentioned have broken down. The divorce rate is up, violence plagues our schools, dogma attacks one another’s sacred beliefs openly, even violently and we all know what has happened to a government divided by opposing values who appears as though it has lost its ability to work with civility at all causing gridlock and then fanned by the news media who thrive on conflict, we are bathed in examples of discord, anger, hostility, and fear. As never before, masonry’s example of civil discipline is needed and its great message of working together civilly is the answer that society needs now above all other examples.
Having said all of this, it is an important reminder that we have been set apart for this great work of creating a perfect society, a temple built without hands and that through our example, we will lead the world to its golden potential. We must examine ourselves in this day of Twitter, Facebook, email and text and be conscious of the fact that not only the words we share mouth to ear need to be filtered through our grand obligation but that every hashtag, Facebook post, email forward, or text associated with us requires our attention and scrutiny. When we wear the square and compass as a part of our identity we take on a larger persona than just that of our own personal opinion. We represent a philosophic empire that spreads across the globe. Each of us are obliged to one another and to the craft that we represent to communicate with respect, the highest degree of integrity, and the deepest concern for the feelings and welfare of others.
Certainly each brother is welcome to his own personal opinions and sharing those publically and clearly is the right of every free man but the manner in which the opinion is expressed is where civility needs to be checked. We must ask, are we being reasonable, kind, intelligent and beneficial? Are we allowing comedy, sensationalism, or cleverness to supplant our concerns not to be divisive, cruel, or mean spirited? Are we more concerned about respect for our personal views than we are about the views of others?
Masonry is an ancient a beautiful craft whose higher standards have the opportunity through each of our mindful efforts to be the guiding example in our social media world that is in great need of our philosophic teachings and inclusiveness, especially today when even our leaders have not been the examples of civility we would like. It makes it ever more important to be the higher example to others that masonry calls us to be and is something we can do every day to create the world we all know we all want and need and as masons, have been charged to create. Let’s all pause and examine how we express our opinions in the maelstrom of social media and ensure our rhetoric is something we are all proud of for our craft and others to imitate.
May the Great Architect give us wisdom and strength to be the light and example for others to follow.
W. B. John Lawson
Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington
Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide). A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections; and obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food. An additional 10 million people — about one in every 31 Americans — are symptomless carriers of the defective CF gene.
When the Brothers of Washington Lodge No. 4 became aware that my son, Levi, has CF, and of the annual Cystic Fibrosis Foundation GREAT STRIDES fundraiser, one Brother suggested gathering Masonic support of the worthy cause within District 19 for their Masonic “nephew”. Quickly thereafter, it was suggested that Freemasons participating in the event be identified as “Levi’s Uncles”.
Since 2011, Freemasons under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Washington, Grand Lodge of Oregon, and Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington and Jurisdiction have participated in the event.
This year’s event will take place at Esther Short Park in Vancouver, WA on Saturday, May 13th. The event is on the Grand Master’s calendar, and we hope to see Masons from around the state in Vancouver this year.
The 5K walk follows a pleasant route beginning at the park and running along the waterfront of the Columbia River. Participants can walk all or part of the route, or simply enjoy the pleasant park environment.
It was some time in November of 2009 when I got an email while at work in reply to a message I’d frankly forgotten I’d sent a few months before. The email was from Eric Vogt, who was the secretary at Queen Anne Lodge.
A few months before, I decided to reach out Grand Lodge to see if there were any lodges in my area. At the time, I had no idea that there was a lodge building just 3 blocks away from my house.
For a lot of younger members, showing up to a stated meeting is very intimidating… So, getting an invite to meet a few members for just a casual dinner felt far more comfortable for my 22-year-old self.
When I first showed up, I met three brothers who were all cooking and having a glass of wine. They were just there for dinner with each other, as if it were all of their home. Eric often stayed late in the city for work, Zane and “Mighty” both had recently gone through divorces… It was as if this was their second home.
At that time in my masonic journey, the Lodge building itself wasn’t used much for rentals, but when it was, they were much smaller private events brokered by the brothers who were within driving distance of the lodge in order to keep the lights on.
We talked for years about making the place nicer. At the time I didn’t have all that much work in the summer, and being who I am, wanted to see how I could contribute. So, I spent a few weeks building a proposal for the Temple Board to redesign our entry way in a more planned out classical style.
