True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Friday, October 26, 2007

Is It Time For The Shrine And Freemasonry To Separate?

In the interests full disclosure, I want to start this off by stating that I joined Al Malikah Shrine in Los Angeles in March of 2004 in a “Cold Sands” ceremonial. I dimited from the Shrine in March of 2005 after just one year of disappointment.

The intent of this article is not to slam the Shrine, nor to defame the brothers who put so much effort into the Shrine and its various activities and charities. However, it IS the intention of this article to examine whether Blue Lodge Masonry should continue its association with the Shrine.

The first question that should be asked is: Is the Shrine Freemasonry. To answer that, we need to examine the Shrine’s relationship with Blue Lodge Freemasonry. It seems to be a one-way street, with Freemasonry serving as the recruiting ground for the Shrine, while receiving no benefit, other than the very tenuous claim to the $720 million dollars per year the Shrine donates to charities.

I write one way street deliberately, because it has been my observation that the Shrine only lays claim to Freemasonic roots when it serves their purposes, and not often at that. As an example, we have all seen the ubiquitous Shrine ads, showing a man in a fez carrying a child. When has anyone ever seen that ad with a square and compass, or the notation that Shriners are all Masons?

Even on the Shrine web pages, finding any reference to Freemasonry is a tough search. So, the Shrine is made of Freemasons who are seemingly ashamed to admit they are Freemasons. How can that be?

The Shrine seems to see the Blue Lodges as their own private recruiting grounds, but they are unwilling to do anything to support the lodges. Oh, they repeatedly state that Shriners should participate in their lodge, but the SHRINE itself, seems to do everything they can to distance themselves from Freemasonry.

In fact, a few years ago, the Shrine, seeing declining membership, removed the requirement that a man be a York or Scottish Rite Mason before he could join the Shrine. The proved to be a very bad thing for the York and Scottish Rites, but hey, the membership in Shrine increased without the additional hurdle of men needing to join the other rites.

The membership of the Shrine is dependent upon the membership of the Blue Lodge, yet the Shrine fails to do the ONE thing that would make a difference… publicly acknowledge that the Shrine IS Freemasonry. Instead, they back one day conferrals of the three degrees, what is purportedly called all the way in a day.

When I showed up for my third degree, there was a brother Shriner standing there with a petition for me to fill out to become a Shriner two days later. Why would anyone want to join the Shrine, or any other appendant body within days, or even months of becoming a master mason?

Then there is the issue of money. The Shrine is awash in money, literally. IRS records show that just over 5% of the money the Shrine takes in yearly is actually spent on their hospitals and other charities. The rest stays with the Shrine to support their various internal activities. As a charity, the Shrine seems to be no better than the Red Cross… and all the Shrine labor is donated so their costs should be much lower.

The Shrine even took a vote, four years ago now, on whether it should separate itself from Blue Lodge Freemasonry! The vote failed, but not by much, which raises the question, why is Freemasonry still associated with this club? I mean, the Shrine is really no different from the Elks Lodge (which is little more than a bar with a Charity grafted on) or the Moose Lodge or, frankly, any one of a hundred other charities.

The Scottish and York Rites offer extended examination of Blue Lodge lessons, so it’s easy to see why they are affiliated, same with Order of the Eastern Star. The Shrine is just a playground and a charity, and has so little to do with Freemasonry it is amazing they were accepted for affiliation.

So, we have an affiliated body that is composed entirely of masons yet does not teach anything related to Masonic tenets; a body that is dedicated to celebration, partying and fund raising, but not to anything freemasonry teaches, except charity; a body that seems to be ashamed of its own association with Freemasonry. The question then is why the Freemasonry associated with the Shrine at all?

The money raised through various Masonic efforts and donated to the Shrine could be better put to use by the various Grand Lodges for the benefit of Masonry in general, as the United Grand Lodge if England does. They have a single Grand Charity, into which funds have been invested for a LONG time, and the proceeds from those investments fund many charities in the UK.

Its not that the hospitals the Shrine supports aren’t worthwhile endeavors, but it may be that the time has come to allow the Shrine to continue their worthwhile efforts on their own, and to let Freemasonry continue its efforts… separately.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Understanding the Fanatic Mindset

Over the years on the Internet since I was raised a Master Mason, I have had the occasional… pleasure, of dealing with fanatics. Fanatic antimasons of the Catholic stripe, of the evangelical whatever stripe, and of the tin foil hat brigades (though to be fair, it is often hard to tell them apart).

We have all been treated to their hateful, unjustifiable defamations and slanders, and it has always surprised me, the amount of just plain kookiness they can dredge up. Part of it, I am sure, can be laid at the foot of Internet anonymity.

There is a definite lack of civility on the Internet, as if, because they are hidden, anonymous, people can write and spew the most vile and disgusting words and behaviors. I just read an article by Dennis Prager, which posits that the very anonymity of the Internet is the reason and cause for the very lack of civility that creates the hatemongers that slam Freemasons at every turn.

“Being identifiable breeds responsibility; anonymity breeds irresponsibility.

That is why people -- even generally decent people -- tend to act so much less morally when in a crowd (the crowd renders them anonymous). That is why people tend to act more decently when they walk around with their names printed on a nametag. That is why people act more rudely when in their cars -- they cannot be identified as they could outside of their car. There is no question but that most people would write very different entries on the Internet if their names were printed alongside their submission.”(1)

There is something more to this antimasonic nuttery, more than can be explained by the anonymity of the Internet, though that contributes in large part to the absolutely vile things that people claiming to be Christian post to and about us. That something more may be the very thing that creates them… their faith.

Faith is a wonderful thing, and a carpenter turned Rabbi is said to have stated that faith alone the size of a mustard seed can move mountains (by the way, how does one measure the size of faith?) Faith that becomes fanaticism, however, is dangerous, and the fanatics are the one I am referencing here.

