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.
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.
Before 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
The 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
The 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
The 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.
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.
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.
Operant 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.
Masonic 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.
The 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.
Protestant 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.
The 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.
In 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.
After 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.
I 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.
I’m that nerd that has a running list of every one of the best films to understand the history of the western world. Some day, I’ll rewatch them all from beginning to end. But in the meantime, something that I’ve noticed is that a lot of ignorance exists around the time period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the founding of the United States for many American Freemasons.
In order to understand the role American Freemasonry plays in history, I feel like every Freemason in America should at least watch the following 33 historical films, series, and documentaries…
Agora – Starring Rachel Weiss. Set in Alexandria, Egypt, this film covers the rise of Christianity, the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, and the decline of the study of the liberal arts and sciences.
The Last Legion – Depicts the legionary formation of early British kingdoms from the ashes of the Roman Empire.
King Arthur – This is the dramatic retelling of the Arthur legend, following the most historically plausible inspiration of events. A Roman legionnaire named Artorius stays behind after the Roman retreat out of Briton in order to defend the natives from the invading Saxons.
Arthur (In Search of Myths and Legends) – This documentary essentially identifies three historical individuals who are the most likely inspirations for the stories of King Arthur and Camelot, which have become a defining narrative for the English people. Freemasonry as it is formed today can trace some of its roots to the chivalric organization born out of Arthurian legend, adopted into the British monarchy and later infused into Freemasonry as we know it.
Charlemagne (mini-series) – Alright, so it’s not great production quality… or casting… and the script feels forced. However, there isn’t much out there on the first emperor of the Holy Roman empire, which is unfortunate because on Christmas Day 800, he was crowned Emperor of Europe and created much of the orders of chivalry that inspired a good portion of the organizational structure later adopted into Freemasonry. In particular, knights, barons, earls and dukes were given hereditary military titles and ranks to ensure perpetual readiness to defend against Viking invaders.
Vikings (Series) – This series is great for those Game of Thrones lovers out there. This particular story ties the historical events of the Viking invaders of England (beginning in 793) and France (845). While the main character, Ragnar Lothbrok, is a historical character, his exploits have been muddied by legendary embellishments, so he probably gets credit for more than he ought. The series identifies Rollo, as his brother. I love this, because thanks to ancestry.com, I know that Rollo was one of my ancestors. He conquered northern France, then converted to Christianity and was given the title of Duke of Normandy after changing his people’s name from Norsemen to Norman after their conversion.
The Last Kingdom – This slightly more historically accurate conclusion to the Viking invasions of England features the rise of Alfred the Great, originally from Wessex. It was Alfred who was able to defend the island by importing stonemasons from Paris (which, in Gallic literally means “the builders”). Alfred is also discussed in the Legend of York, a foundational primary source of the origins of Freemasonry, according to Mackey.
Monarchy (documentary series) Series 1: Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4 – Alright, so we’ve avoided documentaries up to this point, but it’s history and there is no way around it. This one establishes the history of England as dictated by the kings, and contextualizes the events that led up to a united England by the Norman Conquest under William The Conqueror. This series essentially gets you caught up on what happened between 950 and 1100.
Pillars of the Earth (mini-series) – Now we enter the Ridley Scott grouping. If I were a betting man, I would say he is a Freemason due to much of the subject matter he chooses to film, and how he goes about doing it. This series is derived from Ken Follet’s body of work in historical fiction, and follows the parallel lives of kings, clergy and stonemasons who all have vested interests in the construction of a cathedral in England. This film documents in detail the life of operative masons, and contextualizes what that means on a very practical, and human level. Follet is a strong storyteller, which comes through in Ridley’s portrayal.
Kingdom of Heaven – This is another Ridley Scott film with a dynamite cast, and an even better script — I recommend watching the Director’s Cut. The story follows the bastard son of a French knight, who is recruited by his father to come to the Holy Land and become a baron. He becomes a key player in the conflict between the Christian kingdom in Jerusalem during the Crusades and the Philosopher King of Egypt (and eventual conqueror of Jerusalem), Saladin. I’ll be honest, Saladin is my favorite character in this film, and despite the fact he only has a few lines, I was inspired to buy and read everything I could about him after seeing this film.
