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

Sunday, January 27, 2008

National Advertising

In an earlier blog entry, speaking on
Do We Need a National Grand Lodge, I offered:
5. Standardizing our message to the world is the one area where I think a national governing authority would be useful. For instance, the Shrine decided some time back that their reputation needed polishing. They undertook a national ad campaign, in magazines, newspapers, on radio and television, on bill boards, on trucks… everywhere, showing the iconic image of a Shriner carrying a girl on his shoulders with her crutches in his other hand. Thirty years later, the image of the Shrine is of a bunch of men in little cars, wearing silly hats and supporting hospitals for children. They could do this because THEY have a national governing authority, and can mold and direct their message. Blue Lodges could do that now, through the Committee of Grand Masters which meets every year now to discuss issues of interest to all the Grand Lodges. In a sense, we already have a national authority… only its not an authority and certainly not a governing one. Regardless, this national committee hasn’t even tried to undertake such a project for many good reasons, too many to go into in this article. However, that being the case, and they having never taken advantage of the opportunity, it again does not seem to necessitate a National Governing Authority.
After reading that post, Mark asked:
Could you please go into this in another article?
That is what I will undertake today. First of all, I must state that I am NOT a member of, nor have I participated in any way with the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America. The following are my opinions only and do not represent any Grand Lodge or Grand Officer's opinion. That written, lets begin:

Alluding to too many reasons to go into, the following are some of the reasons that I think account for a lack of movement on this concept.
  1. Not every jurisdiction allows advertising. There is a strange tradition in freemasonry that does not allow us to ASK a good man to join. This has translated in some many jurisdictions to an aversion to advertising in any form. Some jurisdictions allow, some allow to a degree, and some deny it altogether.
  2. Local Message. Another issue relating to advertising nationally would be the message. The Shrine, my exemplar in this article, crafted a very simple message. Their message was designed, in the beginning, to promote the image of the Shrine from a bunch of old skirt chasing clowns to a national charity dedicated to the health and well being of children. Crafting a national message that would appeal to all grand lodges would be a difficult task.
  3. Interest. One of the greatest obstacles to overcome is inertia. "Thats not the way we did it... every before" is going to be hard to overcome, and not just in Grand Lodge Officers.
  4. Operation. In my mind, the final objection that would be the most difficult to overcome is the manner of operation, and this alone could be the nail that seals the deal from every being considered. The other issues can be addressed.
  5. And last, but certainly not the least is that each grand lodge is sovereign, and therefore this coordinated advertising campaign would need to be organized across 50 (or more) independent grand lodges. Very difficult.
For instance, allowing or not allowing advertising can be addressed by changing the perspective. "We're not advertising for members, we are simply telling people that we exist so they can make up their own minds" is one method of addressing the concerns that I have heard used. This objection can be overcome with just a bit of sophistry and discussion.

The "Local Message" objection can be overcome in the same manner as the Shrine did. The message is crafted so it doesn't address any local issue, it is more like a Public Service Announcement: Freemasonry, serving society since 1563 or some such equally generic message. It will be difficult to design, but this is simply a matter for brainstorming. Another solution would be to create a number of messages and then rotate their usage.

The "Well, we've never done it that way before" objection is one we hear all the time, and not just in craft masonry. As a professional teacher and business manager, I hear this darn near five or six times a DAY. This is one objection that we can deal with through basic change management techniques. Difficult, but because we are all brothers, its doable. The question will be: Can we get the Grand Officers to SEE the benefit of the change.

Grand Officers tend, by and large, to be very conservative men. Their job is not massive change, but to conserve the craft for future generations intact. More, Grand Officers represent the craft they are called to lead. If the brothers they lead do not support advertising, then neither will the Grand Master.

The killer will be operation. The functional details will be the most difficult. WHO will design the ads, who will place the ads, how will the benefit from the ads be tracked, who will pay how much? This last is a difficult one all by itself. Will the benefit be allocated by the size of the membership of each grand lodge, or simply allocated based on the number of grand lodges participating? How much will be allocated to this project, and where will the ads run all need to be addressed.

An issue that recently came up in California regarding an advertising campaign was results. I speak here only from what the ad manager told me, so its just one man's opinion. I was told that we included a toll free number for people with questions to call. This required someone to answer the calls, then allocate the interest calls to the various lodges to follow up on.

Let me share two examples with you of the problem of allocating "leads" to lodges. When I first joined freemasonry, I moved after being initiated. When I settled in a new city, the first call I made after my telephone was unpacked, was to the lodge in that city. I got an answering machine and left a message... and did so five times over the next two weeks. I never got an answer, so I called a lodge a little further away, the master there drove to my house and put a petition in my hands.

My brother recently expressed interest in joining a lodge... fortunately, there was a masonic lodge two blocks from his house. I gave him the number, and he called the lodge... and called the lodge... and called the lodge. I called the lodge. They never called him or me, and he joined the Lion's Club and became active as a Boy Scout leader. He may join a lodge someday, but they did not bother to call him back.

I offer these two apocryphal tales as exemplars of what the Grand Lodge's know exist in the real world. Lodges don't always follow up on leads, no less on the calls from men who state they want to join. How would we deal with hundreds of good men applying to join, once they knew how to join? If we are going to spend money on crafting a message and getting the message out, we need to be able to follow up with the result.

More even than this, there is no point in starting on such an enterprise if we are not willing to commit to the long term. An "advertising" campaign such as this must be planned in terms of tens of years, and must be run across a number of markets, magazines, newspapers, bill boards, radio, television, internet and other mediums. The message must be simple, clear, and their must be a clear action to take.

The Shrine hired an advertising agency and committed a budget to carry it forward. They can do so, since they have an "Imperial" governing body, that can commit funds from all sources every year. Freemasonry, blue lodge, does not have the same type of central organization. The Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America does not have that type of purvue or brief for its operation.

First of all, the Conference is a totally volunteer group, and at that, is an advisory group only. It has no authority to undertake such a program, though it is a good venue for proposing such a program and how it might work. However, every grand master that agrees would have to bring it back to HIS grand lodge to get the brethren's support.