These are the men, and women, who will do anything, commit any fraud, slander, defame and do ANYTHING to win. These are the scary people, and there may be a reason for their fanaticism. Fear.

They fear, not Masons, but themselves, and the way they validate their decision and faith is to attempt to convert others to their faith or belief. For instance, the tin foil hat Konspiracy Kook. Somewhere in the sane part of their brain, they realize that what they believe is a bit… off, that it sounds crazy even to them. So they run out and try to convince themselves by trying to convert the world.

“...How do you get more people to join than quit? One way is by having current members proselytize. The fastest-growing denominations, Mr. Twitchell says, are "selling, selling, selling." They are "foregrounding growth as a sign of value." As he explains: "Missionary zeal is at the heart of their attraction not only because showing the Way to others is a source of jubilation but because it means that you yourself must have found your way. The value of the next sale (the convert) proves the value of the previous sale (yours)." It all comes down to a kind of narcissism....”(2)

“I think the insecurity comes through, as with fundi Christians, the lack of proof. They are told to simply "believe", never question. Without questions, and answers that make sense, there is no true validation. That creates doubt. Doubt leads to the fear that they are, perhaps, "wrong", and there fore, sinful. Sinfulness leads to fear, in a neverending cycle. No wonder the poor things are confused.”(3)

Missionary zeal is a bad thing. It is intolerant. In a free society, however, the free exchange of ideas holds a place for such. What a free society has no place for is hatemongering fools taking advantage of the anonymity offered by a mature society to spew vile and vicious lies in the name of whatever g-d or theory they happen to worship.

As Freemasons, taught by a peculiar system of morality, veiled by allegory and illustrated by symbols, it is our duty and our obligation to show the light of Freemasonry, not by converting, not by missionary zeal in ourselves, but by the demonstration in our daily lives of the honor, integrity and value of our ancient and honorable fraternity.

Thus we can demonstrate to the world that upon becoming Master Masons we have become better men.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular Masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.


(1) Internet Anonymity Is as Destructive as Internet Porn. By Dennis Prager,, Tuesday, October 23, 2007,

(2) A Congregation of Customers, By Naomi Schaefer Riley, Opinion, Tuesday, October 23, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

(3) Maximus, Post #2, Novus Ordo Saeculorum

Monday, October 22, 2007

Chain Of Union

Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Symbols are something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance. In Freemasonry, we have the Compass, the Square, the Level, the Plumb and so on, visible, physical symbols of philosophical principles and elements.

There are also symbols that are enacted, for instance the due guards and signs by which we can recognize each other. There is another type of enacted symbol, the Chain of Union.

Generally, it is formed at closing a lodge, and usually only in the first-degree. Some do it immediately before the closing, others after, and some as a part of the ritual of initiation where is it done in an evocative manner: Immediately after closing the works, the novice is placed “between the pillars” where he is able to see the formation of the chain. After it is formed, by order of the master, the circle is opened towards the West so the candidate, crossing the threshold, is welcomed into and becomes an integral part of it. The chain is closed, locked “with force and vigor,” having assimilated the new ring in an almost organic way.(1)

To form the chain, the brethren descend to the level, and assemble in a circular shape around the altar or tracing board in the center of the lodge. If the lodge wears gloves, the brethren should remove them, then standing shoulder to shoulder, they should stand with heels together, their feet forming the angle of a square, their toe tips touching that of the brother on each side.

The brethren should cross their arms over their chest, right arm over the left joining hands with those of his neighbors so the right hand takes the neighbors left, with the right hand covering and the left hand supporting.

The brethren should rest their chin on their chest, close their eyes and concentrate on the intent of the Worshipful Master, remaining silent and meditative. The master says: so mote it be, and the brethren raise and drop their arms in unison three times, then release the hands to break the chain and release the joined will of the brethren.

The chain of union reminds us of the indissoluble chain of sincere affection which unites us all, the high and low, the rich and the poor into one society or band of brothers. The Chain of Union also represents the knotted cord that runs around the temple walls. It indicates that we are all links belonging to the same chain.

This practice has seemingly fallen into disuse in many jurisdictions, and is one that symbolically unites us, physically, psychically, morally, and masonically.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us!


(1) Chain of Union, Giovanni Lombardo, Lodgeroom International Magazine, June 2006, pp 7

Sunday, October 21, 2007

That which you get cheaply, you hold cheaply

Advice is worth what you pay for it…

What you get cheap, you hold cheap…

These are two aphorisms that seem to best describe the dues policy in many lodges in the United States. I can’t speak to the dues structure in any other country. I will use the Grand Lodge of California as an example here, since I am a member of that Grand Lodge.

I am told that when my grandfather joined the Glendale Masonic Lodge in 1944, the entry fee was $10, and yearly dues were about $15. To give context to that, $10 was about two weeks wages for an skilled laborer in 1944, and my grandfather was a journeyman printer and 39 years old.

Today, the average initiation fee is $150 and the average dues in our lodges are $49. Per capita in 2005 was about $23, so the lodges are, on average, keeping $26 of each members dues for rent, upkeep, utilities and fraternal activities. Many lodges had hundreds of members, so this was a tenable situation, and one which has created the problem we now face.

In 1944, it took two weeks wages to be initiated and three weeks wages to be a member of a lodge. Today, the initiation fees are one day to a few HOURS wages, and dues are at most, 4 hours wages even at minimum wage.

Over the past 50-60 years, masons have kept our dues unreasonably low, because the vast number of brothers entering the fraternity supported such a thing. There was little looking toward the future, for whatever reason, so the dues structure has not changed.