If your Temple Board is anything like ours was, all of the focus is generally on SAVING money, so the idea of spending any money at all, let alone taking on a risky project at the hands of the newest, youngest member was a bit of a risk. Let’s just say there were parts of that meeting that were not peaceful or harmonious. That being said, those virtues did prevail and we approved a few thousand dollars for the project.
Granted, I did a lot of the work myself… But from beginning to end of the renovation, which was extended to makeover the whole main dining room, we had over 500 volunteer hours of work on the building together. Members of every age, about a dozen young brothers interested in joining, and even their friends and family all helped out. Neighbors would stop in to see the progress and explore “that old creepy building across from the library”.
All throughout this work in progress, the community around the lodge begin to grow as more brothers began treating the building like it was their communal home. We even went so far as to try to build a wine cellar and humidor, which we could NEVER keep stocked.
I know every lodge doesn’t have a lodge building… And for the most part, the focus of the Temple Board is to protect the lodge brothers from liability. However, I think we should return to a foundation of our fraternity by understanding that temple boards are actually entrusted with one of our most useful tools for building community, our buildings.
Whether we like it or not, the most ignored asset that we have have as Freemasons are the buildings we own. However there is a common downfall I’ve observed in many lodge buildings that they get focused on sanctioned events, insurance and liabilities, and forget the fact that our lodge buildings are venues for community to happen organically. In order for this organic community to happen and thrive, we need to give the members of the lodge a sense of ownership. We need to allow for easy, regulated use, make the space available and known in the community for rentals, and build up resources needed by brothers who otherwise lack resources. The result is that people end up actually coming together to work and bond. This is something that happens far too rarely in this digital age.
So, the following are my tips to the temple boards and lodges in order to encourage the growth of the lodge’s non-stated activity, based on what happened in our lodge.
Give your members a sense of ownership by letting them earn sweat equity in the building.
Our current worshipful master started his involvement in the lodge mowing the lawn and doing general maintenance.
One petitioner gave us the bar that’s the central piece of our dining room.
One of our older brothers found a beautiful piano to add ambiance, and fixtures for our bathrooms.
Time and time again, when people get the chance to work on a building, they get more involved, they’re at lodge more often, and they bring with them their families and communities.
Not every lodge needs to do a total renovation in order to build this. University spent years working on their library, while others build museums. However, my recommendation is that everyone contribute to social spaces or events. Doric doesn’t have much work to do on their building, but every year the brothers like Hotte rally other brothers to put on their beer garden for the Fremont Solstice Parade.
So, while doing general work on the space itself is important, if your lodge doesn’t already feel like a clubhouse in addition to a formal meeting space, I dare you to recruit a skunkworks of brothers willing to swing a hammer and launch into a project similar to our next two endeavors: A ‘man cave’ in our basement and an extending our porch for better BBQing.
I get it, some of you are visual… So here is some inspiration we’ve been using as we daydream these next adventures.
Make it easy for regulated, casual use by your membership.
I suppose this is where we got tripped up a little bit… And honestly, I haven’t had the chance to work on our building in a few years since I’ve been busy growing my business. In the process, however, I’ve discovered a few things to solve this very resounding question that every Temple Board is going to care a lot about.
First of all, before you start opening the floodgates of building use by members there have to be rules set and agreed on as to who has both limited and unlimited access, as well a clear way for everyone to reserve the building for use, or see if it has been reserved. I’ve got a few tips for that.
As far as the rules are concerned, we were small enough that we could simply designate all past masters and principal officers with a key to the building. However, some lodges can limit that even further if there are just too many living past masters active in the lodge. In that case, I would recommend delegating use of the building to the temple board, treasurer, secretary and/or principal officers. So long as the rules are written and public so there is a sense of fairness, as well as a clear pecking order and person/people the average member can go to for access.
For security, we use a lockbox with a keycode on the outside of our building in order to also allow renters in. It’s a somewhat outdated solution. Instead, I’d recommend anyone installing a lock system for their members to jump straight into the 21st century and opt for a smart lock system like Kevo, which integrates with the home security camera system Nest. Something like this allows for access not only to lock/unlock directly from any verified smart phone, but also allows direct two-way communication with people on site, control of the door locks, and motion-activated push notifications in case there is anything suspicious.
Rentals aren’t just for revenue, they’re for community exposure.