Robin Hood – Ridley, yet again. This film picks up a few short years after Kingdom of Heaven, which ends with King Richard (yes, the Lionheart) on his way to to try to retake Jerusalem (unsuccessfully) from Saladin. The story begins with the return and untimely demise of the king and and how that threw Robin of Loxley (a.k.a. Robin of the Hood) into the conflict with King John, which eventually lead to the creation of the Magna Carta. Something to note is that that Ridley goes out of his way to draw the connection between Magna Carta and the masons by way of Robin Hood’s father.
Ironclad – Finally, a film by a different director. After the signing of the Magna Carta, several knights were assigned to enforce it upon King John — most of which were Templars. This story follows the battle that became the demise of King John, a drawn-out siege of a keep in Southeast England, fortified by Thomas Marshal. The one thing that bugs me with this film is that the filmmakers essentially merged the lives of the real Marshal and another of my ancestors, Robert de Ros, who was charged with defending the north of England. Unlike de Ros, Marshal wasn’t actually made a member of the Knights Templar until long after his military career as an honor that ensured his burial in Temple Church in London.
Braveheart – While there is plenty this is wrong with this world favorite from the prime of Mel Gibson’s ascent up the rollercoaster of favor, such as the fact that he wore a kilt, or hooked up with a princess who in real life would have been like 8 years old and living in France, the social political events are pretty accurate. …Oh yeah, and there is the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which the filmed without a bridge, which is confusing.
Henry V – A Shakespearean classic during the 100 Years War and the English conquest of the French. The 100 Years War began with invention of the longbow, and ended with the invention of the cannon. The result was the permanent cultural and political split between the higher courts of England and France and the formation of a uniquely English identity.
Joan of Arc – The French side of the story of Henry V. Every script is different though, so don’t expect Shakespeare.
Monarchy (documentary series) Series 2: Episodes 1, 2 – The Wars of the Roses may have come to the minds of history buffs while watching season one of Game of Thrones. The basic story is that there was a power vacuum and cousins fought for the throne. Ultimately, it settled with Henry VIII’s dad winning and marrying the princess of the rival party, which leads us to the next mini-series.
The Tudors (mini-series) – Arguably one of the most entertaining and well-produced series on this list. We’ve all heard about the most scandalous and bombastick king in England, but few films document not only the events he catalyzed, which separated Protestant from Catholic, but also the personal struggles that greatly impacted his decisions and ultimately, the course of the English empire.
Borgia (mini-series) – Much of the history of Europe is dictated by Rome, including many of the events that led to divisions of countries and even the religion itself. The Borgia family rose to power during the 15th century, as immigrants from Spain. Their lives tell the story of the inner workings of the Vatican and its impact on the affairs of all of Europe.
Monarchy (documentary series) Series 2: Episode 3 – In order to understand the succession of the three Tudor children to the throne, eventually culminating with Queen Elizabeth I, the stories of the political backdrop, paired with the life stories of both Edward and Mary are fundamentally necessary.
Elizabeth – Arguably the greatest queen in European history, Elizabeth reveals the story of how Elizabeth I became queen and eventually restacked her advisors and crafted her persona into the Virgin Queen.
Elizabeth: Golden Age – The sequel to Elizabeth, this is the story of the middle years of her reign and defense of England against the Spanish and other outside forces. These events ushered in the Golden Age of England where the country become the dominate seafaring nation.
Anonymous – Many theories exist about whether or not the works of WIlliam Shakespeare were actually written by the individual to whom we currently credit the works. This story suggests that the plays were written by someone with a far greater education and experience with Europe and travel, by imagining that the Earl of Oxford, who many believe actually wrote the works of Shakespeare, is indeed the author.
Monarchy (documentary series) Series 2: Episode 4 – After Elizabeth’s death without an heir, the throne passed to her nephew, James Stuart of Scotland. The logistics of that succession are important, because two kingdoms were joined, thus creating the United Kingdom we know today.