Today, we have a decline in membership that is due, I think, to three things:

The first is the brothers who joined in the 1940-1970 time period are aging out of the craft (in California, the average age of joining has been 44 years of age since the Grand Lodge FORMED in 1850). The second is the 1960’s. The hippies rejected everything their parents stood for, from their morality to their clubs to the entertainments. As a result, we have lost a generation which would have started joining the lodges in the late 1980’s.

Third, and perhaps most damaging to all volunteer organizations is the change in culture overall. People just don’t join volunteer organizations like they did in the past. Every organization from the local bowling league to the local church have seen declines in membership, and Freemasonry has been no different.

In fact, a rational argument could be made that Freemasonry has done itself no service by becoming insular and turning inward, away from the communities. That, however, is an issue for a different paper.

As the membership has started to decline, a number quick fixes have been proposed, from Recently, I had occasion to rise at my Grand Lodge in opposition to a one day conferral program offered by the then Grand Master. Most Worshipful felt very strongly about the program.

We spoke about the issue of dues, and he was concerned with the declining membership that Grand Lodge would have to raise the per capita significantly to meet the financial responsibilities of the Grand Lodge, and he felt the only way to get numbers into the lodges quickly was one day conferrals.

As noted above, the dues are an average $49, which is about $4 per month. If the dues in 1944 were the equivalent of about three weeks wages, and we carry that forward to today, with an average wage of $60,000 per year, three weeks wages would be about $3,500 per year, per brother.

This is a tad high, even today, but imagine what your lodge could do if every brother contributed $3,500 per year to the activities. One can assume that the 80% that do not, or rare do come to lodge would be there every time there was something happening!

So, talking reasonably, the dues should probably be $240-$360 per year. Why this figure? Well, its $20 to $30 per month, which, while low for the amazing value Freemasonry provides us, is a more reasonable fee. Yes, this structure is 8 times higher than the current average in California, but it is a reasonable amount to support our lodges.

More than that, as was noted above, we have all seen that the vast majority of brothers in our lodges never darken the doorways. Why? Is it because the dues fee is low enough that many can afford to be stick and pin Masons there?

We would be better to have 100 active members in our lodges at $240 per year each than 400 at $49 each. This is where the title of this paper falls into place: What a man gets cheap, he holds cheap, but what a man pays dear, he holds dear.

This may sound arrogant on its surface. We all know brothers that struggle to make the rent every month, and we all have brothers in the lodge that are retired on social security and little each, who have trouble buying food and medications every month.

The dues structure is not about keeping out men that are not rich, nor is it meant to run men out of the lodges. There is not however, anything in Masonry that says the lodge cannot aid a brother in paying the yearly dues, in fact, quite the opposite is true! It is part of our obligation to aid and assist a worthy brother master mason.

To make the dues easier, the lodges could actually join the twentieth century and create a subscription, so dues could be paid monthly instead of annually. There are many things we could do, after all, we are a fraternity of brothers, with an obligation to each other. If a brother simply cannot afford the dues, the lodge should remit his dues for him, no questions asked, with the brother paying what he can.

We have a duty, an obligation, to aid, support, and protect each other, and this obligation should extend to our lodge, and to our future brethren. Yes, to the future. The lodge may not need $240 per brother per year today, but if the lodge is to be able to aid, support and protect the brothers, it needs to have more than the minimum operating funds.

It seems it is our duty to consider raising the dues, and to stop worrying about numbers. If we pay reasonable dues to ourselves through the lodges, we can concentrate on Guarding the West Gate, and keeping the standards of Freemasonry high. That way, we can do the work of Freemasonry, making ourselves better men before g-d and man.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What is Duty?

We have a duty to ourselves, to our family, to our friends, to our employers, to our community, to our country and to our g-d.

Where does that duty come from, and how does masonry help you to compass that duty?

Duty is that obligation that we take upon ourselves. By our life we each have a duty to our mothers and our fathers. By that obligation, for it must be freely taken on, we further owe a duty to our brothers and our sisters.

What happens if we do not honor that obligation to duty? Nothing. Oh, we will not be considered good men, our neighbors will look down on us, and we will grow a lack of self-respect for ourselves, but nothing will happen TO us for having a lack of honor.

Our compact with society, and each one of us has a compact with the society of men, for within society we were raised, educated and protected, includes a duty to give back. Not coin of the realm, necessarily, but labor, service of a kind. Of course, we pay back a part of the ongoing debt in taxes with coin of the realm.

In kneeling at the altar and taking on the obligation of a mason, we take upon ourselves the DUTY to our brothers, withersoever dispersed around the globe, to aid and assist, and more, to SERVE, our community our god , and ourselves.

Merriam Webster defines duty somewhat more broadly:

1 : conduct due to parents and superiors : RESPECT
2 a : obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one's position (as in life or in a group) b (1) : assigned service or business (2) : active military service (3) : a period of being on duty
3 a : a moral or legal obligation b : the force
of moral obligation
4 : TAX; especially : a tax on imports
5 a : WORK 1a b (1) : the service required (as of an electric machine) under specified conditions (2) : functional application : USE (got double duty out of the trip) (3) : use as a substitute (making the word do duty for the thing -- Edward Sapir)

The most relevant is #3 “a moral or legal obligation b : the force of moral obligation.” Duty is a moral obligation. DUTY is that moral obligation we owe to our brothers, our fellow man, and our g-d (not necessarily in that order). Duty then is service... even service to ourselves.

Duty is morality in action.

We have two separate types of duty. One duty is what we OWE to society, our forbearers and our contemporaries for our very life. The second is like the one we take on willingly at the altar of freemasonry, to obey the tenets of our fraternity, to aid and assist a distressed worth brother, and to whisper good counsel, either orally or by example. Our DUTY in masonry are the obligations we freely take at the altar. The duty we owe to society is the very air we breathe.