This brings into play the last issue, grand lodge sovereignty. There would be no central organizing authority, so the project would be pulled 50 (or more) directions from the inception, and even an advertising agency cannot serve two (no less fifty or more) masters.

Personally, I would like to see it worked out, because the benefit to the craft would be immeasurable, but the damage to the craft, if we had fifty (or more) messages could be just as bad, or worse, than no message at all.
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, January 21, 2008

Politics and Lodge

We all know that politics and freemasonry do not mix. What, though, does this mean, and why is this prohibition in place?

What is politics?

Politics, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is:
Etymology: Greek politika, from neuter plural of politikos political
Date: circa 1529

1 a: the art or science of government b: the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy c: the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government
2: political actions, practices, or policies
3 a: political affairs or business; especially : competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government) b: political life especially as a principal activity or profession c: political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices
4: the political opinions or sympathies of a person
5 a: the total complex of relations between people living in society b: relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view (office politics) (ethnic politics)
As we can see, at its simplest, it is an art or science, the political opinions or sympathies of a person, competition between cometing interest groups or individual for power and leadership. It is a striving and a contention for the hearts and minds... and for power. The power to control, to guide, to rule, to enforce one's opinion through influence and political power.

There have been calls recently, for the lodges to get involved in politics, for the Grand Lodges to get involved in politics, as some of the Grand Lodges do in France, to the detriment of the craft.

Why are politics forbidden in lodge?

As can be seen from the above definition, politics is all about influencing others to a particular point of view. How does attempting to influence your brother from one point of view to another in any way represent Freemasonry? We are a philosophical, spiritual fraternity, with a stated goal of improving the man.

The man is improved in the craft, and by the influence of our principles and teachings, may go out in the world and work to improve it. Yet, we know that not all masons agree on every political, social or moral issue. How then can the craft, as a whole, either as a single lodge, or a grand lodge, come out as supporting any one particular issue?

There will always be brothers that disagree, and one of the principle operating tenets of our craft is seeking only that on which we can best work and best agree. If one man disagrees, then the lodge cannot take a position. What if two lodges take differing sides in an issue, how does this support working together on that which we can best work and best agree?

No man represents the whole of the craft. Even the Grand Master only represents the will of the brethren in his jurisdiction, not all of freemasonry. There are some issues that we would think: well, everyone will agree on THIS. Lets look at that concept for a moment and see.

Every right thinking man realizes that racism is wrong... don't they? Oh, wait, maybe not. There are still grand lodges in the US that do not allow black men to join. Well, lets try another. Every moral man thinks being involved in the sale of alcohol is unmasonic, right? Oh, wait, no, that's not right either. There are several grand lodges in the US that will expel a brother if he is involved in the sale of alcohol, even in a restaurant.

Well, every right thinking mason knows that women can't be masons, right? No, wait... that doesn't seem to be true, either. Ok, we all agree that no man should be expelled from freemasonry without a fair trial before a jury of his peers where he can present evidence in his defense... oh, wait, a grand master was recently expelled without a trial for objecting to the actions of a sitting grand master, and several brothers have been expelled without a trial as well, and without a hearing, and without recourse. Well, then, what about...

We can do this all day long, and we will always find someone that disagrees or holds a contrary opinion... and rightly so. We are not a monolithic organization that tries to tell its membership how to think and how to act, and who to vote for and how to campaign/vote on issues. Freemasonry is about improving the man, and leaving it to the man to act and think as he will.

What about discussing political/social issues in lodge then?

This is a good question. Can we seriously and without rancor discuss the political and social events of the day? In some cases, the answer is yes, but in some, the answer is no. Can two brothers on opposing sides of the abortion issue discuss it openly and honestly? Maybe, but this is an emotional issue, to its challenging and risky.

Can a lodge openly discuss and debate political candidates without falling to pieces? There is a possibility they can, though the question has to be asked: WHY should they? Lodge is not about political issues. The stated purpose of freemasonry is fraternal affection, self improvement, the spiritual quest. Lodge is a place of peace (or should be) a place where men of disparate faiths, creeds and beliefs can come together and work side by side toward a common goal.

Why bring a known divisive element into the mix? It serves no purpose of Freemasonry's, and only serves the agenda of brothers that bring politics to lodge. Their only goal is the engendering of common opinion and support for their cause, to seek common cause with their brethren. In so doing, they bring into the lodge that which should never be present: the Seeds of Discord.

Should lodges take political positions?

Given that the very nature of politics is divisive, how can a lodge, let alone a Grand Lodge, take a position on a political/social issue as a group? More to the point, WHY should Freemasonry do so? Freemasonry is about the internal. The Freemason, as a man in a society, may, and should, apply the tenets of the craft to his society, measuring it by the 24" gauge, applying the square of morality, testing its truth by the plumb and holding the society to acting on the level. The craft itself, by its very nature, cannot.

Each man must act on his own, and never act in the name of masonry for his own selfish purposes. One may, and in fact, should advocate for what he believes, but when one brother, as a mason, states his position on any issue, he implies that all masons should and might hold the same position, and if another brother does not, he has introduced into a relationship something that should never be between them as masons.

We should, as masons, seek that on which we can best work and best agree. We should, as free men, seek out ways to improve society according to our understanding of the craft and within the experiences, abilities and knowledge that we have. As the purpose of the craft is to improve the man and help him on his spiritual journey, the craft should not take positions.

As always:
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, January 19, 2008

Antimasonic Harrassment

Antimasonry is an interesting subset of the conspiracy kook... by and large, the anti mason claims to be Christian, usually of the fundamentalist (think Jim Jones and David Koresh) subset. While claiming Christ's mantle, they are hateful, spiteful, mean, nasty, and generally folks you would not tip your hat to on the street, no less speak to at any length.