To Kill A King – This is arguably the most important historic film for Freemasonry because the framework we recognize as Freemasonry began to emerge during the events of this time. It is set against the backdrop of the English Civil War, which was waged by Parliament, representing the people, against their king, Charles I. Charles lost and was beheaded. Going king-less didn’t end up working out for the British people, but it did set events in motion that would give rise for the English enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.
Monarchy (documentary series) Series 2: Episode 5 – This one is really just an elaboration on “To Kill A King”. I recommend watching this over the movie “Cromwell”, although Alec Guinness did play a great Charles I in that movie. After all, he looks just like him!
Monarchy (documentary series) Series 3: Episode 1 – “The Return of the King”, otherwise known as The Restoration, was the English invasion by the beheaded king’s son, Charles II. After he was back on the throne at the age of 30, he reinstituted many of the old orders of knighthood and chivalry, as well as many innovations such as the royal society, and many say Freemasonry, itself.
The Restoration – The events that surround the restoration of the British Monarchy are not only the decadence of King Charles II’s lavish parties, but they also featured great strides of science. Additionally, there were setbacks such as the Great Fire of London and another outbreak of the plague, which reshaped not only the social landscape of London, but also the physical landscape to make way for the city we now recognize.
The Last King (mini-series) – While this does overlap with “The Restoration”, it gives a more detailed look at the friends and circles of Charles II. This society provided the groundwork for the height of the British Empire and the great advancements of the Scientific Revolution, and were made possible by the dismissal of Parliament and insider trading between England, France and the Netherlands.
The Patriot – I’ve wanted to hate Mel Gibson for as long as I can, but love him or hate him, his movies have now ended up on this list, twice. While his character in “The Patriot” is fictional, the events and script aren’t half bad for an overview of the experience of a leader in the American Revolution.
John Adams (mini-series) – As far as a historical perspective of the American Revolution, there really isn’t any better set of films than this series. It follows the career of the 2nd President of the United States from the representation of British soldiers in court, to ambassador to France and England, and finally, to the Presidency. Oh, right! Also, an influential architect of the Declaration of Independence and the United States’ Constitution.
Lafayette: The Lost Hero (documentary) – Probably the best note to leave with Freemasons would be the story of Lafayette. At just 17 years old, he was the richest man in France that was not in line for the throne. Lafayette met Benjamin Franklin at a Lodge, bought his own army and navy and sailed to support the American Revolution, becoming something like a son to George Washington.
Recently the cast of “Hamilton” paid tribute to the landmark musical “A Chorus Line” on the occasion of its 40th anniversary on Broadway. Part of the tribute included the cast of “Hamilton” performing the signature number from “A Chorus Line”, “What I Did for Love”. As various cast members took their turn at a solo section, I was struck by the fact that none of the principals claimed a solo part, https://youtu.be/h-BB_2L2Dwg. This speaks directly to the spirit of “A Chorus Line” – take the spotlight off the star and shine it upon those who make the show work.
In many ways, your leadership is borrowing this idea from “A Chorus Line”. I think General Colin Powell said it best: “Though important, we will accomplish nothing strictly by organizational chart, strategic plan, or management theory. We will succeed or fail because of the people involved.” So let’s set the future of our Craft by those who make up the Craft, who are our Craft, who are the strength that sustain our Craft, who are our Craft’s future.
At installation, I laid out eight key initiatives: Improve Membership Retention, Increase Use & Awareness of the New Candidate Education Program, Continue to Develop Future Leaders, Leverage Technology to Improve the Quality of the Lodge Experience, “One More”, Reclaim the Narrative, Review the Long Plan, Reshape the Military Recognition Committee. Each of these initiatives is being undertaken by a key committee, and I am proud to report that each of them have developed plans of action – complete with timelines, deliverables, and measurables – to see to the accomplishment of their objectives. In some cases, objectives have already been achieved, and I am looking forward to each committee sharing with you how they are doing.
As I stated in my remarks at installation, any success that is achieved will belong to those who make up these key committees, and they will deserve the accolades and applause. Any shortcoming will be on me for not providing the appropriate guidance, direction, or resources. The Grand Master may be the “star”, but it is the brethren who make it work and who deserve the spotlight.