So, what is that nature of duty? It seems it is the obligation that a man owes g-d for the blessings of life, to his parents for giving him life and raising him, to the community for helping raise and educates him, to others as he GIVES the obligation, (wife, church, and lodge).

Duty flows from the self to the other, based on obligation, which is recognized by the honorable man. A man with no sense of obligation is only interested in the self... what HE wants, what HE needs... regardless of the consequences to those around him?

So from a sense of obligation, the honorable man accepts his duty. A man without honor has no sense of duty or obligation. Therefore, to be a mason, a man must understand and accept his duty to g-d, his community and his family. He must be an honorable man, a moral man. Otherwise, he rejects his duty or tries to avoid it.

As Freemasons, we know our duty to g-d, our brothers, our country, our community, our family… and we embrace it.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and moral and social virtue, cement us.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Is Masonry Elitist?

First, let us look at the definition of elitist. Merriam-Webster defines it as:

Main Entry: elite

Function: noun

Etymology: French élite, from Old French eslite, from feminine of eslit, past participle of eslire to choose, from Latin eligere

1 a singular or plural in construction : the choice part : Cream (the elite of the entertainment world) b singular or plural in construction : the best of a class (superachievers who dominate the computer elite -- Marilyn Chase) c singular or plural in construction : the socially superior part of society (how the elite live -- A P World) (how the F.-speaking eliteEconomist) d : a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence (members of the ruling elite) (the intellectual elites of the country) e : a member of such an elite -- usually used in plural (the elites ..., pursuing their studies in Europe -- Robert Wernick) ... was changing --

The definition of Elite and by extension, elitist seems to indicate that we are a group of elitists in that we only select, or, rather, allow, only the best, most honorable men into the fraternity. Now the question is, is that necessarily a bad thing?

Masonry, as all Masons know, is a group of good men, dedicated to god, seeking to be better men through fellowship with other good men, cleaving to a higher level of morality than society in general. If we claim a higher ground, that is, we claim to be a fraternity of good men, how exactly do we determine that, and how do we define it?

We know the requirements to be made a mason:

1) A belief in god, however the candidate knows Him

2) That the candidate be a free man, and freeborn

3) That the candidate be under the tongue of good report and come well recommended... ie, that he is a moral man.

Ok, the first two are pretty straightforward. One requires a profession of faith and no further inquiry, and the second is fairly self evident, and the manner of dress in the ritual puts a fine point on observation. Since there is no longer any slavery, the last two are pretty much givens.

The third, now, that is the one that requires examination and is the one that most likely will define the answer to my question. We know what it is to be under the tongue of good report… a moral, upright, level headed, honorable man with integrity, right?

The issue, then, is morality... does a man come to us under the tongue of good report, and does he come well recommended?

Masonry is not a church, but it IS a group of good and honorable men. The question we have to ask ourselves is what we are looking for as members for the fraternity. It is certainly not every Joe on the street, but it is, I think, every GOOD and HONORABLE man that seeks to make himself a better man.

In Guarding the West Gate I wrote that we need to ward Freemasonry against the less than upright in society. It is essential we do so, because of the peculiar system of Freemasonry, which I described here.

It is my opinion, as I stated in Peculiar System of Morality, that we are to use the freedom we take from away from outside authority, the freedom to chose, the freedom to think, the freedom to act… essential freedom. Yet, that essential freedom must be circumscribed by morality and ethics, for freedom without tempering, is evil incarnate.

Masonic principles are taught to us for a fundamental reason: It is essential that men who would grasp the ring of true choice, to ascend above the mere mortal, must have themselves under control. We must circumscribe ourselves, and to do that, we must have a moral compass in hand.

The churches were our fathers; they kept us safe from having to grow up. The churches taught us what to think, how to act, and how to worship. They taught us to be content in the circumstances in which we found ourselves, which is limiting.

When a man takes freedom in his own hands, he takes the first step away from away from “dad” and begins to grow his spirit. It is essential as we grow spiritually, TO grow spiritually, that we begin to take responsibility for our actions. However to take responsibility for our actions, we must first be moral people, and have a firm grounding in morality.

This is why Freemasonry teaches us and inculcates in us a strong sense of morality and ethical action. Of course, this is just reinforcing what we came to the fraternity with, honing, and polishing our morality… our perfect ashlars.

The freedom that Freemasonry teaches has succeeded so well that it is now taken for granted by western societies. Unfortunately, society has lost the underpinning of morality that made the personal freedom safe, and Freemasonry, which promulgated that freedom, may well become the anchor of morality for society, as we were for the freedom that is now running rampant without the moderation of morality Freemasonry provides for Freemasons.

So, back to the question I proffered at the start: Is Masonry and elitist group, and is that a bad thing?

Yes, we are an elitist group… we only accept the best, most honorable men, with demonstrated integrity and a faith in g-d. So much for the first half of the question.

The second half is even easier. Is this a bad thing? The answer, in my mind, is NO, it is not a bad thing. In fact, because of the nature of the secrets of freemasonry, it is an essential thing.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular Masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Peculiar System of Morality, taught by allegory…

As Masons, we often hear this explanation: Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, illustrated by symbols. We hear it so often, in fact, that we have come to accept it without thinking about what it means. I am going to try to change that today.

A Peculiar system of morality…

What about the Masonic Morality is peculiar? To understand that, we first need to look at what Freemasonry teaches. As I mentioned in Masonic Principles, Morals and Ethics, Freemasonry teaches us a set of PRINCIPLES as a foundation upon which we can erect of future moral and Masonic edifice.

Principles are fundamental to human life, regardless of where or how the humans live, or what understanding they have of g-d. Our principles are like the very air we breathe, they are essential to any human society. One way to quickly grasp the self-evident nature of the principles is to simply consider the absurdity of attempting to live an effective life based on their opposites.