Alright, even if you don’t have the sexiest building on earth, most lodges are useable to one degree or another by outside groups. While I do recommend tackling the project of making your lodge as beautiful as possible, buildings of all kinds have their uses.
At first my vision with our renovation was to focus on community organizations using the building, like the chamber of commerce, historical society, and other logical overlaps in order to get the exposure. However, those efforts took a lot of time to cultivate. Let’s face it, even in this town, if you say “free rent”, it still doesn’t mean if you build it they will come.
We never experienced true success in our rentals until we began working with a local event planner, who we let use the space and manage the rentals on a profit share basis. The result was their events would be so well attended that the lodge got much more exposure, simply due to the number of people and diverse purposes people were seeing it used for.
In fact, we ended up building a new brand around the use of the building itself. We had reason to believe the use of the word “Lodge” was confusing because it implied it might be an Inn, bed-and-breakfast or hotel. On the other hand “Temple” seems far too formal and rigid and singular in use. Instead, after talking with the event planning company I hired to manage the rentals, we settled on the name “The Clubhouse”. We felt it would be far more fitting and exciting to potential renters… and it worked.
Turn your lodge into a valuable resource to make your members’ lives easier and better.
Alright, this one might be the most controversial, and I might get in a little bit of trouble for telling the world about this, but your lodge SHOULD be USEFUL, especially to its younger members.
Here’s the truth, Millennials earn a relative 30% less than their gen x and boomer counterparts did at the same age. Rent is also far more expensive, which means the vast majority of us don’t own our own home. We rent, and that’s especially true in Seattle. Do we want to attract younger members? Just like any institution, we have to provide real, tangible value in addition to the social value to our members. And our lodge buildings are the gift that can keep on giving.
Granted, we took this to another level by building out an apartment in the lodge for brothers in desperate need to stay in for a few months. This has helped no fewer than five of our brothers get back on their feet after losing a job, or a spouse. Just like lodge access, limited access and rules have to be set in place. For us, the Temple Board granted discretionary authority to the Worshipful Master to allow a brother to use it. Once it’s granted, the needs of the brother are assessed every month during the Temple Board meeting.
I will note that, either because the life stages of our members has shifted in the past few years, or the because the economy has simply improved enough, the use of the lodge for that purpose has diminished over the past three years.
On the far less desperate side of the spectrum, Millennial men still lack several things, including a good place to host their friends and family for celebrations, since most of us even lack a suitable back yard and a great many of us also lack a garage. The Queen Anne Lodge has made its old bones useful to many brothers in exactly that way.
In fact, it’s the usefulness that gave me inspiration to write this post.
My marketing business has taken off in the past few years, now with nearly 30 employees, and I recently had to move offices for the first time in three years. In order to save on expenses, my little brother and I ended up doing a lot of the work ourselves in the build out. The problem being that our parents live an hour away, and have most of their tools tucked away in storage because they recently moved themselves. So when we needed things like a skilsaw, power drills, and other normal tools, we were stuck either renting them from Home Depot, or borrowing them on an app like Nextdoor. Then all of a sudden I remembered, “Wait, there’s a fully stocked workshop in the basement of the Lodge!”
What a concept! A masonic lodge making itself useful for it’s members to BUILD stuff. Yes, there are some logistics, like having a good check in and check out system so things don’t get lost or broken and having some form of accountability. But it’s 2017, there are plenty of tools to help with that. The bigger issue is collecting the tools, building a home for them, and regulating access.
However, once something like that is in place, the most obvious thing to do is build up the shared resources of the Lodge. We live in a day and age where even miniature free libraries are popping up on street corners. It behooves the Freemasons to share with each other. Our culture is shifting in this direction with the emergence of the shared economy over the last few years. Freemason Lodges are primed and ready to epitomize all the value of membership and more than what we could get off the app store. After all, we’re brothers.
The bottom line for me is that we’re neglecting one of our greatest assets for building fraternity, our venues. We need to stop thinking of our buildings as sacred temples, and start thinking of them as our clubhouses, a practical resource and retreat to improve the lives of its members. If we simply and objectively think of what the modern man would want out of their dream clubhouse, that’s a starting point for progress.
Once we reorient our way of thinking about our lodge buildings and realize they are not museums, and but should be practical venues of both refreshment and labor that fit easily and practically into our modern lifestyles, is when Freemasonry would will become visible in the day to day lives of our communities.