MGM – Manlalakbay na Gurong Mason (Traveling Master Mason)
Masonic Family Park
Granite Falls, Wa.
July 2, 2016
The Tragedy of the Character of Hiram Abiff.
There is a modicum of uncertainty among less-informed brethren as to whether the tragedy of Hiram Abiff really existed. For every lodge has their own interpretation that calls for some brothers to think that it has become something different from its origin. So animated and so confrontational that it no longer suits the insulated sameness that it is to be… a mock tragedy.
A brother, who showed his shallowness of reason by neglecting the importance of the drama makes him unfit to ever become a member of the craft.
To understand and appreciate the drama to its fullest extent and to absorb the essence of its profound meaning is something that will be with us for quite sometime.
Though it is wrong to consider it as history, the image of the drama always comes across with purity and sacred ritualistic quality.
The catastrophe of our very self is evidently portrayed, regardless of who we are or where we are. It is the reflection of the crisis & fate of that Hiram Abiff in every one of us.
The work he engaged in to beautify and adorn the temple is similar to the cunning workmanship we do as we try to manage and adorn our own daily lives – our own temple so to speak.
The ruffians he encountered symbolize none other than the lusts and passions we men fail to subdue.
And his final destiny to be buried in the rubbish of the temple is an allegorical picture of our great mental distress, a tragic loss of a son, disgrace, or the defeat of our hopes and dreams; this is a common experience in our daily lives.
The manner in which he was raised again is the same manner by which men, with God’s mighty help, will raise us out of the receptacles of defeat, disgrace or even death.
We were asked to take part in the drama this afternoon not only to satisfy the ritual of the SUBLIME DEGREE but to impress deeply upon the mind that it is our drama not our newly raised brother, there being exemplified or being inflicted with pain.
Our participation was intended to be an experience to let us realize that to become a master of our very self we must rise above our own internal enemies.
After all, as they say: “the strongest among us are the ones who smile through silent pain, cry behind closed doors and fight battles nobody knows about.”
Finally, though the path to fulfilling happiness may seem elusive to some of us, with the trials and the inevitable sufferings in life, it is still a great day indeed to be a Mason.
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.
It’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). In 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.
I 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.
From 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.
Due to the fact than many brothers and lodges have expressed that they would be interested in help with their lodge websites, I’ve had my company, which built and maintains the Grand Lodge website, put together special packages to be available to all lodges in Washington to help out.
Below are the details, and if anyone thinks their lodge might be interested, they can fill out the following form, and we will send more information for your lodge to vote on at your next stated meeting.
-Danny Done, co-chair of the Grand Lodge technology committee.
Today officially begins the 2016 Annual Grand Lodge Stated Communication, which is one of the best times for Freemasons to network, learn from and grow with each other. I hope this post will be food for both thought and discussion as we look toward the future, what it may look like, and what role Freemasonry has to play. These opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Grand Lodge of Washington. If you wish to engage in a discussion or debate on these thoughts, I welcome conversation on my twitter account @danieldone or in person if you can catch me. Also you’ll all notice that I link to Jason Silva’s Youtube account a lot. You all should subscribe. He’s great.
Here’s a kick off thought:
I subscribe to the theory that we’re in the middle of the greatest leap forward in our evolution as humans since the agricultural revolution over 10,000 years ago. This leap is fueled by the digital revolution and is fundamentally changing not only how we as a species live day-to-day, but also how we see ourselves and who we are at our core. This transition is as big of a turning point in our history as the events that inspired the story the Garden of Eden. And, in order to venture into this brave new phase of human history, we need Freemasonry more than ever, because it frames a universal code of conduct for those who know that their work and actions transform themselves, their families, their neighbors, their countries, and their world in real time.
Let me explain…
Biologically, we’re primates.