Masonic Principles

Masonic principles, as taught in the degrees, are, for instance: Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice, Integrity, Silence, Brotherly Love, Relief, Truth, Hope, Faith, Charity, Freedom, Fervency, and Zeal. There has been a lot of discussion lately about morality, for morality, is, really, at the heart of whether a man is under the tongue of good report and can come well recommended.

There are some things upon which all of us can agree. Truth, integrity… do you say what you mean and do what you say? Faith, brotherly love, charity… these we can probably agree upon in broad strokes.

Masonic Morality

What about the sticky issues, the ones that an individual brother must grapple with in his soul, and find a position he can live with… for instance, abortion, gay rights, genetic engineering, giving a job to a brother mason instead of a stranger? Is it necessary that we agree upon every issue of morality for masonry to be an institution of morality?

I would argue that the answer is no, for we are a religious organization, without ascribing any one particular religious faith, but that faith upon which we can all agree… the fatherhood of god and the brotherhood of man. Morality, as much as religious faith, is matters of the individual brother.

Masonry takes no stand on the individual brother’s faith in god, how he knows Him, how he worships Him. However, morality, in many cases, is intricately intertwined with religious faith, dogma, and societal expectations and norms.

Defining Morality?

What and whose morality are we to use in making this decision? More fundamentally then, can we, as a fraternity, define morality? More to the point: SHOULD we, as a fraternity, even try to define morality? This is an intensely personal issue, and it seems to this writer, one of the peculiarities of the Masonic morality is that it is left to the individual brother to define for himself.

Culturally, at the time the lodges were forming, the prevailing opinion was that the church defined morality… and enforced it. The very idea that individuals, separate from the church could make and define their own morality and ethics was, to say the very least, threatening to the church, and very peculiar.

The lodges teach principles to her members and offers examples of morality, most notable that of Hiram Abiff and his death. An example of Masonic Morality is of restriction of political and religious discussion in lodges.

What is the Peculiar Morality of Freemasonry?

The explanation we are offered, that these are not allowed because they are divisive is indeed, a moral lesson. The Senior Warden notes: … harmony being essential to all societies, especially our own. This is a moral lesson. In fact, the peculiar morality of Freemasonry may very well be that we encourage free speech, free thought, freedom of religion, the freedom to ask questions.

The problem is, we have come so far away from the social and moral climate of the early 18th century that we have forgotten how important that peculiar morality of our was… and is, and what a difference it made on western society. Today, the very ideas freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of choice have become the very water and air of our society.

THAT is the change that Freemasonry’s peculiar morality has made, and is the morality of Freemasonry that we must preserve. Those who would impose their own personal morality, or their understanding of “societal morality” upon the fraternity revile and tarnish our ancient and honorable fraternity.

Freemasonry: It’s not about me changing them, it’s about me changing me.
May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every social and moral virtue, cement us!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Staircase is Upside Down

At the onset, I want to acknowledge that the idea for this entry came from a conversation with Br. Jeff Peace in a phone conversation that was also fleshed out in an article written by Worshipful Jarrod Morales about four years ago. There is truly nothing new under the sun, but the words here are mine.

Warning: The following discusses non-ritual symbolic aspects of the second and third degree.

So, what is wrong with the staircase? Let me start by laying a foundation, as all good masons should do when starting. The staircase is divided into 3, 5, and 7 steps; the first flight, we are taught represent childhood; The next, we are taught, represent youth, and the last, maturity. This staircase is ascended on the way to the middle chamber of King Solomon’s Temple, where the Fellowcraft, who has acquired knowledge and some experience, is worthy to receive pay.

This is the overarching theme of the Second Degree of Masonry as presented in lodge. Later, we are taught that a lodge of Entered Apprentices consists of no less than seven, one master, the others Entered Apprentices; that a lodge of Fellowcrafts consists of no less than five, two masters, the others Fellowcrafts; and that a lodge of Master Masons consists of not less then three Master Masons.

Notice, One Master is required in a lodge of Entered Apprentices, Two in a lodge of Fellowcrafts, and Three to make a lodge of Master Masons.

If the above is true, why is the staircase in the Fellowcraft trestleboard lecture always displayed as 3, then 5, then 7 steps? Shouldn't the staircase more accurately be 7, then 5, then 3? It seems the staircase has been reversed somewhere along the line, and we must ask, is it reversed to hide the true meaning that it teaches and more importantly, why have we forgotten that it is reversed?

With that in mind, lets take another look at the Staircase and see if the true meaning doesn’t leap out at us. The first level is the Entered Apprentice, Seven Steps. Coincidentally, this is the lodge that requires but ONE Master Mason to form. One is a clue to the first level.

As Entered Apprentices, we are to learn, that is our task, to labor in the mind. As speculative, not operative Masons, our task is to improve the mind, to begin our journey away from the material world of the profane outside the temple.

The seven steps are, we are told, represent the seven liberal arts and sciences: Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry and Astronomy. These can be broken down into two groups, the quadrivium and the trivium.

In medieval educational theory, the quadrivium consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. These followed the preparatory work of the trivium, made up of grammar, logic (or dialectic, as it was called at the times), and rhetoric. In turn, the quadrivium was considered preparatory work for the serious study of philosophy and theology.

Let me repeat that last again: The Liberal Arts and Sciences are preparatory work for the serious study of philosophy and theology. They are the foundation and the preparation necessary to advance into the philosophy of speculative masonry.

The subject of music within the quadrivium was originally the classical subject of harmonics, in particular the study of the proportions between the musical intervals created by the division of a monochord. A relationship to music as actually practiced was not part of this study, but the framework of classical harmonics would substantially influence the content and structure of music theory as practiced both in European and Islamic cultures.