The record of the 1877 proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Washington includes a report presented by Bro. T. M. Reed, for the special committee appointed to procure a Grand Lodge Banner, and Jewels and Aprons for the Grand Lecturer and Grand Chaplain:
To M. W. Grand Lodge of Washington:
The special committee appointed near the close of our last Annual Grand Communication, and authorized to procure a Grand Lodge Banner, having suitable design and inscriptions, for the use of this Grand Lodge, and also, to procure suitable Regalia and Jewels for the offices of Grand Lecturer and Grand Chaplain, respectively report that they have discharged the duties assigned them. Before purchasing the Banner your committee corresponded with various Masonic furnishing establishments in the East, and one of our members made it a special point while on a recent visit to San Francisco, and the Atlantic cities, to elicit such information as would aid the committee in the choice of a Banner of such style, quality and price, as would meet the desires and be alike creditable and pleasing to the Grand Lodge. Your committee flatter themselves they have succeeded, and feel assured the result of their labors will be satisfactory to the Grand Lodge. The Banner cost $150, to which add Express charges of $15.30 making a total of $165.30. It was manufactured at the well known establishment of J. D. Caldwell & Co., Cincinnati, Ohio. The description of the Banner is as follows: Size 56×40 inches; double white silk ground; ornamented by blue top skirt, differing in style on either side; on front side, painted Grand Lodge Seal, solid gold device and lettering in back, the corners embellished and ornamented with appropriate scroll designs – blue on top skirting border, the word “ALKI” our Territorial motto. Reverse side – white silk ground blue top skirt, painted on body of Banner a large shield representing the lion, the ox, the man and the eagle, the shield encircled by a wreath of variegated colors. The words “Grand Lodge of Washington” encircling the whole device on reverse side. Two and a half inch gold fringe, with gold tassels around the margin of Banner and skirting; metal top piece, jointed staff, roller, gold cord and tassels, &c.
The Jewels and Regalia cost $34, including Express charges, bill for which, including the Banner, are herewith presented, the whole having been paid by the Grand Secretary, and charged in his incidental expense account.
J. R. Hayden,
P. A. Preston,
T. M. Reed,
Today’s Grand Standard retains many of the features described on the 1877 Banner.
The Grand Standard of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, F&AM of Washington measures approximately 25” wide and 42” long, and is rich in both color and Masonic symbolism. The rod upon which it is carried is nearly 94” long, inclusive of the 8” brass spear point at the top.
The art and science of devising, displaying, and granting armorial insignia and of tracing and recording genealogies is referred to as heraldry. The primary mechanism to display the heraldic devices is on an escutcheon or shield.iModern heraldry often adds a motto displayed on a ribbon.
Dexter and sinister are terms, which refer to the specific locations on a shield bearing a coat of arms. Dexter (Latin for “right”) refers to the right from the viewpoint of the bearer of the shield. Sinister (Latin for “left”) refers to the left from the viewpoint of the bearer.ii Similarly, chief and base refer to the top and bottom of the shield, respectively.
The obverse of the Grand Standard is a field of white, bearing the name GRAND LODGE OF WASHINGTON, a shield, a laurel wreath, and the square & compasses. Across the top of the obverse is a purple bib emblazoned with the word “ALKI”.
The shield of the Grand Standard consists of a lion on a field of red (Dexter Chief), an ox on a field of blue (Sinister Chief) an eagle on a field of white (Sinister Base), and a man on a field of blue (Dexter Base).
Royal Arch Masonry tradition teaches us that the symbols on the shield are representative of the “Four Living Creatures”, or the four principal tribes of Israel; Judah (the Lion, representing strength), Ephraim (the Ox, representing patience), Reuben (the Eagle, representing swiftness), and Dan (the Man, representing intelligence).iii
We read in the Volume of Sacred Law about the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1:5-11 and again in Revelation 4:7.
The colored fields upon which the symbols are placed also have Masonic meaning; red is representative of the regeneration of life, blue represents the vault of heaven and is a symbol of universal friendship and benevolence, and white represents purity and innocence.iv (York Rite tradition would have the Man on a field of purple, which is described as an emblem of union consisting of blue and crimson.)
The laurel is an emblem of achievement; and the laurel crown in Freemasonry is given to him who has made a conquest over his passions.v
The square represents morality, and teaches us to regulate our actions and harmonize our conduct by the principles of morality and virtue.
The Compasses represents virtue, and teach us to circumscribe our desires and keep our passions within due bounds.