There is less of a difference genetically between us, chimps and bonobos than there is between African Elephants and Indian Elephants. But what makes humans truly different is our ability to work as a group, and understand and empathize with other individuals we’ve never met. We can form strong, yet flexible networks that allow us to work as a collective in order to not only complete great wonders of the world and build empires, but also to discover, conceive of and refine our knowledge and understanding of the world. That ability to work together is at a tipping point of exponential growth due to the real-time connection that the internet has given us. It may be that digital technology is, in fact, the greatest democratizing force in human history, and will change our biology and neurology in a greater way than the discovery of fire.
All humanity is a massive organism.
At a neurological level, we’re entirely the sum of the knowledge and influences of people the in our lives such as our mothers, our fathers, our siblings, our teachers our friends, and the millions of other people who contribute to every article we read, TV show we watch and ad we subliminally see. Our bodies are sustained by an infrastructure built by hundreds of millions of people working together for the betterment of the whole. We need that infrastructure and the people who made it as much as a finger requires the hand, the arm, the heart and the lungs all working together in order to move and function. While some of us may prefer to live in a cabin in the woods, the truth is, no human can survive without others, period. (In fact, I even question whether or not humanity is something that we grow into through connection with other humans.) But if you look at the the way in which people connect with those closest to them, almost like individual brain cells forming their own micro-networks, you can get an idea for how we’re players in several different networks, at work and at home. If you zoom out and look at Earth, all humanity is a massive organism, and we’re getting more and more connected as we turn ourselves into a super organism.
In fact, that superorganism is entirely augmented by our tools and technology, which is forms like an exoskeleton, and is as important to who we are as a hermit crab’s shell.
We chose the Tree of Knowledge.
I grew up as a non-denominational Protestant along with about 58% of the US. But at the University of Washington, I studied Comparative History of Ideas and had the opportunity to study several religions. One topic that had particular significance to me in this context was Jewish history. I discovered that one of the hardest things for a traditional American Evangelical to correctly understand is the systems of metaphor, meaning and poetry that was infused into the many of the early Old Testament books of the Bible. To put my opinion simply, I believe the Bible is true, but we’re too stupid to truly understand it.
So I take stories like the Garden of Eden seriously, but in a somewhat untraditional way. In particular, I look at the choice made by humans to opt for the Tree of Knowledge over the Tree of Life. Once we as humans learned to cook our meat and increase the protein we can absorb, thus expanding our brain size, meat became necessary to our existence. The same is true with farming, language, arithmetic — we become dependent on those ideas and can never fully unlearn if we are to survive.
The moment each of these ideas were introduced to human networks, we were socially, mentally and even biologically changed forever. A great case in point is smart phones. How many of us would ever voluntarily get rid of our smartphone once we’ve experienced the way in which improves our access to people and information?
This essentially changes our paradigm of evolution away from relying on genetic mutation over generations in order to evolve new tools that are part of our bodies. Now our minds have allowed us to evolve our technology as an extension of our bodies.
Technology, beginning with sticks and stones, infects us as humans and carries with it nearly infinite unknown costs and benefits. These result in progress, as well as war, famine, disease and death. We only hope that with enough collaboration, the sum of humanity can come up with fixes to fend off those “horsemen of the apocalypse” before they destroy us. I think we have a good shot.
An idea is the most resilient parasite.
Evolution is no longer biological for us.
There is a feedback loop between our tools and ourselves, causing what is called a dialectic, which is forcing us to evolve. Operative masons once built cities, cathedrals, keeps and castles that shaped culture, and you had better believe they did it on purpose. They understood that architecture forms the exoskeleton of societies, and influences how those societies function, link, feel, and controls their future.
Freemasons expand that idea that to everything that is man made has a similar impact… We’re all engaged in the transcendence of our humanity.
Our tools are an extension of our body.
I was spellbound by a TED talk given by the MIT Hugh Herr on bionics. Herr lost both his legs to frostbite in the 80s. In the talk, he said, “I didn’t view my body as broken. I reasoned that a human being can never be “broken” but rather that “technology is broken.” The insight of that quote alludes to the foundational philosophy of Millennials. By framing it in that context, he is recognizing that his body is nothing more than technology, and so the inverse is also true. Technology is the extension of the body.