In modern applications of the liberal arts as curriculum in colleges or universities, the quadrivium may be considered as the study of number and its relationship to physical space or time: arithmetic was pure number, geometry was number in space, music number in time, and astronomy number in space and time. Morris Kline classifies the four elements of the quadrivium as pure (arithmetic), stationary (geometry), moving (astronomy) and applied (music) number.(1)

Let us make an advance. The second flight of steps would remain the same: the Five orders of Architecture. Strangely, only three of these orders are important to Masons, and then there are the five senses of human nature, of which only three are important to Masons. This is the intermediary flight or stage of growth. It is symbolically the “operative” step, where we begin to apply what we have learned on the first flight of stairs.

Let us make another advance, my brothers, which would bring us to the flight of three steps. This flight represents the three degrees of Masonry, the great lights of Masonry, the three principles officers of the lodge, and the three supports of Masonry. These are the highest level of speculative Masonry in the second degree. They are symbolic of the speculative nature of Freemasonry, the spiritual side of the craft, and the first step above the mental plane toward the spiritual. It is the last advance a man makes before entering the middle chamber, that area between the material, mortal and the ethereal, spiritual world.

Edgar Allan Poe, who, strangely, was one of the antimasonic pinhead brigade, though a brilliant writer, taught us that sometimes the best place to hide something is in plain view. I wish to submit to you all that the staircase, presented to us and explained at length in the second degree, is a symbol and lesson hidden in plain sight.

The lesson however, is not the one we are taught and lectured on… oh, to be sure, the lesson taught is true, on a superficial level, and at that time and in that place, it is a valuable lesson. However, like calculus, the seeds of which are contained when we teach a child addition and subtraction, the true lesson of the staircase may only become visible on further contemplation.

We learn in Freemasonry that it is a peculiar moral science, taught by allegory and illustrated by symbols. It appears that perhaps some symbols are well and truly hidden. What else, my brothers, may be hidden in the recesses of the craft whose depths we are told to plumb in the lecture of the Fellowcraft degree?

With that, I leave you with a quote from Br. Giovanni Giacomo Cassanova:
Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.(2)

May the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us!


(1) Wikipedia:
(2) Memoirs, Volume 2a, Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Paris, p. 33

Defining Freemasonry

The answer we hear most often these days: Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

Well… ok. This answer has the sole virtue of being true.

So, that’s the “elevator answer.” Or one of them anyway. By elevator answer, I mean the short, quick, abbreviated answer we give someone when we only have a short period of time to provide an answer, like the duration of an elevator ride. If someone asks you what Freemasonry is, most of us give that answer, or a version of that answer, then quickly try to expand upon it, because, really, that answer sounds so… pompous and incomplete.

It’s a correct answer, of course, but it is somehow… unsatisfying, even to us. We know Masonry is so much more than that answer. It’s a fraternity, it’s association, its support, its learning, its morality, its ritual, its working together… it’s a way of life. How do you communicate that to someone who hasn’t experienced it?

We are confronted with this question all the time, but is still like someone asking you what yellow looks like. We can describe yellow as that part of the magnetic spectrum in the 570–590 terahertz range, and that answer, while absolutely correct, does not answer the question; it’s a lot like Microsoft Technical Support: the answer, while technically correct is functionally useless. So, how do we give a cogent, easily understood, correct answer to someone that has not experienced the glory and beauty of our ancient and honorable fraternity?

We all know what Freemasonry is… and isn’t, don’t we?

Freemasonry is a system of morality.

Freemasonry is a philosophical society.

Freemasonry is an esoteric society.

Freemasonry is mutual support society.

Freemasonry is a men’s club.

Freemasonry is a way of life.


Freemasonry isn’t a religion, though it is religious.

Freemasonry isn’t a job bank.

Freemasonry isn’t a political action committee.

Freemasonry isn’t a global conspiracy to rule the world.

Freemasonry isn’t the Illuminati.

So, what is Freemasonry?

Before I offer my version of this answer, I want to give you a few other answers I could find:

Grand Lodge of Canada, Province of Ontario:

Freemasonry is the oldest and largest worldwide fraternity dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of a Supreme Being. Although of a religious nature, Freemasonry is not a religion. It urges its members, however, to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs.

United Grand Lodge of England:

Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest secular fraternal societies…Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its precepts by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms, and use stonemasons' customs and tools as allegorical guides.

Old Epsomian Lodge No. 3561

Sussex Group, Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London

Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest secular fraternal societies. The essential qualification for admission is a belief in a Supreme Being and to be of good repute.

Freemasonry is open to men of many religions and it expects them to continue to follow their own faith. Freemasonry is a system of morality, not a system of faith or salvation and is complimentary to the belief of the individual. Indeed, lodge meetings, in order to ensure harmony, expressly forbid the discussion of either religion or politics.

Freemasonry asks that each of its members shows tolerance and respect for the opinions of others and behave with kindness and understanding to his fellow man. Its members, in varying degrees, are involved with numerous local, national and international charitable works, both by charitable giving and by voluntary efforts and works as individuals.

Freemasonry demands from its members a respect for the law of the country in which a man works and lives. Freemasonry does not override the individuals duty to one’s self, one’s family ones God or work.

Ed King,

Freemasonry is the world's oldest and largest Fraternity. While its traditions look back to earliest history, Masonry in its current form appeared when its public events were noticed by the residents of London, England in 1717. Although Masonry - particularly in its earliest days - had some elements of secrecy, the first 'exposure' of the supposedly highly-secret Masonic ritual actually appeared in 1696!

Since that time, there have been tens of thousands of books published about this 'secret organization'. And for over three hundred years, despite the good works done by its members, Freemasonry has continually suffered the slings and arrows of those who seek to use it's quiet nature against it.