Many, like the man who claims to be a reincarnation of Jesus, none other than the lizard shape shifting tin foil hat brigade general himself, David Icke (we think its pronounced: ickie) try to make a living at defaming good and honorable men. It has been ickie's life's mission, ever since he realized he was really g-d, and not really a third rate soccer color announcer, to slam Freemasonry with every silly, half baked slander that popped into his fevered brain. Of course, it sells books, tapes and DVD's, which seems to make him a pretty lucrative living among the brain cell challenged segment of the population.

Among the "Christian" antimasons, some aren't satisfied with defaming and lying about Freemasonry with every breath, they also advocate ambush "proselytizing", and taking superior numbers, as if to browbeat someone, before speaking to a mason. They advocate isolating the mason, almost as if they are holding an intervention rather than a spiritual discussion. See the Ephesians 5:11 website if you want to see but one version of this nonsense... and no, I won't provide the URL to that hate site. Do a Google search if you really want to waste brain cells on their claptrap.

Some even claim to be Catholics, with the goal of Stopping Freemasonry. As if. Many Popes have tried, half heartedly, to stop Freemasonry and all they have done is increase its numbers. The problem, you see, is that Freemasonry speaks to freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom to chose your leaders by election, freedom to to speak, freedom to assemble, freedom to, well chose in all things.

Its a strange situation we have here. Freemasonry does not care about Catholicism, any more than any other religion. We leave that to the brother. As far as Freemasonry is concerned, a Catholic can be a Freemason just like any other intelligent, honorable, upright and moral man. It is Catholicism that has the problem with Freemasonry, and the rhetoric employed seems to be one more of philosophical opposition rather than religiosity.

The Roman Catholic Church objects to our stand on freedoms, not for our stand on religious issues. We stand for freedom, the church stands for repression and parking your brains and will at the door. Of course they would object to us... and not all Catholics do object. Many are members of lodges around the world. Its the leadership, and not all of them that oject.
Can't have that in a fundy world... freedom is anathema to them, because, well, you might not chose what they want you to chose, and can't have that. As for that free thinking thing, well, these fundys want you to think what they want you to think, and no other thoughts... they are dangerous, those free, unguided thoughts.

This came up because of the last post, Membership "Decline" where I noted that Freemasonry's numbers are no longer declining, but are, in fact, turning around... especially in California. This forum received a number of... hateful, spiteful comments from someone claiming to be a Catholic Christian, claiming that Freemasonry, and this blog, had it in for Catholics, and among other things, that we were damned... by him, in particular. Several times, in fact. Good thing g-d is more open minded and loving than his self appointed ground crew!

The author of this blog, in fact, was stalked by a certain ex con (who was sent to prison for stealing from his clients at a jewelry store he owned) for almost two years. This from a "man" who claimed to be a Roman Catholic fundamentalist (he thought Ratzinger was too liberal), and seemed to feel that stalking someone was a Christly type behavior... go figure.

This raised an interesting point... several in fact. We know the fundy's hate Freemasons. So much so that it is rare we have not been exposed to one (or more) or these pinheads at one time or another. Its almost a rite of passage as a Mason to have some pinhead walk up to us and tell us we are damned, or devil worshipers or some such nonsense.

The good news is that the antimasonic hysteria is actually dying down! Six years ago, if you looked on the internet to find out about Freemasonry, you found pretty much nothing but hate sites. Today, searching on Freemasonry a man can find THOUSANDS of masonic sites, and a smattering of antimasonic sites. Our message is getting out, and the public, g-d bless them, are hearing the truth as opposed to the twisted lies and deceits of the nutters.

The REALLY good news for Modern Man is that the public, thanks to movies, books, magazines, newspapers, radio and a Masonic Presence in the community, has come to a better opinion of the craft. Our members are recognized these days as the good and honorable men they are, and of course, this translates to more men petitioning the lodges for membership.

Looking at one of the worst antimasonic hate sites, FW, using their chat/discussion area as a measure, we can see that there have been less than 4 posts in the last 4 months! This used to be a hotbed of antimasonic plotting and conspiracies, stalking and attacks. Today, it is a hulk of its former self, and the hit generator they are using develop the only hits they are getting. G-d IS great and merciful! (As if there were any doubt)

We have turned a corner, metaphorically speaking, and its about time. A tip of the hat to all the brothers that have worked so hard to speak out about Freemasonry.
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, January 17, 2008

Membership “Decline”

There are those that claim that Regular Freemasonry’s membership is in a freefall decline. Those of us that are regular masons have denied that, and noted that the decline is due, primarily, to the passing of our older brothers as the Great Architect of the Universe calls them to that lodge which never closes.

The Grand Lodge of California has seen the decline slow, and begin, in fact, to reverse itself as we continue the upward trend in degree conferrals which started over seven years ago. For example, in the fiscal year:

2006 our lodges conferred 4,260 degrees, 1,840 Entered Apprentices, 1,223 Fellowcrafts, and 1,197 Masters.

2007 our lodges conferred 4,405 degrees, 1,951 Entered Apprentices, 1,236 Fellowcrafts, and 1,218 Masters.

As a matter of note, 2007 had more entered apprentices initiated than any other year since 1988, and more total degrees since 1991. In 2007 alone, we received 1,968 petitions for membership.

The membership is growing again, with more and more petitions and more and more masters being raised. Its great to see, and puts the lie to the predictions (actually hopes) of those opposed to regular Masonry and their claims of doom and gloom for Freemasonry.

Why is the fraternity growing?

Well, the honest answer to that has little to do with the Fraternity’s efforts per se. The change is due to a perfect storm of public awareness, offering the candidates what they are seeking, giving them value for their time, a younger membership, and filling the vacancy in their hearts that our modern society is creating.

Public Awareness

Due to movies like National Treasure, magazine articles like Inside the Masons in News and World Report, episodes of The Discovery Channel Conspiracies and Myths and The Secret of Freemasonry, books like Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, Brad Meltzer’s Book of Fate and numerous articles and press articles, Freemasonry has attracted a lot of attention. Men are looking for meaning in their lives, and they are seeing Freemasonry for the first time, and in it, are seeing the answer to their need.