This premise was known by ancient swordsmen, who taught the sword is the extension of the arm, and also by Steve Jobs, who famously called the computer the “bicycle of the mind”. It was certainly known by Larry Page and Sergey Brin and their team at Google. The refinement of algorithms such as theirs is nothing more than techno-sociological ergonomics. In other words, it’s refining itself to better serve our needs and desires as humans.
Given that now we produce more content and knowledge in an hour than in most centuries of our past, and that nearly all of this is either stored or shared through the internet. Meanwhile, the internet has effectively become a literal collective consciousness, and that “sum of all knowledge and understanding” can actually be quantified by the weight of those electrons. The most humbling thing is that it’s smaller than the smallest possible grain of sand.
What is the collective consciousness?
The idea of collective consciousness has been around for centuries and has been studied in the context of shared experiences in both space and time. A concert, a revolution, a tsunami, a war is something that has an impact on such a large group of people that that memory is shared amongst an entire group of people and is often remembered for generations, or even millennia.
Ritual has the same effect on the human brain as events. It’s something that is shared throughout generations and forms the mortar that binds groups together which is why we use it in Freemasonry. Ritual, however can be engineered, just like cities, and purposefully have a direct impact on the societies and and individuals they produce. Being aware of that engineering effect thus, could be considered collective self consciousness.
Today, thanks to technology and education, we have over a billion people connected to the internet, which allows them to connect in real time and collaborate on projects large and small. This means that from a macro level, if the entire human race is an evolving brain, it would be just a few short years away from being able to think and act as one in our own best interest. However, in order to do that, we’re departing from our old tools of communication; we’ve passed pen and paper, the printing press, Radio, and TV (which are all mono-directional). Social media gives a voice to all, but it still requires an interface. We now know that within the next 50 years, communication and connection to the internet will be integrated into our minds to one degree or another.
The integration and rapid evolution of digital technology into a culture, therefore hyper-charges our individual and collective quest to be more human.
Last week, an article was published in TechCruch on search engine algorithms’ artificial intelligence called “Deep Brain.” There is a great summary in that article about the progression of artificial intelligence. Now again, if our tools are just an extension of our bodies, and the tools we use together like the roads, trains, and the electrical grid are the skeleton of our collective organism, then the internet and all of its information, programs and robots are in fact an extension of humanity itself. Now predictions are that our machines will be as intelligent as the sum of all human brains put together by 2060. Once we reach that point, there is no turning back. All rules are off. We will have left Eden again. Or, just maybe, we might be returning to a new Eden where war, famine, disease and death are finally eradicated by our own will and power. We will see.
Why we are “Free-Masons”, really?
You might have noticed that Elias Ashmole’s first mention of Freemasonry was “Free-Mason” in his diary in 1646. It is so important to realize that the birth of “Free-Masonry” was in the time just before the explosion of knowledge and invention that was the English Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. I believe the realization was due in part to a recognition that Masonry studied the fact that our environments shape society, and had studied this for centuries. Because of that power, it behooves good men to hold themselves and others to standards of building societies for good and the betterment of all and not our own selfish ends. With the scientific revolution, it became clear that we are all builders in our own way, and have that same power to change the world through our creativity and workmanship.
So moving forward into a world where we are about to breach the gates of everything that is possible, one thing will remain the same, human nature. Freemasonry speaks directly to the core of what it means to be human and reorients our minds to what is truly important amid the chaos of change, not in resistance to it. So I don’t have any conclusion other than big changes for humanity are here, and even bigger changes are coming. Let us be a force for the good and the betterment of humanity as we always have, but let’s find out how to do it in a new way.
I’d like to conclude not with another Jason Silva video, but with Charlie Chaplin’s speech in “The Great Dictator”. A few years back, someone brushed it off the shelves and added modern b-roll to illustrate his points. I think it illustrates exactly where we are at. I hope you all enjoyed the read, and I look forward to discussions.
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.
One 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.
Following 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.
These 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 America’s 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 Zion” was 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.
Now 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 Sion” and 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. I’m sure we have all had the experience of being asked if these stories are true.
So what’s 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 it’s 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 it’s 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!