The motto, “Alki”, is a Chinook word meaning “by and by”. [“Alki” is also the Washington State Motto. Washington was admitted to the Union as the 42nd state in 1889, some 30 years after the Grand Lodge of Washington was established.]
Purple is in Freemasonry a symbol of fraternal union, because, being compounded of blue, the color of the Ancient Craft, and red, which is that of the Royal Arch, it is intended to signify the close connection and harmony which should ever exist between those two portions of the Masonic system. It may be observed that this allusion to the union and harmony between blue and red Masonry is singularly carried out in the Hebrew word, which signifies purple.This word, which is argamun, is derived from ragam, or rehem, one of whose significations is “a friend.”vi
The perimeter of the Standard is trimmed in gold fringe. The color gold represents light emerging from darkness, and wisdom.vii
The reverse of the Grand Standard is a field of white, bearing the seal of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge F&AM of Washington, crossed swords, and additional decorations presumed as ornamental. Across the top of the reverse is a purple bib emblazoned with the All-Seeing Eye.
Gordon Johnson, Grand Standard Bearer
The seal of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge F&AM of Washington which consists of:
Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons
All-Seeing Eye (representative of the Great Architect of the Universe), under which is inscribed “Love”.
A Seaman holding an anchor (which is a symbol of hope) and an orchid (which is a symbol of strength), and the phrase “Exitus Acta Probat”, which means the outcome justifies the deed [Dexter].
A mosaic pavement (emblematical of human life) with three columns (which represent wisdom, strength, and beauty), three steps (which represent the three degrees of Masonry and the three principal stages of human life), the 47th problem of Euclid (inspiring Masons to be lovers of the arts and sciences), sun, moon, and comet (which perform their revolutions under the watchful care of the All-Seeing Eye) [Sinister].
Square and Compasses, under which is inscribed “In God is our Trust” and “Dec. 8, 5858” (Date on which our Grand Lodge was established).
References from Volume of Sacred Law:
Ezekiel 1: 5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved. 10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces.
Revelation 4:7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.
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!
About 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!).
So, 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!
These 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.
I’m what the old guys would call “a tech guy.” What that means to me and what it means to them are two very different things. To them, it means I know how to do something as far as this whole ‘internet thing’ is concerned. While I may get tripped up on the technicalities of specialization of my profession, they’re right about one thing, I’m a millennial through and through.
There’s been a lot of confusion about the word ‘millennial’. I subscribe to a field of thought that views millennials as the post-generation generation. Unlike Generation Y, which is who most people confuse with Millennials, Millennials act in a new way of being human that relies primarily on digital technology as our most natural way to connect with others. That means that it includes any age group, nationality, or culture of human who live and breathe in the digital world as much as they do in the physical.
Millennials, because of our use of technology to connect with others, naturally see the world through a lense that is much broader than people who grew up without a real-time window into the lives of others. Freemasonry across the world has understood that we have “a marketing problem”, however, what many freemasons don’t realize is that you can’t solve it with a new logo or a tagline. We have to adopt new technology in order to speak the new language millennials understand: social media.
For those who don’t really understand why so many social networks exist, the explanation is actually fairly simple. Each social network has its own purpose. Linkedin is ideally used for work connections, Pinterest is used to collect beautiful and inspirational images, Facebook is the place to keep up with friends and acquaintances, Twitter is optimal for connecting with strangers to discuss mutual interests and topics, and Instagram is where we share memories visually. All of these networks help enhance our human experience by connecting with many many more people than we otherwise could.
Jason Silva is someone who I would consider to be an archetype of a 21st century philosopher. This video is a little piece he did that explains the network.
Now comes the interesting phenomenon: following celebrities. People follow them because they want to feel like a part of their life and enjoy in the moments that they feel are special to them. And the oldest celebrity office in the world, the Pope himself, finally joined instagram in March of this year. Frankly, he’s killing it.
Millennials crave authenticity and transparency. These are things that become more and more difficult for institutions as they age, so the Freemasons and the Catholic church face a similar challenge in that regard. However, when an old institution like the Vatican focuses their Instagram account on the humanity of those precious passing moments of the present, old institutions become very relevant.
So my call to action is, every lodge should have someone instagramming, whether they do it personally and include the fact that they are a Freemason in their bio, or by posting on behalf on of their lodge. The focus should be on the fellowship, not the regalia. The secrets of our brotherhood are the bonds between brothers, and everyone can relate to or aspire to that.