Society is increasingly void and vacuous of morality, of a sense of right and wrong. Freemasonry is offering what it always has… a Peculiar system of morality, taught by allegory and illustrated by symbols. Freemasonry offers something greater, something timeless and valuable, and as a result, men are flocking to the craft.

Offering them what they seek

One item that can be missed in the numbers offered above is the number of Entered Apprentices that are coming back for their Fellowcraft degree, and the number of Fellowcrafts that are being raised as master masons. This has always been an issue, as we have always seemed to initiate 8 for every 5 that come back for their Fellowcraft degree. The Grand Lodge has looked for the reason for this, and I suspect the reason is disappointment.

We will always have men disappointed in what they find, due to inaccurate expectations. I know a man in Oregon that joined the fraternity, expecting to see child sacrifice, black magic and a secret cabal bent on taking over the world. Needless to say, he did not find it, and never came back for his Fellowcraft.

Time is valuable

There are some, I am sure, who were not impressed with the level of knowledge they found in their lodge, nor in the quality of their degrees. It would be foolish to assume otherwise. There are a hundred reasons a man does not come back for his Fellowcraft, or Master Mason degree, but they all pretty much boil down to a lack of value for their time.

In Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, one of the issues he raises is that men are busy, they have endless distractions available to them in the time they have left over from work and commuting. The time a man spends with anything is an investment, and most want a return for their investment, and if they don’t see one, seek something else.

Freemasonry promises a timeless ritual, fellowship, morality, philosophy and knowledge. We all know that they find most of this, though sometimes not enough. The Grand Lodge of California has created a Masonic Formation process, one that teaches the lodges how to give the candidates what they are seeking, to form them into masons.

The lodge membership is getting younger

Another change that we are seeing in the lodges is a declining average age. Historically, since the formation of the Grand Lodge of California, the average age of joining has been 45… for over 150 years. Today, the average age of new masons is approaching the mid 30’s. This is due, in part, to lowering the minimum age for joining from 21 to 18, and the other reasons noted above.

Today, they are finding the craft to be younger, more vibrant, more responsive. Its no longer an old man’s coffee club, not that it ever was… however, there was a time not so long ago that a young man, knocking at our doors, found himself in the company of his grandfather and great grandfather, and its always difficult for a young man to see someone fifty years his senior as a brother and fellow.

Today, many lodges are visibly becoming younger, and with a younger lodge comes greater vibrancy and activity, and like a reverse “Catch-22”, the lodge cycles up into greater and greater life and excitement as more and more young men join. This is also in part what is happening in California.

Finding what is missing from society

Another reason for the change is that young men are finding society to be… uncaring, cold, and solitary. Some see a lack of moral value, and a lack of perceived value in the individual. We have a president who recently received oral sex in the Oval Office and claimed it wasn’t sex. We have politicians of every stripe saying and doing whatever they think they need to do to get them elected. We see our leaders being arrested, indicted, and resigning their offices and high stations in disgrace.

These young men want guidance, they want a firm line, they want tradition, history and fraternity, things that society is not offering them. They see these movies, read the books and articles, and come to the doors of our ancient and honorable craft seeking that which society is not offering them.

It would be nice if the Grand Lodge could take credit for all the positive changes. Truthfully, the Grand Lodge has been responsive to the needs of the members all along and has a concerned and dedicated staff that has served the craft well. Our Grand Masters have been good masons who have carefully tended to the current and future needs of the craft, and our Grand Secretary, V.W. John Cooper has been a visionary who has worked tirelessly for the benefit of the craft.

Freemasonry is on the correct path in California.

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, January 13, 2008

Masonry Needs to Change

Masonry Needs to Change!

This is the battle cry of a few, very vocal men. Yet, there are several problems with this "Masonry Needs to Change" argument, and many, admittedly right things about it. Its the manner of seeking the change that we must seek out a balance upon.

1) They want masonic education above and beyond what is currently available.
2) They want less fish frys and more masonic activities
3) They want less "interference" from grand lodge
4) They want autonomy in their lodges
5) They want the freedom to try other things
6) Less racism in lodge
7) Less "Old Boys"

Lets examine these arguments for a moment.

1) They want masonic education above and beyond what is currently available.

On this, they are probably right, though short sighted. You see, going back over 200 years, the same comments have been made. Freemasonry is a personal search, not a college education. A brother is given the fundamentals upon which to erect HIS personal masonic superstructure. It has been up to the brother to study, to search, to contemplate, to discuss and to work at that education. Could the education and discussion be more open and available? Sure, you bet. As a matter of fact, grand lodges are recognizing this, and moving to address the problem. The Grand Lodge of California, Arizona, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon are just a FEW that are creating programs and putting them in place. I am ON the Masonic Formation Task Force in California, so I have a pretty good grasp of the efforts being made here along those lines. It has been received enthusiastically here.

2) They want less fish frys and more masonic activities

Ok, this is a fair criticism as well. They need to get on it and offer these things. If people participate, then it is wanted, if they don't participate, then it is not wanted. No organization will spend time and effort on something that three out of a hundred want unless the three are willing to get up and put in some effort.

3) They want less "interference" from grand lodge

This is the one that I find most irritating and easiest to dismiss. Children want less guidance from their parents, students want less guidance from their teaches, and some employees want less interference from their employers. Freemasonry has, over time, created a set of rules based on experience, to guide. The grand lodge is US, the members. Its not some entity out there in somewhereland that sits around thinking up ways to thwart the actions of a lodge. It follows traditions and the demands of the members over time. Since WE are the grand lodge, complaining about the grand lodge is complaining about yourself and your brothers, because the majority have created the grand lodge as it is today.

Realistically, if you feel the grand lodge is interfering, you need to go out and get a majority of your brothers to agree, then move to get grand lodge to change. They will not change without a good reason, nor did they put the rules they have in place without being pushed to over time by the brethren who saw a problem the rule addresses. In my grand lodge, for instance, there is a rule that the brethren cannot spend more than 30% of the lodge income on fraternal activities. Seems a little silly when your lodge is earning tens of thousands of dollars per year, until you look back on WHY the members of the grand lodge implemented the rule... because the master and wardens of a lodge enacted and got the lodge to vote for bread and circuses for a few years, bankrupting the lodge.