Freemasonry's singular purpose is to make good men better and its bonds of friendship, compassion and brotherly love have survived even the most divisive political, military and religious conflicts through the centuries. Freemasonry is neither a forum nor a place of worship. It is not a religion nor does it teach a religious philosophy. For nearly three hundred years it has attracted men of high moral character who support the tenets of temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice.

Grand Lodge of Massachusetts

Freemasonry is the world's first and largest fraternal organization. Open to men of adult age of any color, any religion, nationality or social standing, the only requirement is a belief in a Supreme Being. Its body of knowledge and system of ethics is based on the belief that each man has a responsibility to improve himself while being devoted to his family, faith, country, and fraternity.

Freemasonry (often simplified to “Masonry”) enhances and strengthens the character of the individual man by providing opportunities for fellowship, charity, education, and leadership based on the three ancient Masonic tenets: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The Massachusetts Grand Lodge is a crowning legacy of this venerable heritage as we strive to “make good men better.”

These are good answers, and are often the “official” answer offered by a grand lodge, but these official answers are as stilted as the elevator answer. The truth is, the answer is as varied as the brethren who make up our ancient and honorable fraternity. And now, my answer to the question:

Freemasonry is a fraternity of honorable men, with a faith in g-d, however they define him, and a desire to improve themselves through service to each other and the community, with a focus on morality.

It may not be the best answer in the world, but it is mine. I look forward to reading yours.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Is the "Traditional Observance" Movement Elitist?

In the interests of full disclosure, I am in the process of forming a European Concept lodge (ECL) that closely follows the "Traditional Observance" format developed by the Masonic Restoration Foundation. I Just wanted to get that out of the way before we started. In the furtherance of full disclosure, hereafter I will use ECL to describe the lodge, as the term “Traditional Observance Lodge” is trademarked by the Masonic Restoration Foundation and has a specific, defined meaning.

First, what IS an ECL? First and foremost, it is an attempt to return to the foundation of Freemasonry as a philosophical and moral society. ECLs have a focus on the initiatic process in all their activities. A deep, contemplative atmosphere is what these lodges strive for in all meetings, often employing darkness, candle rather than electric lighting, music, periods of silence and meditation.

Degree conferrals are also very serious affairs, with strict rules for candidate advancement and participation. Often six moths to a year elapse between degrees, with the candidates encouraged to prepare and present research papers to the brethren as part of the process.

There are differences between the ECL and TO lodge concept, but they are essentially the same in practice, in my opinion. The ECLs are places where ideas can be discussed in a brotherly atmosphere, where learning is promoted, and fellowship fostered.

Is this elitist? I don’t think so, though I can see how a brother from a contemporary blue lodge could feel that way. Most blue lodges, in my experience, have gotten away from education, and gotten away from the contemplative aspects of Freemasonry. This is not a criticism of contemporary Freemasonry, but, rather, is an observation of the state of being.

TO Lodges are formed by Brethren who want a return to the more philosophic aspects of Freemasonry, in a more traditional, somber, and contemplative setting. We're the guys who yearn for what our Mother Lodges promised, but didn't deliver. We want the Masonry of Goethe, Voltaire, Franklin, etc., and recognize that it is tough to find that in the current system.

Elitism has nothing to do with it. TO Masonry isn't for everybody, and we're not out to convert the entire system. It works for those who are looking for traditionalism, formality, and the great, deep teachings we have to offer, that are often overshadowed by fish fries and membership drives. Visit a TO Lodge, if you have one in your area. We are anything but elitist- intellectual, yes. Philosophical, yes. Serious about our Masonry, yes. And we will have you busting a gut laughing by the time the night is over. We're good, honest, funny dudes, and we treat our visitors like kings.

Cult? Nah. If you knew me, you wouldn't even entertain the idea. I'm hypercritical of everything of which I'm a part, and TO has it's problems, like every other Lodge. But it works for us, and the net effect is that Brethren who were ready to leave the Craft out of disappointment now have a home, and are still members. I'm one of those; had I not found my TO Lodge, I would have demitted, entirely, never to return.

…We joined seeking the promise of Freemasonry, the philosophy, the great work, the fellowship with other like minded, good and honorable men.

Dave Mavity, TO Lodge Member

We find lodges focused on moving men through the degrees by making it as easy as possible for them, and of course, loosing the purpose along the way to a certain extent. Masonic philosophy is something a brother is expected to find in the dusty disused books in the lodge library, and education is a pamphlet and the ritual lecture.

Even the memory work, so much a part of the tradition of Freemasonry has been, to a large extent, reduced or eliminated. There are even grand lodges that have instituted programs that are often terms “All the way in a day”. A candidate is brought to a lodge in the morning, and by late afternoon, is often a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason. Exhausted, and having achieved nothing but a certificate, a stack of books, and it is hoped, the will to persevere.

So when a group of brothers comes along, calls for extensive Masonic education, Masonic Formation is what the Grand Lodge of California calls it, and calls for extending the length of time it takes to get from degree to degree, and calls for the ritual to be conferred in a solemn, serious manner, it can be seen as elitist.

The reality is, the movement toward ECLs is a move to the past, to the rich history and tradition that made Freemasonry the great and enduring institution that it has been, and can be again. Men join Freemasonry for a variety of reasons: because their dad, uncle, grandfather, neighbor are Masons, because they met or have seen Masons in the community and formed favorable opinions of them, or to be a part a something greater than themselves.

Regardless of the reason(s) they joined, they deserve to receive all the light that can be conferred upon them in a lodge of master masons. This is not to say or imply that a non ECL is less than any other lodge, because its not true. There are millions of men in the United States today that enjoy their Masonry, as they should.

There are others though, that want… more. As brothers and fellows, we should be glad that they are finding it, and should be ready to lend a hand to them along the way… and maybe, just maybe, we might peek into the ECL lodge to see if there is something there we might want for ourselves.