Good Evening Brethren, welcome to autumn in the Pacific Northwest. This is actually my favorite time of year. The rainy days upon us have quickly greened up our summer lawns and the sunny-crisp days of September are the last glimmers of summer fading away. We are reminded that the chill of winter will be knocking on our door shortly, and with it comes the shadowed silhouette of leaf-bare branches.
Our year is beginning to draw to an end. For many, this time is reminiscent of the sands in the hour glass noticeably and yet quickly diminishing and as a result we begin to naturally look inward and examine what this year has meant. And this has given me cause to reflect on our Grand Master’s message this year.
Before becoming a Freemason, this fraternity, this society you have joined asks of you one question – simple, yet profound – what came you here to do?
I hope your answer is just as profound.
Because none of us needs to be a Freemason. And want I mean to say is that we all choose to be a Freemason. We choose this life because something in our nature is responding to a mysterious call. And as such, your Masonic journey is really like a mission. Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to learn to subdue your passion and improve yourself in Masonry.
Learning to subdue your passion. Which at first blush seems a bit counterproductive. Don’t we learn as a child to be passionate about what we do? For the initiate of our Masonic order, this is one of the first and most important points of Freemasonry and yet this is often vulnerable to misinterpretation, and consequently it merits some examination.
First, we must understand why we use the word passion. As it relates to our ritual, I believe we are talking about an affection of the mind. Oxford Dictionary refers to this type of passion as “Any kind of feeling by which the mind is powerfully affected or moved; a vehement, commanding, or overpowering emotion.”
Which is why we come here, to this temple of virtue, to learn to subdue our overpowering emotions. Because passion taken to an extreme overcomes our reason. And are we not instructed by the virtue of PRUDENCE which teaches us “to regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictates of reason, and it is that habit by which we wisely judge and prudentially determine all things relative to our present as well as to our future happiness. This virtue should be the peculiar characteristic of every Mason, not only for the government of his conduct while in the Lodge, but also when in the world.”
In other words, when you combine these concepts into one thought, we can say that “to learn to subdue my passions” means to through the virtuous teachings of Masonry one learns to bring commanding and overpowering emotions and desires into subjection and control. This is quite the contrary to the situation in which a man’s passions and emotions have control over his sense of logic and reason – a situation which Masonry seeks to remedy and which is often described through the all too well known cliché of making a good man better. In other words, it is not within the capability of our ego-driven self to keep passion in check. We must learn to do this.
By improving oneself in Masonry. At first this seems like almost an obvious statement – for why else would one be here? It’s so vast it almost seems like the perfect “catch all” statement. But before we gloss over it and commence with scheduling the next feast and celebration, let us consider the nature of this declaration.
For it is a personal commitment. You joined to improve yourself.
Unfortunately, the Masonic experience for some is reminiscent of the fallacy of what has become a tag line for an entire generation – Here we are now, entertain us. But nothing could be more opposite from the truth. Freemasonry exists for YOU to discover her treasure and no one should expect it to be done for them. You come here to improve yourself in knowledge of Masonry. And it is through and from this expansion of knowledge that we begin to learn to conduct ourselves with peace and harmony with those around us.
First with our brethren, but then with the outer world. And consequently, we become a better, more improved version of earlier self.
As Masons, we are called to labor and be laborers. From the very first step in our Initiatic journey we are taught symbolically how to make use of every hour of every day by the 24-inch gauge.
We are taught to divide our time equally between our service to the Supreme Architect and our worthy brethren, to our society through our vocation and to the refreshment of ourselves which includes, presumably, our family.
This is why it is so hard for many of us to sit idle, wasting the hours away accomplishing little but the short lived thrills of passing amusement.
It’s simply not in our nature as Masons.
If you stop and think about it, we are constantly working on a temple – whether it’s our spiritual, temporal, or our personal temple.
We build – that is what we do, and there is no rest for the weary.
You see, this is why our Grand Masters theme this year encapsulates the very essence of what it means to be a Mason. It’s not simply a theme but rather a reminder of the declaration you made when you chose to become a Mason.
‘Be the Difference’ by its very nature is calling our craft from refreshment to labor
So brethren, I ask you again, what came you here to do?
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.
Our 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.
Because 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.
So 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.
I 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.