Sort of like the ex members of Halcyon did, voting the assets of the lodge out into an "independent" charity in violation of the rules of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, then "surrendering" their charter when the Grand Lodge called them on it so they would not have to return the multi million dollar asset to the lodge and so they could keep using it. The rule preventing that action was in place BECAUSE someone else tried exactly that dodge before, and is in place to prevent it happening again.

4) They want autonomy in their lodges

What does "autonomy" mean in this case? To be fair, it means being able to try out new things, like renting the lodge to a boxing school part time or to a church or to the county as a voting place, or, to a woman's lodge to generate income. Sometimes it means creating new programs the Grand Lodge has forbidden or has an objection to. More often than not, it means not having to obey the rules and regulations of the grand lodge that they may find inconvenient or problematic or troublesome. It means they set their opinion and ego above that of the grand lodge. Not a very masonic point of view.

Masonic would be trying to work out a change with grand lodge instead of telling them to go pound sand or whining about how they can't get their way.

5) They want the freedom to try other things

Ok, I am really on board with this one. There are many things that I would like to do in ritual, for instance, that my Grand Lecturer will not "let" me. For instance, I would really like to use the Chamber of Reflection in the conferral of the first degree. Or having the three principle officers step down onto the level in closing when the master asks how masons should meet, act or part. Or wearing white gloves, or... there are many things that I would like to change (some I cannot write, indict, print...). HOWEVER, there is a procedure for making changes, and a reason for having everyone working the same ritual... there is nothing that says I cannot exemplify other rituals or procedures... Also, in my grand lodge, if I feel strongly enough about it, I can try to effect change through legislation or by working with the ritual committee.

There are other issues, and I can understand and sympathize with brothers who feel stifled... but I would suggest that leaving the craft and starting another lodge/grand lodge/orient/whatever because one could not get his way might demonstrate more that the brother in question does not really understand freemasonry more than anything else. Its about working together, not one's ego. Its about accepting the things you can't change and working to change what you can, and knowing the difference between the two.

6) Less racism in lodge

Ok, I am fully on board with this one... but... there is always that but, isn't there? This is something that is not going to change overnight, and while it is morally reprehensible and unmasonic, in this masons opinion, one has to work TOWARD change rather than demanding that everything be done TODAY. Slow and steady wins the race, and while its not immediately satisfying to our needs and wants and desires (and g-d KNOWS Americans want what they want WHEN the want it, and want all problems to be resolved in an hour less commercials.

I have called for all lodges that recognize Prince Hall to withdraw amity from those who don't... on reflection, this is one of those emotionally satisfying positions that in the real world, would likely have the opposite effect from what I intend. The issue really isn't Prince Hall recognition, its allowing men of all colors, creeds, national origins and religions to join regular lodges. Prince Hall recognition is just a symptom, because, as Br. Arthur Peterson pointed out, it would just result in TWO SEPARATE Grand Lodges existing, one black, the other white. Separate but equal is not equal. "They" are still "over there" and not a part of "our lodge". I do not pretend any longer to have the answer, but I do think recognition and intervisitation between "mainstream" and Prince Hall lodges is a good FIRST STEP.

7) Less "Old Boys"

By this, they mean the grand line is pulled from the friends and associates of the current grand officers, thus perpetuating what they see as all that is "wrong" in freemasonry. I don't see this, being a member of the Grand Lodge of California, where anyone can be nominated for the Grand Oriental Chair at any Grand Communication from the floor.

None of these issues, however, in my mind, justify leaving the regular grand lodge system and starting up a new lodge/grand lodge/grand orient/whatever. That is just me, however. I am a member of a progressive Grand Lodge. I see these men leaving mainstream freemasonry, (and lets be honest, it hasn't been an exodus, or even close to a trickle) to go do "something else". These men know in their hearts that what they are doing is, in the long run, futile, for them. However, and argument has been made that their efforts will act as a wake up call to the mainstream grand lodge system. And it has.

The grand lodges are watching these startups, not with fear or trembling, and certainly not with benign amusement. They do see it as a symptom of a problem that many ARE addressing. The Grand Lodges also see many of the Grand Lodges stepping up and making changes... traditional observance lodges (Dennis Chornenky and the Masonic Restoration Foundation) , Esoterik Lodges (William Isabelle) and so on are examples. Masonic Formation by many of the grand lodges is also a symptom the grand lodges recognize the need and the demand be the brethren.

Some are slower than others. We need to face the fact that masonry was designed to be slow moving. It takes 4/5ths to make a change in most jurisdictions, and there is nothing people hate/fear more than change, so they fight back against it. Freemasonry has changed more in the past six years than it did in the 20 preceding it, and more changes are coming. There will still be those, who through lack of patience or lack of understanding, or through feeling pushed out will quit, or go to another lodge system. That is sad, but change always brings casualties.

My grand lodge has staunched the loss. We are now raising as many as we are losing through death, dimit and NPD, and members are staying as the craft is giving them what they need. Not everyone is as lucky, and I realize that, but I would enjoin my brethren to work in the system to effect the changes that are needed. Freemasonry was injured by the hippie era, as those "flower children" rejected everything their parents stood for... including the craft. Fortunately, THEIR children do not, and are seeking the lodges out and joining.

The average age of joining is getting younger. For almost 150 years, the average age of joining freemasonry was 47 in California. Today, it is in the mid 30's, albeit much of that is due to our allowing 18 year olds to petition and join. The fact is, the face of freemasonry is younger, more educated, more spiritual (strangely, given our culture), and they are seeking that which freemasonry offers. All we have to do is... give it to them.

And the Grand Lodges are seemingly starting to get it, despite frenetic claims to the contrary.
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, January 12, 2008

True Brothers

This last week has been a very trying one for my family. Starting last August, while I was still in Saudi Arabia, my wife started suffering from shortness of breath. This was particularly trying because she has high blood pressure and diabetes... not that the two are a problem in and of themselves, but because as a result of her having these two illnesses, I could not buy health insurance for her.