I was privileged to be invited to Academia Lodge #847, the first chartered Traditional Observance Lodge in the State of California. To say that I was impressed and left breathless would be an understatement. Since that day, I have prepared myself to form an ECL lodge in my district, and was surprised to find the number of brethren that are interested in participating in such a lodge.

Are ECL/TOs elitist? Not at all… but we do want to continue to search for more light, as all brothers and fellows have done, who have gone this way before.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Homosexuality in Masonic Lodges?

The purpose of this article is not to discuss homosexuality, nor really, to discuss the possibility that there may be gay men in lodges. That written, is would be silly NOT to note something fairly obvious: given that 2% of the population is gay, and no lodge asks if a candidate is gay, we must assume that there are gay men in the lodges.

Of course, the corollary of the above argument may be true. Homosexuals are not exactly welcomed into most lodges, and if an openly gay man showed up at the west gate asking admission, I would not be at all surprised if at least one member of the lodge would not cast a black cube. Masons are men and products of our culture, after all.

I am not going to ask you to think about whether you would blackball an openly gay man, nor ask you to consider not casting a black cube on a gay man (ok, that last isn’t entirely true). Of course, the issue here really isn't homosexuality, its just an example, because the issue here is whether or not we should be projecting OUR morality and value set(s) onto other people.

Freemasonry teaches us, among other issues, that we should be tolerant and charitable to others. What I am going to suggest is what we, as masons SHOULD be doing about the issue.

Lets say this year, the candidate proposed for Junior Warden was revealed as an active gay man. Lets say for the sake of argument that he is a pillar of the lodge, always ready to lend a hand, is a voice of reason, leads Masonic education in the lodge, and is otherwise the very embodiment of what we look for in a Mason.

Then you find out he is gay. Would you vote for him to serve as the Junior Warden of your lodge? Would you vote for him to serve as MASTER of your lodge? If not, why not? Think carefully here, because as Masons, we are taught the value of tolerance and are taught that we are each to apply the tools of Freemasonry to ourselves.

Christianity teaches that homosexuality is a sin… but Christians are also taught to hate the sin and love the sinner. Christianity teaches many things, but Masonry, as we keep telling the objectors and other pinheads, is not a Christian based organization. It is not a religion at all. It is a fraternity, as we all know, of men with a faith in g-d, however we each, individually, know and define him in our lives.

A fundamental (sorry) tradition of Freemasonry is that we do not push our religion on others in lodge. So how can we apply our understanding of a book translated from a language that has no word for homosexual into the lodge? How do we apply our morality?

This has much larger implications for the lodge, for our lives and our community. I chose this instant example because it is one that we have certainly experienced, or thought about, or talked about. How you apply your morality to your life is important, because it defines the Masonic edifice you are erecting.

How you apply your morality to OTHER people’s lives also defines you and that Masonic edifice.

Would you deny a man the opportunity to learn and grow from a Masonic experience, a man who is otherwise just and true, because of one aspect of this life, an aspect you personally do not agree with? If you would cast a black cube on a gay man, knowing he was gay, or vote no for a brother (because yes, he is a brother) who was nominated as an officer in your lodge because he was gay, what other action would you take to enforce YOUR morality, your understanding, your version of truth on others?

Lets step away from the issue of homosexuality for a moment, because its really not the focus here. What if the candidate was living with his girlfriend and their child? Would you cast a black cube then? What if the candidate had lived with his girlfriend for years, and then married her just before petitioning for the degrees, would that change your vote?

What if the man were participating in a totally legal enterprise where you lived? Lets say he owned a restaurant with a bar in it. Some brothers feel that selling alcohol is immoral. Would you cast a black cube for a man because he sells alcohol?

This is an important question, not because of the instant issue, homosexuality, alcohol, living in “sin”, because the issue isn’t these things. The issue is you, my brother, it is each of us, in the silence of our conscience. Honor and integrity is what you do when no one is looking.

We are each called to act in a just and upright manner, in our several stations before g-d and man. EACH of us individually. We are called to circumscribe our passions, desires, prejudices, each of us. No where in Freemasonry are we tasked with circumscribing each OTHERS passions, desires, prejudices.

I have stated often, its not about me changing them, it’s about me changing me. Here is a perfect case of that, and the question is, what will we, each of us, do when confronted with something we don’t like or agree with in our lives? Will we judge it? Well, we can’t avoid judging, its our values based lives that require it.

Judging, however, does not mean imposing sentence. As Masons, we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family, the rich and the poor, the high and the low, who, as created by one almighty parent and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support and protect each other.

If a man, who is otherwise qualified, is blackballed or a candidate for office in our lodges is voted down who is otherwise qualified, ready, willing and able, because of something in his life we disagree with, how are we helping him, aiding him, supporting or protecting him? Would we not be failing him in doing so?

As I noted above, I am not here to advocate homosexuality, nor, frankly, to condemn it. It is not for me, but then, I wasn’t born gay… and no one can seriously think ANYONE would CHOSE to be homosexual, any more than someone chooses to be blonde, or brown eyed, or short, or tall or… it is what it is.

We need, each of us, in our growth as Masons, to apply the tools of the fraternity to our own rough ashlars, assist our brethren in perfecting their ashlars, and refrain from applying our tools to their work. That is a great task set before us… and frankly, most of us have enough to do with perfecting our own ashlars without judging others…

You see, its really, really easy to judge someone else. The difficult part is in judging ourselves… that’s why many spend so much time judging other people and so little time judging themselves. We however, are Masons. We work in stone, and the work, while rewarding, is difficult.

This then brings us to the subject of Masonic Morality. But then, that’s another blog topic for later.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon you and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.

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