There seems to be something wrong with a system that allows something as essential as healthcare insurance to be denied because someone is sick... but that's likely another subject for another forum.

When I came back to the United States, we were automatically covered under my employer's health plan (where my wife cannot be denied coverage... go figure). The doctor examining my wife took an x-ray, and informed us that her heart was seriously enlarged, which was compressing her lungs and that she was on the verge of a heart attack.

Two days later, she is having trouble breathing and having chest pain, so off we go to the emergency room. Long story short (yes... I know, too late) she spent the last week in hospital being subjected to a number of tests. The last test, after everything else had been tried, was a cat scan... where they discovered she does not have an enlarged heart, but 950cc of fluid in the sac around her heart.

They removed that, and she is now resting comfortably...

However, the point of this, as much as I am overjoyed that my lovely bride is once more hale and hearty, is not the trials and health tribulations of my wife. The point is that the brethren of my lodge, the senior officers: Wr. John Cover Spear, Master, Br. Ron Dudec, Senior Warden, and Wr. Pat Janitell, Junior Warden and my, well, mentor, Manny Blanco, all chose to today to come by and visit my wife.

Its almost expected that we extend brotherly love to our brothers in the lodge, but its wonderful to see the brothers take the time to stop by to see my wife, to wish her health in person. I am a member of a wonderful lodge, my friends, and a member of a wonderful Grand Lodge.
May the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.

How good and how pleasant it is...

Six years ago, I was hired by a good man to work at the Documentation and Training Manager for a network security company. He was a good boss, an honorable man, straightforward and trustworthy. At the time, I had not yet joined the fraternity, though I was five months away from it when he hired me.

Unfortunately, I only worked for him for five months. He took his new family, his wife and new born son, and took a new job in the mid west. Several months later, I was laid off in the dot com bubble burst, and I lost track of him.

The other day, we ran into each other through Plaxo, a web based personal connection tool. As we reconnected, I mentioned that I had joined Freemasonry. Well, he writes back that he is Senior Deacon of his lodge! He has also recently joined the craft, and is pursuing not only freemasonry, but membership in a Traditional Observance Lodge, esoteric masonry, and philosophical studies.

Its a small world, and good to reconnect to a former boss who is now a brother.
May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Just Three Things

Three things in life that, once gone, never come back -

1. Time
2. Words
3. Opportunity

Three things in life that can destroy a person -

1. Anger
2. Pride
3. Unforgiveness

Three things in life that you should never lose-

1. Integrity
2. Peace
3. Honesty

Three things in life that are most valuable -

1. Love
2. Family & Friends

Three things in life that are never certain -

1. Fortune
2. Success
3. Dreams

Three things that make a person -

1. Commitment
2. Sincerity
3. Hard work

Three Rungs of Jacobs Ladder

1. Faith
2. Hope
3. Charity

Three Great Supports of Freemasonry -

1. Wisdom
2. Strength
3. Beauty

Three principle tenets of freemasonry -

1. Brotherly Love
2. Relief
3. Truth

The power of three, in life and in Freemasonry.
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, January 6, 2008

Internet Freemasonry

The network, from the intimate connections of its several parts, denotes unity.
Internet masonry is an oxymoron. I write this because masonry is a personal journey, made with the assistance of brethren. The internet, by its very nature, is NOT personal, and ANYONE can claim to be a mason, and what would we have as proof? The internet is a tool, one of many, and it allows us to meet, virtually, men who in real life, we might never have the opportunity of meeting and knowing. It is a tool by which we can share our thoughts, our research, our opinions, informed and otherwise, and thereby grow as men and masons.

Regularity on the internet is a foolish discussion, for as I noted above, who really knows? Are you sure that I am a regular mason, made within the body of a just and legally constituted lodge of master masons? Well, Bill will avouch that, as will Happy Zealot and Jason Smith and a few others who I have had the privilege of meeting in the real world. Yet, how do you really know their posts aren't just me with a sock puppet? You don't, and that is the g-d's own truth. So arguing about it, running people off, insulting people because you don't agree with their opinions is... well, ridiculous. So is the argument.

Its only relative to the tyler of a lodge, who's duty it is to keep off cowans and eavesdroppers.

Now, some may disagree with the UGLoA, the GOoUSA, Euclid Lodge, Vulcan Lodge, "Halcyon #2", the Grand Lodge of St. James, the American Masonic Federation, Le Droit Humaine, GOdF etc etc... but the internet seems to be the place to explore those differences, to understand the why's and wherefore's, instead of spending time and effort running them down out of hand.

We have this wonderful tool, the internet, which allows us to meet people from different places, different obediences, and get to understand them and their points of view. It allows us to meet men, and women, that we otherwise would not have considered, or dismissed out of hand. A regular mason rarely meets a non regular mason, a co-mason, or a female mason EXCEPT on the internet, which creates wonderful opportunities.

It offers the best, for instance the Lodgeroom US, the Lodgeroom UK, and the Three Pillars, and the worst, for instance MFoL.

What we all need to keep in mind is the internet is the great equalizer. All of us meet on the level here, in cyberspace. It is a great communication tool, but should never be confused with a lodgeroom. Esoteric Masonry, ritual masonry, can be discussed here, within the limits of your obligation. If a person does not feel comfortable with discussing certain issues, they can forgo them, or, as has been done on some forums, a "tyled" area is created where only one kind or another of the many types of masons can go and discuss freemasonry.

There is something here for everyone... just keep in mind, unless you have met the person, or know someone who has met the person you are talking with, you have no way of knowing whether they are regular... or not. The interenet is not a tyled lodge, however, so it is silly to act as if it were, and even sillier to try to enforce "regularity" on an internet forum.

I have had many occasions of late to be disgusted with internet freemasonry. Actions which, as California Freemason I would never have been aware of have been shoved up my nose: Halcyon Lodge in Ohio, the United Grand Lodge of America/Grand Orient of the United States and the Flying Monkeys to name just three. On the other hand, what has kept me going are the good and honorable Freemasons I have met on the internet, Giovanni Lombardo, Bill McElligott, Cliff Porter, Prometheus, Jason Smith and many others, men who I would never have known BUT for the internet.

The internet is hardly the salvation of Freemasonry, nor will it damage our ancient and honorable craft. It is just another communication tool, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Just my opinion. As always, I welcome yours.
May the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Noontime of Masonic McCarthyism

The following was sent to my anonymously, and is signed with an anagram for McCarthyism. It seems to be circulating on the web. Lodgeroom US recently suffered a similar attack to that which is noted on The Burning Taper in the article. We fended it off by banning the subject which the Flying Monkey's Abused...

If you have any information, please email me.

Washington DC -- January 1, 2009 -- You’d never expected it to happen within such well-established and stable fraternity but it has. Not since the Morgan Affair and most recently the “P2” incident has there been such a frenzy of activity within the Masonic Order. Brothers are coming together and lists are being made and acted on. The party line is being drawn with a red-hot branding iron and seemingly benign Brotherly activities are being scrutinized under an increasing high magnification microscope.

Independent online Masonic activity has all but come to a halt. Masons worldwide have been “outed” as supporting the enemy. GL’s are taking action, filing charges against any who are even remotely connected with “supporting” non-regular masons. Brothers are shunning all communications with those accused. Businesses run by the accused are failing. Persons of interest are being tracked 24/7. Paranoia is at an all time high and membership roles are soaring unbelievably high.

For those not in the know, please take note that “THE” New Masonic Era is not upon us but it is with us right now and like or not, names are being taken and butts will be kicked. And people are taking notice.

Who would have thought that a mere year ago the dawn of a new day for Masonry was launched by a small group of self-styled Masonic vigilantes called “the flying monkeys” who were fed up with what they perceived as a impure element on the internet. These Masonic Puritans showed all the classic signs at that time of a dysfunctional group of individuals with nothing better to do with their time. But funding came swiftly from deep pocket sources and with the aid of the internet, word got out quickly that this group was not to be messed with.

The name of the group was coined by a person who once ran the now defunct on- line web-log “The Burning Taper.” Early in their history, the group descended upon this site and mounted a strategic attack. It all but forced the site owner to close down aspects of the site until the attack was called off. The site was never the same and the group takes credit for what they call a “positive change” in the on-line Masonic experience.

With success there, the group then mounted strategic attacks on other Masonic forums that they viewed as collaborating with the enemy. Because of their methods, one forum after another fell and the majority of on-line Masons soon stopped posting. Some sites were merged, some sites were closed and others were taken over by members of the group to become machines for further propagation of their agenda.

Who was their enemy? It was hard to understand at first. It seemed that anyone that didn’t think as they did was a strong draw for their attacks. Later on, it became clear that this was a ploy and that the enemy was merely anyone that they could bully into allowing them the power to take over.

How did they get so strong? A noted Masonic psychologist and a fellow noted historian, who both requested to be kept anonymous because of their fears of the group, made the following information available:

  • Their group activities fostered isolation of their individuals preventing reality checks that would prevent members from using rational thinking.
  • Fear and projection were amplified by “leaks of information” that enemy tactics were influencing the more impressionable of their group.
  • Anyone who didn’t keep their approved party line and parrot it back regularly would be intimidated into professing their belief in writing for all in the movement to see or risk being thrown from their group.
  • Paranoia, anger, depression and anxiety were the dominating feelings generated by its members.
  • Members were encouraged repetitively to deny discussion of anything that wasn’t approved by the leaders.
  • Any flexibility demonstrated in thought or rethinking what the party line was would be met with immediate intimidation.
  • Their “cause” was strengthened by a black and white ideology handed down from the main organizers thus fostering an all of nothing, them or us mentality.

Our sources claim it does not take much to consolidate such a group once the numbers reach critical mass.

What is now evident is that, much like the America of the McCarthy era, anyone who speaks of Masonry in any way had better be speaking the party line preached by this group.

Can they be stopped? Our sources say most likely not. Grand Lodges are enjoying the fall out. Masonic membership roles are increasing at record levels since the majority of the worldwide Masonic culture no longer trusts on-line activity and other media sources. Masons have taken to going back to Lodges once again to find out what is going on in their Masonic world.

Meanwhile the group continues to grow and gain power. They have reached into and drawn members from every known Masonic organization that was left after the great die-out in mid 2008. As historians have recorded, near every single non- regular mason, their respective organizations and those who have been accused of collaborating with them have stopped practicing due to fear and lack of funding. Most all of those affected are lucky to be able to predict where their next meal will come from due to the far-reaching influence of this group.


Have you been affected? Take a walk through this simple quiz. Please circle either “True” or “False” for each statement that applies:
True/False 1. Masons I know unscrupulously accuse people of disloyalty (as by saying they were un-Masonic.)
True/False 2. Masons I know use unfair investigatory or accusatory methods in order to suppress opposition.
True/False 3. Masons I know publicize accusations of Masonic disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence.
True/False 4. Masonic witch-hunts - searching out and harassing dissenters – are being carried out by Masons I know.
True/False 5. Masons I know have used disrespectful and abusive language that both belittles and intimidates other human beings to forward an agenda of hate and fear.
True/False 6. Masons I know have been harmed either indirectly or directly by one or more of the above listed activities.
Reporter -- March Mystic

What is Whispering Good Counsel

In the third degree, the candidate is taught that: might whisper good counsel in his ear, gently admonishing of his errors, and in a most friendly manner, seek to bring about a reformation.

What does that mean to us as masons? It seems to mean that if you see a brother failing to live up to the moral standards, rules, regulations, traditions, constitution and edicts of Freemasonry that you should whisper good counsel to the brother.

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn't it? What then is a brother to do when his whispered counsel is not well received. What do you do with a brother, that instead, chastises a brother for daring to correct what he sees as an error, when he is raked over the coals and held up to public ridicule?

As brothers, we are called to correct, aid and assist our brethren. Before we do so, we should ask ourselves four things:
  1. Is the counsel correct, and more, is it going to be useful? In some Grand Jurisdictions, it is against the masonic code to sell alcohol, or be a part of a business that distributes alcohol. Would it be useful to tell a brother in another jurisdiction where it is NOT against the code that it is unmasonic to do so?
  2. What is the purpose of the counsel? Are you trying to truly help a brother by pointing out something he may have missed, or are you trying to show moral superiority by doing so. Masonic charity is not just giving money and time to the lodge and the brethren, it is about an attitude of BEING charitable. If the purpose of whispering good counsel is to aggrandize yourself, remain silent. Whispering good counsel is supposed to be a friendly act, not an assault.
  3. Will the counsel be received? If you know that whispering good counsel will not be received by the brother, if you recognize from his past deportment that he not only KNOWS his actions are not in keeping with masonic law and custom and that he is deliberately carrying out the act, prudence dictates you follow the lesson of the first degree and maintain silence with that brother.
  4. Last, will the counsel be helpful? This seems pretty straightforward, but it can be a serious consideration. In California, the obligation specifically requires a brother to give due and timely notice of approaching danger, but if the approaching danger is something the brother cannot avoid, then whispering counsel to him would be a waste of time. Only the brother can make that judgment, and it should be seriously reviewed.
  5. The counsel should be private, just between the two brothers, otherwise it is not whispering.

There was a situation years ago that a Junior Warden faced. He had been given information "on the square" to be held in the faithful repository of a faithful breast. It did not concern murder or treason, or even at that time, felonious conduct, but he was given this information as due and timely notice of approaching danger. In California, the Junior Warden of a lodge is the one that receives masonic complaints/charges and then investigates and if necessary, prefers the charges through the lodge.

Was he obligated to warn the brother who was the subject of the information or keep the information as a secret given to him in trust? Was he required to whisper good counsel to the brother in question? Did he have an obligation to the lodge that superseded his obligation to the brother?

These were serious questions. The Junior Warden kept the secrets that had been entrusted to him, and did not warn the brother at the center of the issue, for in doing so, he would have violated the trust. The Junior Warden did not warn the lodge, since that too would have violated his obligation to keep the secrets entrusted to him.

Events unfolded over the fullness of time, and it all worked out it should according to masonic tradition and rules.

The internet is an interesting animal all on its own, and present challenges to our obligations as well. For some reason, people on the internet like to try to hide behind online aliases, some just like them but sign their real names and affiliations along with the nicknames. This is mentioned not as a criticism, implied or explicit, but as a manner of noting that because of the nicknames, some brothers say and do things on the internet they would never do in person.

How does this apply to whispering good counsel? A PhD brother recently noted, correctly, that 93% of communication is non verbal, that is, intonation, body language, facial expressions and so on. As a result, we are reduced to the medium of simple words here, the remaining 7%. Due to this, the opportunities for miscommunication abound. As an example, remove 93 out of every 100 letters in this article, and you will see that you are left with little.

Couple the opportunity for miscommunication endemic in written only communication with the relative anonymity of the internet, and it becomes very difficult to "read" a brother, to understand him. Internet interactions therefore, are very challenging, and if you couple THAT problem with personal issues that some brothers may carry with them, and the tenets of freemasonry can become pretty darn tenuous.

No one single tenet of freemasonry informs our lives as masons, it is the totality of the craft. We cannot be prudent if we do not temper our words with justice and fortitude. We cannot aid and assist a brother unless we properly understand the meaning of faith, hope and charity. We cannot keep the secrets of a brother as our own unless we have fortitude and prudence, the ability to maintain and prudential silence while reprehending with justice and a faith in the divine in all men.

Moreover, before whispering good counsel, we should practice charity, to give our brother the benefit of the doubt, to always consider that there is more than one side to any story, and that your opponent is rarely a villain in his own eyes. Not that any brother is a villain, but as a means of considering that the way you see it is not always the way it is... there are always facts, interpretations, and viewpoints other than our own.

We ARE called to whisper good counsel. It is our duty, but we must temper that obligation with the rest of what Freemasonry teaches us. Moreover, whispered counsel should be... well, whispered. On the internet, that means using private email, not posting on blogs, forums, or other public areas. In person, it means just between the two brothers. If a third brother is needed, then the advice, which is really what whispered counsel is, may not be well received.

I personally learned these lessons recently. I thought I was whispering good counsel, and posted a comment on a comments section of a blog. Of course it blew up into MUCH more than it was, and the situation cycled WAAAY out of proportion to the actual and real situation at hand. Darn near every one of the five rules posted above were violated in the two sentence note: It was not well received, it was not private, and it's offer was more seen as bullying than whispered counsel.

Yhe point was not made in private, the receiver was embarrassed, which resulted in the normal, human reaction of striking back, which lead to me being embarrassed which lead to a whole series of incredibly stupid, inconsiderate, and conduct unbecoming masons on both sides. Really stupid because one brother did not stop and consider before acting... and that is another problem created by the internet... it creates an instant method of acting that, in normal situations, would be put off until a "better more appropos" time.

The good news is this lesson (unfortunately in retrospect) has been learned. The bad news is there is no way to repair the damage... perhaps a tincture of time and a hefty dose of freemasonry will allow the situation to be repaired. Either way, the lesson can be shared...

Here is another thought though, and related to the first: Every coin has two sides.

The OTHER side of whispering good counsel is receiving it! Implicit in our obligation to OFFER good counsel is our obligation to a brother to hear him out and carefully consider his words when offered good counsel. Charity means that we apply the most charitable ear possible to the words being offered, that the brothering offering it to us has taken time to think about it, has wrestled with his conscience, has carefully considered, and is offering you a precious gift.

Especially if you do not agree, it is our obligation to hear him out, to carefully examine what he is saying, to thank him for taking the time and effort to offer it. Even if you do not agree with him, masonic charity all but demands that you at least thank the brother for coming to you. Masonic Justice also all but demands that you give him the courtesy of thinking about what he brought to you. We are all blind to some things.

Its all about Freemasonry.

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